CAN YOU TRAIN A CAT? (YES, BUT BE CAREFUL, YOU COULD MAKE THEM WORSE)

Source:  Toronto Star (Extract)
Posted:  May 13, 2021

How do you stop your cat from misbehaving?

Some people use a spray bottle; others will yell at it to stop, say, scratching the furniture; still others might pick it up by the scruff. And the rest of us? We just put a bigger line in the budget for reupholstery or write off the couch altogether. You can’t train a cat, right?

Well, it turns out you can teach a cat new tricks but, if you don’t know how to do it properly, you’re liable to make the situation worse. A recent study from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph has shown that aggressive owners who use really common techniques such as yelling at the cat to stop, tend to have aggressive cats.

“Studies have generally focused on and stressed the importance of early experiences and haven’t so much focused on actors in the home causing their aggressive behaviours,” says Kristina O’Hanley, lead author on the study and PhD candidate at the University of Guelph. “So, this new study has shown that an adult cat’s home environment was significant in contributing to its aggressive behaviours.”

O’Hanley discovered that instances of feline aggression towards owners and other cats were more severe in homes where owners used aggressive disciplinary tactics. Use of the spray bottle, which is increasingly controversial among cat behaviour experts, is thought to only make the cat afraid of humans, which could lead to fear-based aggression.

Plus, they’re just going to scratch the furniture when you’re not looking or are out of the house.

The real problem isn’t the couch, though. An aggressive cat might sound harmless compared with, say, an untrained Rottweiler, but it’s still a problem.

“Cat scratches and bites have a high tendency for infection, especially with immunocompromised people, so it can be dangerous for humans,” says O’Hanley.

“And aggression in general can break down the human-animal bond.”

“Cats who display aggressive behaviours are more likely to be neglected or relinquished to shelters and, depending on the behaviour, it could lead to euthanasia.”

O’Hanley says that, while aggressive cats can be tamed, the ideal situation is to prevent these behaviours from happening in the first place. And, for that, it might be smart to check out a cat trainer, a service that’s becoming more common.

“A lot of people are shocked when I say that you can train cats,” says Claudette Nita, founder of Toronto’s Happy Kitty Cat Training. “And it’s great for them to learn tricks, because cats are very smart and very curious, so learning tricks is really good for their mental stimulation. If you have a cat that’s bored or acting out attention-seeking behaviours, training them will actually bring them more mental stimulation.”

Although there will likely always be more doggo obedience schools than cat training camps, more people are working with their cats—if only to make internet-breaking YouTube videos and improve their Instacat feeds.

And, for those of us with no ambitions of becoming full-on acrocat trainers, there’s still plenty of reason to check out the wisdom of a cat trainer like Nita to learn how to prevent cat behaviour problems—and maybe even save that couch.

“If you’re training or working with a cat, it’s really important to use positive reinforcement, since cats don’t learn through negative reinforcement,” says Nita. “It’s all about getting a cat to go in the right direction.”

Yelling at a cat scratching the furniture won’t teach them anything and will likely only cause them anxiety. Instead, Nita advises using a deterrent, like sticky tape or covering the furniture you want to save with a blanket and, at the same time, offer up an alternative (a scratching post) and position it right in front of the furniture they’re using.

“And don’t forget to praise the cat when it uses the right thing,” says Nita. “A lot of people forget to praise their cat, but it’s all about the positives when it comes to training cats.”

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