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June 12, 2018

Can cats be trained? Anyone who has owned or been around cats knows they are intelligent and resourceful creatures. The reason some perceive cats as untrainable has to do with the way people visualize and define training.

Training cats is less about teaching them to listen to cues and more about learning how to modify behaviors owners find problematic. These include litter box challenges, spraying, scratching furniture, teaching cats to enter pet carriers on cue and learning to be social around other cats and sometimes even dogs.

The importance of teaching cats to enter carriers is worth a greater mention here. Veterinarians have noted for years that dog owners take their dogs for routine medical care more often than cat owners. One of the most common reasons why cat owners fail to get their kitties in for routine care is the difficulty they have in getting the cat into a carrier to transport them there, yet this is something cats can be taught to do. Imagine the loyalty you could stimulate and the positive impact you as a retailer could have if you learned how to help a cat owner with that challenge. I will address this in future articles.

The other part of the perception challenge has to do with motivation. Lassie seemed to work for little more than praise and a desire to help. My Lab is much the same, but let’s face it—it’s hard to picture most cats working for that type of reward.

This next part will seem blasphemous to some, but cats are every bit as trainable as dogs—you just train them to do different things. You also train cats using slightly different ways to motivate them. This last part is key. The best way to teach dogs or cats is to figure out what they consider to be a high value reward and use that reward to teach/strengthen a desired behavior. As a rule, dogs are more motivated by petting and verbal praise than cats. This leads some to conclude that cats are more independent and don’t want to please the way dogs do. Since they don’t care, they aren’t trainable. Even if the first part of this is sometimes true, the last part isn’t.

Cats simply care about different things. A good trainer will quickly identify what motivates them and use that to reward the behavior they are looking to teach. So, what motivates cats? Food, play, and sometimes praise. Believe it or not, I trained a cat to stop eliminating on the rug, go in the litter box and respond to sit and come cues with nothing more than a scratch behind the ear. However, most cats will be more motivated by a delectable treat. Some felines are not food motivated, and that’s fine. I’ve trained dozens of kitties by rewarding acceptable behavior with 30 seconds of play after a proper response.

Although cat trainers are less common than dog trainers, their numbers are increasing. A growing number of dog trainers have learned how to train cats and now offer both services. With the huge number of cats kept as pets in the United States and a greater understanding about their trainability, it is likely that more and more trainers will make their living offering this service.

So why is this relevant to retailers? There are over 85 million cats kept as pets in the United States. In fact, there are more cats kept as pets than there are dogs. While it is true that cat owners spend less on their cats than dog owners do on dogs, the amount they spend is growing. Pet retailers who understand a little bit about feline behavior modification will be in a better position to assist their customers. This helps create customer loyalty, repeat business, etc. Pet retailers connecting with cat trainers will find that the relationship can be mutually beneficial in much the same way it is with dog trainers. You can refer difficult questions to the trainers, and the trainers can refer their clients to your store for the many products they require.

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