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Have you heard the expression: “As hard as herding cats”?
This sums up so much about what we love about our feline friends, such as knowing their own minds and refusing to run with the crowd. But doesn’t this imply cats are difficult to train?
Well, yes and no.
If you try to impose your will on a cat you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you work with your cat’s psyche you’ll have a purrfectly trained pet (…then again, perhaps they’ll train you!)
With that in mind, here are our top 10 training tips for kittens.
Kittens are one of the few species that learn by example. Very young kittens watch their mother and then copy her actions. This is why kittens are easy to wean and quick to learn hunting skills, because they observe their mum and give it a go themselves.
If you want to teach a kitten to use a scratch post, you need to take on the role of surrogate mother. You’ll have to lower you dignity, get on your hands and knees and scratch the post yourself to set an example and then let her think it was her idea all along.
Your kitten wants to be clean, so training her to use a litter box is a matter of showing her the facilities and making it inviting.
Provide a large tray with low sides. Make it easy for kitty to climb in, such as creating a staircase of books leading up to the tray. Ask the previous carer which litter they used and provide the same brand so that she recognizes it as a toilet. Place the tray in a quiet corner where she won’t be disturbed, but away from her food and water.
Keep the tray clean (no one likes a dirty toilet) but that said, if she’s slow to catch on, scoop up any accidents and pop them in the box as a scent marker to guide her to the right place.
Young animals, especially kittens, have short attention spans. Training little and often is best, and at the first sign her attention is wandering bring things to a close. However, try to end on a paws-itive note, such as getting her to perform a command she already knows.
Teach kitty to come to her name. This is invaluable if she slips out past you one dark night. However, to do this wait until she’s walking towards you then call out her name, and give her a huge fuss when she arrives. You can amplify the effect by reward based training.
Training a kitten is about motivation. If you have something your kitten really wants she’ll work to get it. All cats have at least one food they’ll go crazy for; it’s just a matter of identifying her ‘must-have’ treat.
To find her must-have treat, offer small amounts of different foods. You’ll know when you’ve found it because she’ll gobble it down and obsessively demand more. Our cats go crazy for freeze-dried treats and there’s a whole flavour range to choose from – kangaroo, lamb, beef liver, chicken, turkey, cod and salmon.
Of course those treats contain calories so cut down on her regular food so she doesn’t gain excess weight. You use the treat to motivate her. When she performs the behaviour you require, she gets a treat.
You can train a cat to sit, offer a paw, roll over, and jump off a counter top… pretty much anything you want. All you have to do is get the kitten to link the behaviour to getting her must-have treat, and then label the action with a cue word.
For example, to teach a kitten to sit hold her must-have treat (say it’s freeze-dried salmon) in front of her nose to get her attention. Then raise the treat in an arc over her head so that her bottom sinks to the ground as she follows it. As her furry butt hits to floor say “Sit” and give her the treat. Repeat regularly. Once she gets the hang of it, start saying “Sit” before you move the treat…and when she does…hey presto, you’ve trained your kitten to sit.
Cats vote with their paws and if you punish your cat she’ll walk away and avoid you in future. Say you want to train your kitten not to walk on the table (or kitchen counter), punishing her only teaches her that you’re an unpleasant person. OK, she avoids the table when you’re in the room, but once you leave she’ll be right back up there as she thinks you are the problem, not the table.
If you want a close, loving relationship with your kitten then show her only love.
You can however be cunning about your deterrents. If the kitten links jumping on the kitchen counter or table with an unpleasant experience that strikes out-of-the-blue, then she’ll avoid doing so again, period.
You can improvise booby traps such as balancing a baking tray with empty tin cans on it, on the edge of the table. When she jumps up she lands on the unstable tray, which tips and the cans fall over with a clatter. Alternatively, if you fancy a hi-tech solution try SSSCat compressed air spray. This is motion activated and spritzes kitty with air when she approaches the banned object.
Turn a Deaf Ear
Sometimes your best bet is to ignore an action altogether. If your kitten wants to play at night, and you get up and make a fuss of her, you are rewarding her and she’s going to think night-time is play-time. Unless you want to be permanently sleep deprived, its best to turn a deaf ear to her meows and pretend to be asleep. Once she learns that her efforts are fruitless the demanding behaviour will die out.
It’s easy to take good behaviour for granted and think it doesn’t need rewarding. But actually, if your goal is to have your cat resting quietly in her bed, when she does just that, heap praise on her furry head. She’ll link the attention to being quiet and make more effort to do that in future.
And finally, sometimes cat training is about stopping your kitten from doing things such as climbing the curtains or scratching furniture. These are natural behaviours and if you want to re-educate her, in addition to distracting her from the bad behaviour you must offer an alternative outlet. So make sure you provide plenty of scratch posts and cat towers so that she can climb and scratch to her furry paw’s content.
Did you find these training tips for kittens useful? We’d love to hear your thoughts.