Saturday, August 18, 2012

Training Dib the Cat

Before I start talking about cat training, I wanted to talk briefly about something very exciting that may be happening. My husband and I are trying to buy a house! We are currently in underwriting for a loan on a 3-bedroom, 2644 sq ft home. If it all goes through, we plan on doing some very cool things with our reptile room. So that kind of explains why I haven't been posting lately :)

Anyway, back to the cat training post. I currently work at a doggy daycare. A few months ago, my boss (who is very into positive training any animal) convinced me to try to train my cat. I thought that it would be difficult to train Dib to do anything. We always thought my cat was "a circle short of a figure eight" and I figured training a pet rock would be easier than training a cat.

And I was very, very wrong. Training Dib has been as easy as training a dog. He is very smart, motivated, and attentive! So far, Dib has learned "sit", "up", (walk in a) "circle", "wave", and "point" (he will touch his nose to his target on command). So for those of you that may want to train your cat, here are some tips and methods that I found useful.

Clicker Training is Awesome! A clicker is what is known as a "bridge device". It tells the animal  that the desired behavior was achieved in that moment, and that a treat is coming to reward it. It is like a little camera that takes a snapshot of the trick. So when I ask my cat to sit, I click as soon as his butt hits the floor. Then he gets a treat. Training is all about communicating with the animal. Clicker training helps make that communication clearer. It is a way of saying, "YES! That right there. That is exactly what I want! Now you get a treat." If you train a cat, I highly recommend using a clicker.

Clicker (left) and target (right)
Quit While You Are Ahead. When the cat is done, the cat is done. Don't make training an unpleasant experience by pushing your kitty too far. Ideally, a training session should be short. Maybe five to ten minutes. Cats seem to get bored much faster than dogs. If your cat starts to show signs of frustration (performing the wrong trick, batting at your hands) or distraction (looking at other things, walking off), then STOP! You can always start a new training session in a few hours. As you train your cat, you will get a feel for when Kitty is "done". Try to stop before your cat hits that point. And if you are getting frustrated, you should stop. You never want to reach the point where you want to yell at the cat. Speaking as someone who has lived with cats her entire life, yelling at a cat NEVER works.

Be Puurrrfectly Positive! Okay, pun aside, you need to understand that positive training is the only way to go here. Positive training methods include things like clicker and treat training (yay!). Negative training methods include things like spray bottles, cans of pennies, and shock collars (yes, they do make shock collars for cats. I was horrified, too). You don't need negative training methods to get your cat to do what you want.

Salmon jerky and bonito flakes
Use Yummy Treats! Trust me, if your cat doesn't like the treat, he won't work for it. Think of treats as like getting paid. You wouldn't want to be paid in garbage, would you? Then why would your cat want to work for a treat he doesn't find appetizing? I use dried bonito flakes because my cat loves them and he can't have chicken (and most cat treats have chicken in them). You could use any treat that your cat loves, that isn't too big (although you could use big treats if you can rip them into smaller pieces), and isn't too fatty/ high in calories. I like high-protein, low cal treats with very few ingredients. Dried bonito flakes, dried chicken pieces, and salmon jerky made for cats are just a few examples.

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