Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!
I am often asked, “How can I train my cat?” The question your cat will ask is, “What is in it for me?”
Here at the shelter, we use clickers to train our cats. The clicker is a small, handy tool that makes a clicking noise when you press the button. The click marks the behavior you are looking for. It tells the cat that the reward is coming because it just performed a behavior.
First, we go about finding what really motivates a cat. Of course, if a cat is food motivated and likes a certain treat, then this is easy. I use sensible treats that I only use for training purposes. I also prefer use soft treats (pill pockets, or lean treats) so I can make small tiny bits for the cat – you want the pieces to be small enough that the cat doesn’t fill up. Once your cat is full, training time is over. If your cat loves to play, then that is a great reward as well.
There are different ways of going about training a cat. I think cat trainers have to be better trainers than dog trainers, because they really have to study their cats behavior and be ready to reward the behavior when it happens. For example, if you want to teach your cat to sit – a very easy command– you wait until the cat is about to sit down then immediately click when the hind end touches the ground.
In addition, you simply cannot make a cat perform a behavior, so you have to very patient. You are allowed to “bribe” the cat into a behavior to make it easier if you don’t want to wait for the behavior to happen, which is called “catching a behavior”.
The most important part is to keep in mind it is supposed to be fun for you and the cat. The more pleasant of an experience you make it for the cat, the more effective the training will be.