I recently attended a less-than-traditional circus with my children. There were dogs, horses, contortionists, and cats – wait. Cats? Yes! Three cats performed a variety of tricks on stage for their masters, and I’ll admit that I was genuinely impressed!
When we arrived home, I asked my daughter to feed our cats, but a good five minutes passed and she still hadn’t returned. So I went looking for her.
“Sit. Sit, Charlie”, came her little voice from the laundry. “I’m not feeding you until you sit.”
I poked my head around the corner and there she was, food bowl held aloft as she pointed sternly at the orange fur-ball pacing at her feet. “Sweetie, what are you doing?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I want him to learn tricks like the cats at the circus.”
Kids. They’re so sweet – and naïve! LOL.
Nonetheless, after she went to bed I couldn’t help but poke around the internet. I’ve spent much of my adult life working with, and training, dogs, but cats have remaining un-chartered waters! But after some online reading and video viewing, it turned out that these circus folk weren’t miracle workers after all – they had simply discovered their cats’ motivators and had used them to teach their cats to perform!
Now, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that, (unlike my cat, Charlie), your kitty has an affinity for food, catnip, mouse toys – ANYTHING! It simply has to be something that your cat wants enough to humor you with your requested behavior. Once you have discovered this, you’re almost there. One more ingredient will see you safely on to the road of success, and that is: patience – and a whole lot of it! Whilst dogs are pleasers by nature, cats of often independent and seek no ones approval but from their own. So prepare to be patient, and persistent. Slow and steady wins the race. So let’s start with teaching your cat its name!
Have your cat’s favorite item in one hand and bring it to their attention by moving it near their face gently. Once suitably interested and following your hand, hold your arm outstretched and say their name. Begin drawing your hand back towards you as you continue to say their name repeatedly while they follow. Once they are positioned directly in front of you, say their name again and then give them the treat from your hand. Repeat this process over and over during a three to five minute training session, ending the session on a high with lots of their favorite petting and rubs, and of course, their motivator.
Like most animals, cats respond best to shorter, more frequent training sessions rather than longer, infrequent ones. If you can spend five minutes twice a day to do this with your cat, you will have them running to their name in no time!
It is important to note that you should never punish your cat if he doesn’t perform as asked during these training sessions – or at any time, really. Punishment has been proven as counter-productive over the years, and it has been shown that animals will respond more quickly to positive reinforcement, such as treats or praise. Always remember: “reward good behavior, and ignore bad behavior.”
From there, it is simply a matter of moving on to the next behavior, such as sitting, or shaking paw, or begging! You never know; maybe your fur baby could be the next circus star!
This video shows a cat and owner who have taken it to another level! Google “clicker training” or “marker training” to learn the purpose of the harmonica noise that you hear when the cat performs each trick correctly. Amazing!
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