To start training, all we need is a cat and a human who wants to teach the cat.
We don’t need a lot of extra time although that can be nice. We don’t need a lot of expensive gear although training tools can help. We don’t need special food treats although cats can be motivated by tasty food.
Training can be incorporated into the things we do with our cats every day. I love training tools, but they really aren’t necessary to teach basic life-saving behaviors like coming to your person or getting in the carrier voluntarily. What’s really needed? Some knowledge of how animals learn.
A great deal has been written about the subject, but the one piece the human needs to get started is this: when something your cat enjoys happens along with or right after doing a particular behavior, the cat will be much more likely to do that behavior more often. For example, when my cat gets treats inside his carrier, he is more likely to go into the carrier from time to time to see if anything fun, like treats, will happen while he’s in there.
The example shows that things the cat really likes are useful for training. Tasty treats, pets and praise, brushing, toys, or anything else the cat values highly will reinforce behavior we want to see happen more frequently. At our house, we use a higher-end dry cat food for training treats. Bleu likes these kibbles, but his favorite reinforcer is the opportunity to rub along my hand and arm.
I am always looking for non-edible and rewarding things for them, as some are a bit overweight. Recently, I read that trainers haven’t even scratched the surface of the power of scent as a reward. So, we are experimenting. The cats love to sniff my jacket, my shoes, the box I keep the treats in… They are willing to do things to get these sniffing opportunities, I have discovered. Et voila! Olfactory reinforcers!
Basically, observe your cats to figure out what they value most highly, then see if they will do something for you to get it. Remember, that they are more likely to repeat whatever they did before the fun thing happens. (The picture shows a couple of things about what Nutmeg and Cheddar like. What do you think they are? Hint: It’s not each other!)
Next week we’ll learn about a useful behavior called targeting. We’ll also have some video, or at least photos! We’ll also get back to Nutmeg’s training in the carrier. The past two weeks have been devoted to healing for me, and we didn’t do any training at all. I’m up and about again and not taking so much pain medication, so it’s safe for me and the cats to start training again!