Training Cats

10-21-2009

It was one of those things that seemed like such a good idea when I said "yes."

By the time I was driving to the meeting last night, I was definitely having second thoughts. My assignment: A speech on "Training Your Cat." I am not making this up.

Our friends at Animal Aid (a nonprofit rescue group – check them out at www.animalaidpdx.org) have been holding a series of seminars on preparing for disaster. Last night's topic was preparing pets now for what might happen later. They'd asked me to talk about teaching your cat to come, teaching your cat to be accustomed to handling, and teaching your kitty to be fond of its crate.

Okay. I know that you are not thinking that cats will agree to this agenda.

Contrary to popular belief, cats are highly trainable. Forget the old joke that says that the difference between dogs and cats is that dogs come when you call, and cats take the message and get back to you later. My own cat, Mews, comes when she's called. She sits and stays on command. She jumps to and from places when I ask her to.

(I took the photo below last winter -- and my dogs and Mews were doing their sit-stays equally well for the camera.)

 

Mews can do a sit-stay as well as my dogs

Mews' training skills just might save her life in an emergency. If we have a flood, an earthquake, or a house fire, it's important to be able to get my cat to safety just as quickly as I get my dogs to safety.

Here are some tips on how you can prepare your kitty. Even if you never have an emergency, it makes getting your cat to the vet much easier, and with make the bond between you even stronger.

TEACHING YOUR CAT TO COME

Anyone who has ever fed a cat canned food knows that a kitty will come running when they hear the sound of an opening can.

Every time I feed Mews, I always say, "Here Mews!" She now comes when she hears those happy words.

There is one big difference between dogs and cats when it comes to training. Dogs will work for lots of things: treats, praise, pets, toys. Cats work for one thing: delicious treats. Always reward your cat with a treat – and you will have great success.

After training Mews to come to her name, it occurred to me that if she were lost outside no kindly stranger would be saying, "Here Mews!" So I've also taught her to come to, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty," the pretty much universal way most people call to cats.

TEACHING YOUR CAT TO ENJOY HANDLING

I adopted Mews as an adult cat, and it took her a while to decide that human touch was a rewarding thing. I gave her a treat and petted. Another treat and petted. Another treat and petted. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Eleven years after I adopted her, she's still not a lap cat, but she welcomes my touch. If I need to scoop her up in an emergency, she'll probably be OK with that.

TEACHING A CAT TO ENJOY HER CRATE

When do most kitties see a crate? Vet appointment day. And we wonder why they don't like them. Put your cat's crate out where she can see it. Give your cat treats in her crate. Leave a comfy bed or little cat blanket in the in the crate, so she learns to enjoy the warmth and security. When you need to evacuate a moment's notice, you'll have a cat who isn't hiding at the sight of the crate.

DOES IT WORK?

In 1996, I lived on the Portland waterfront when we had the biggest flood event in our lifetimes. My condo was given notice that we may have to evacuate. My two dogs and cat were all ready to go. They were accustomed to their crates. They were calm. The final word was that we didn't need to evacuate, but we wouldn't have had a problem.

How will your cat react if the evacuation order comes? If you aren't sure, start practicing now.

And hey, if you never have to evacuate, you can show off your cat who comes on command to all of your friends. It really is pretty cool.