February 1, 2015

As pet retailers, you have an unbelievable number of choices available when it comes to products designed to help modify the behavior of dogs. These products reflect a long-held understanding about the trainability of dogs.

The same cannot be said for cats.

However, the idea that cats can be trained is becoming more common among pet owners. This means there will be an even greater proliferation of exciting new cat products on offer. Changing attitudes also make it critical for you and your staff to understand a few things about cat training, including why it is important.

At first, the mention of cat training finds many people skeptical. Can you really train a cat? Aren’t they too independent for that? Besides, even if you can train one, what is the point of teaching a cat to walk on a leash like a dog?

Let’s address some of these questions. Yes, you really can train a cat. And while it is quite possible to teach one to respond to all the commands that a dog would, training is about more than just obedience—it’s about behavior modification. Your customers’ cats don’t wind up in shelters or re-homed for failing to sit and stay, but they do for litterbox problems like scratching furniture, spraying and for not being friendly with other people or pets.

Fortunately, every one of these behavior issues is treatable. This is great news for at least two reasons; many of the solutions to these challenges involve products you sell and the more you can help your cat-owning clientele solve their kitty problems, the greater their customer loyalty. Helping someone to solve an ongoing problem that enables them to keep a beloved pet may result in the strong likelihood you will have a client for a very long time.

I also want to briefly discuss the issue of motivation in training. While some felines want to please their owners, it is true that most are not really motivated to do so. While cats might not work for praise, they may for food, toys or play.

How is all this relevant for retailers? Most of you already sell the products that can help modify a cat’s unwanted behavior. The more you understand how these products are used, the more effective you will be in selling them. In addition, you will have more success in educating your customers on how to use them properly—and motivating them to give it a try!

Let’s take one of the more common problems facing cat owners: litterbox issues. Here are some simple tips to offer customers and to teach your staff:

The litterbox needs to be the correct size (lower sides are good for kittens). It must be big enough for the cat to turn around in and have space to dig in. This is crucial and something that all retailers should know.

The litterbox must be kept clean. Cats don’t like to eliminate in a full or even partially full box.

Another common mistake owners make is not having enough litterboxes. This is true for multiple cats and sometimes also for individual ones. Ideally, cat owners should consider having more than one litterbox for each cat. As a general rule of thumb, consider two litter boxes for one cat, three for two, and four for three and so on.

The litterbox needs to be in an easy-to-reach location that doesn’t get a great deal of human or animal traffic, which may sound obvious but many cat owners miss this one. Also, once you find a decent spot, don’t keep changing it unless you have to.

The type of cat litter you use needs to consistent. Owners need to find a litter the cat likes and stick with it. Cats are creatures of habit and comfort, which isn’t that different from you or me. Constant change can cause stress that may eventually lead to behavioral problems.

Over time, positive reinforcement (reward) of a desired behavior can make it stronger and more likely to reoccur. Please note that the reward must be something the cat considers important. Food usually works, especially if it is something the cat absolutely loves, such as one of the delectable cat treats you sell. Suggest that your customers take their cat to the litterbox after meals, playtime or naps. When the cat eliminates in the box, they can reward her with a special treat. For nonfood motivated felines, owners can use play with an interactive toy as a reward after successful elimination; two to ten minutes is enough.

Training is always about repetition and time. Frustrated owners sometimes need to be reminded of this. It takes patience and consistency, but the results are well worth the effort; having a happy cat who will be part of their family for 15 years or more.

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