No one questions whether dogs are trainable, as evidenced by the thousands of products that are designed to assist owners in doing so. However, whenever a discussion about training involves felines, skepticism abounds.
Fact Versus Fiction
Owners know from experience that their cats are intelligent and immanently capable of learning. Still, many people believe that cats are not trainable.
Popular portrayals of the two animals reinforce this belief. Dogs are portrayed as loyal, dependable, stalwart members of the family, bravely willing to place themselves in harm’s way to protect loved ones. They are used by our military and police departments and as guide dogs. Conversely, cats are usually depicted as selfish, independent and rarely loyal. In addition, cat owners have different goals than dog owners. Most have no reason or desire to take their cat for walks on a leash or have their feline listen to obedience cues. For most, the very notion strikes them as silly and a waste of time.
Contrary to what this common perception suggests, cats are highly trainable. It is worth noting that dogs and cats learn differently and are motivated by different things. Dogs tend to be more praise- and attention-oriented compared to cats. Cats have a variety of motivators, including food, play and/or scent like catnip and pheromones.. Of course, some dogs don’t care about pleasing their owners at all and some cats are willing to work for a scratch behind the ear. In training, the key is to find what motivates an individual cat or dog and use that to teach the desired response.
Cat Training and the Pet Retailer
Why should pet retailers care about cats’ trainability? Well, if more owners know they can train their cats, you increase the potential to sell them related cat products, which in turn can boost your bottom line.
There are 85.8 million cats in 42.6 million households the United States, according to the APPA 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey. This means nearly 35 percent of all American households have on average two cats. That translates into huge opportunities for retailers. While some will point out that cat owners don’t spend as much as dog owners on their pets, that doesn’t mean cat owners won’t spend money.
Case in point: The most recent APPA survey shows that dog owners spend an average of $269 a year on food annually and cat owners spend $246; that’s only a $23 difference. Two years ago, difference was $36.
Cat owners are also closing the gap on food treat spending.
The 2013-2014 APPA survey showed a $65 to $36, dog to cat split in annual treat spending. The current survey reports that dog owners are spending $61 annually and cat owners are only $10 behind, at $51.
You can help bridge the treat-spending gap even further by promoting cat treats as training aids.
Food treats can be helpful in teaching and reinforcing acceptable feline behaviors, such as proper litterbox use and using a scratching post instead of the couch. Treats can also help train cats to associate guests with positive things, which over time will make them more sociable. Owners can use treats to teach cats to come when called and to go into carriers on command. This last behavior is important as it makes it easier to take a cat to the veterinarian for regular checkups.
As a pet retailer, you obviously have a great deal more to offer to the cat-owning public besides food treats. Scratching posts, litterboxes, clickers, catnip, odor neutralizers, pheromone diffusers, carriers, toys and cat trees are just some of the products that can be used to teach cats desired behaviors. The potential growth of cat product sales to interested, educated cat owners is practically limitless.