It is generally believed that dogs are easier to train than cats. That’s probably true if you are looking for a pet to fetch the newspaper or sit up and beg. For complex reasons of evolution and breeding, dogs are by nature more eager to please than cats are.
Cats are also eager to please, but are primarily interested in pleasing themselves.
And that is the key to cat training.
While it is true that some cats can be trained to perform dog-like party tricks, like “sit” and “roll over,” these stunts have no practical use and are boring to your cat. The key to successful cat training is to teach your cat things that he is interested in.
And what are cats interested in? Judging by my own cat, the answer is food, primarily.
Many cat owners notice that, completely by accident, the cat has learned the English word associated with a thing or activity. For example, to my own cat, the most important word in the English language is “dinner.”
The way to get your cat to learn more words is to talk to your cat. As you’re opening a window for your appreciative feline, repeat the word “window.” Do this consistently, and before long you’ll ask your cat, “Do you want the window?” and she will race you to the nearest one.
The same applies to other favorite cat activities, like sleep, especially if you are hitting the hay too. If your cat likes to join you on the mattress, ask him if he wants to go to bed. Do it often enough, and before long he will know what the word “bed” means.
Whenever my own cat spies a bird from the window, I repeat the word “bird.” Now, wherever he is in the house, if I ask him where the bird is, he looks toward the nearest window.
Whenever he spots a bug flying around the house, I repeat the word, “bug.” If I were to ask him right now to find the bug, his eyes would dart around the room, intently searching the ceiling and the walls for insects.
I admit that there is nothing remarkable about any of this, and it will come as no surprise to cat owners that their cats pick up on verbal cues for certain things that interest them. What is remarkable is the cat’s willingness and capacity to learn, as long as you make it in his interest to learn. I’ve read that cats can learn up to about 30 words. I suspect that they could learn many more than that. (How many synonyms are there for “food”?)
Cats are extremely gifted at detecting sequences of events that lead to something that interests them–primarily food and windows. If you make the sound of certain words part of the sequence of events that leads to certain good things, like “dinner,” your cat will catch on faster than you think.
Most people probably haven’t come close to exhausting their cat’s capacity to learn. Teaching your cat to understand certain words can be fun, and not just for you—for your cat too.
For example, if certain activities or areas of our house are off-limits to your cat, by teaching him the word “no” you make it much more fun for your cat to ignore you and eat that plant anyway.
Filed under: Cats, Columns & Essays, Humor | 1 Comment