Training Cats and Dogs
By Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA
As trainers at Teacher’s Pet, we strive to understand the science behind training methods. By studying learning theory and operant & classical conditioning, we can better understand how to train skills and modify behavior problems in dogs. But that’s not all – the science behind how we train dogs also applies to other animals, so we can help with your cat, too!
If you’re interested in training your cat (or other species of pet), first you need to figure out something motivating for your pet. Food is motivating to all animals (although some of us more than others), so that’s usually a good place to start. If your cat is free fed (has unlimited access to food), you may want to start providing more scheduled meals so your cat is more interested in food at training time. You can use tastier treats that your cat enjoys, but just like with dogs, be aware of how many extra calories you’re using in training and cut back meals, if needed. Toys and affection can also be used for rewards if your cat enjoys those things.
Just like with your dog, start by teaching a “marker.” Often, we use a verbal marker like “good” with dogs. Cats might do better with a more uniform marker, like a clicker (small plastic and metal device that makes a “click” sound when you press it). Start by simply clicking followed by a tiny treat. Repeat until your cat looks excited to hear that click. Once your cat has a marker, you’re ready to start marking any behavior you like or think is cute. Behaviors that are marked and rewarded should increase in frequency, and you’re on your way to a trained cat!
Keep in mind that, while the learning principles are the same, there are some differences in how cats and dogs work with us. For example, you may notice that your cat isn’t interested in training for as long as your dog. Some cats only want to train for 2-3 minute sessions, and then napping in the sun is more important. You may also need to do more “shaping” with your cat. If your cat isn’t getting the behavior you want, break it down into smaller steps, then mark and reward anything that’s close.
Just like in dogs, mental stimulation can help cats stay happy and healthy and avoid some behavior problems. Besides that, cat tricks are cute! Check out this clip of Joan the cat doing a few of her tricks. While we don’t have group classes for cats, we do offer private consultations for cats. If you have a cat with a behavior problem and/or you want to learn more about cat training, contact Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA (Program Director).