The Basic Commands That Every Cat Should Learn
Plus, a behaviorist explains how to train effectively with a whistle.
Cats are smart, independent animals. That doesn't mean that you can't train them, though. Training takes time and patience but will help to strengthen your bond with your pet. "The concept and procedures behind training a cat are the exact same as those you would use to train a dog," explains Jessica Watson, team lead at Cat World, certified animal training and enrichment professional, Best Friends Animal Society. "The difficulty comes from finding what your cat values," she says, adding, "Cats are not as easy to please." But once you find it, then you can easily train your cat.
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Prepare to train your cat.
The commands that you give for your cat must be associated with good things. One bad experience could mean that you need to start over again and try a different tactic. "When starting to train my cat to come at the whistle, what I would do is whistle every time I gave my cat food, as I was setting the food in front of her," Watson says. "Timing is key to make sure that your cat associates the whistle with the reward; in this case, food." The steps that you need to follow to promote successful training sessions are as follows: Your cat needs to be there for the session, give your command cues like a whistle or saying their name, then place the food directly in front of your cat when they respond appropriately to the command cue.
"After repeating this behavior several times, whistle while your cat is not present and see if they come running," Watson says. "If they do, congratulations! You have trained your cat. If not, don't give up. Your cat may need more time to make the association, or you may be spacing out when you whistle and when your cat gets the reward too much. Remember, timing is key." And if your cat doesn't eat the food that you give them during training? In that case, Watson recommends finding a different reward—try a new food or special treat.
All cat owners should teach their cats to respond to being called, either by a whistle or a bell or their name, and to be comfortable with a carrier. These two commands alone could be life-saving in an emergency and also make routines easier for things like veterinary trips.
Come when you call.
"First is training your cat to come for food using some sort of auditory signal," Watson says. "The reason behind this is if you ever cannot find your cat, this is a great way to get them to come out of hiding or if they get lost, to return to you." Her cat had an indoor/outdoor lifestyle for many years but had to come home when it got dark. She used a whistle to call her cat home for dinner and then continued the practice even when the cat became an indoor-only cat. That way, her cat knows to come home if she were to ever escape outside.
Be comfortable inside a carrier.
Most of us only lead our pets in the carrier when it's time to go to the veterinarian, but this is a mistake. Your cat will begin to associate the carrier with negative or scary experiences. "Training your cat to not be afraid of, or even to like, their carrier can be very simple," Watson says. "Place the carrier, door open, somewhere your cat can easily get inside, then put food inside the carrier." Position the food so that your cat will need to go all the way into the carrier to get to it. Additionally, if you happen to notice your cat napping in or playing in their carrier at any time, give them a treat.