Tuesday 30 September 2008

Training a cat

We don't normally think about training a cat except perhaps to use the litter, maybe the cat flap or at a more adventurous level a human toilet - cat toilet training, which is quite a popular idea. Yet the cats I have lived with have always used the litter perfectly without training; it comes naturally to a cat usually. The same goes for using a cat flap. A bit of simple encouragement might be needed to use a cat flap but in my experience cats get used to them pretty easily.

But what about training a cat generally? We consider that dogs can be fairly easily trained and cats we believe can't be trained or we don't bother to or don't need to train them. Dogs are pack animals and look more to human companions for the lead when it comes to doing things. Cats are more solitary and do their own thing but can adapt well to communal living in fact, after all they live with us - see sociable cats.

One established way to train dogs (and now cats) is with the help of a clicker. It's called clicker training, unsurprisingly. And I like the idea. I like the idea of training my cat to do more than the usual stuff. Plus it means a lot more interaction with her. That translates to more activity for our cats too and in a world where a lot of cats are full-time indoor cats activity and mental stimulation are pretty well essential to keep 'em healthy.

Clicker training is part of the process of reward based training. All of us, yes, humans too, can be trained by the giving of rewards for a task completed. I guess everything we do is for a reward, so reward based training underpins a lot of what we do. With an companion animal the clicker is clicked just after the successful completion of the task and just before the reward is given (usually a bit of her favorite food). It seems that the click is a marker, a sound, which accurately pin points the moment when the task was completed so that the pet can better recognize what she is being rewarded for and relate action to reward, thereby facilitating the learning process. The action, click, reward sequence is a combination of events that makes training a cat more efficient and successful.

Here is a video about clicker training a cat:

I am going to give it a try. One thing my girl cat has never been able to do is sit on my lap. This is because she is a stray cat who I believe was frightened of doing this with her first human companion for some reason. She used to live with a person near to my home at the time in Central London until the person abandoned her.

I am going to try and train her to sit on my lap. I would love this as it would (should I hope) make her life better and help make our already close bond even closer. Training a cat can be fun too.

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