Mind of Your Cat

December 2008 Issue

Teaching Your Old Cat New Tricks

Believe it or not, it's easier than you think. You just have to work with her natural behavior.

We have all heard the popular phrases that support the notion that cats cannot be trained. Tee shirts remind us that "dogs come when called ó while cats take a message and get back to us." When a dog is not particularly obedient, he is said to be "more like a cat than a dog." Yet we all know that cats are intelligent and quite capable of learning. In fact, people have successfully trained fruitflies and fish. Perhaps the misconception arose because old-fashioned training strategies which rely on coersion are generally ineffective when used on cats. On the other hand, reward-based training methods are both effective and fun. When an animal (even a cat) is rewarded for demonstrating a particular behavior, he will repeat the behavior in the future. That is the principle of positive reinforcement. A reward-based training technique requires that you find a reinforcer that is truly rewarding. What is your catís pleasure? Is there a treat so delectable that your cat would be willing to jump through a hoop, literally, just for a taste? Consider not only commercial cat treats, but fresh food instead. Morsels of meat, fish, cheese or even cantaloupe can be tested as potential reinforcers.

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