Cats have a reputation of being less trainable than dogs. It is a reputation not without basis however cats are still classed as ‘intelligent’ animals and are therefore capable of being trained.
Unlike dogs though cats have never been fully indentured into human society. They have always chosen (by their own free will!) to remain on the outskirts of our regimes, rules and restrictions. As a result they have bypassed to a greater extent our efforts to instil in them a desire to obey.
Since the first wolf was brought in from the cold to live as part of the human family we have ingrained in dogs a love of our own structure and obedience. As such, dogs are far more willing to learn in order to please us than cats are. In short, dogs have been bred to be trained.
That is not to say that cats aren’t trainable and that kittens can’t be trained to be obedient. But felines do not tend to learn something to exact praise and reward. Hence the reason it is marginally more difficult to train a kitten than a puppy (or a cat and a dog).
Read on to discover how to train a kitten in the best way without punishment, and how to ensure house training goes off without a hitch.
Kitten behavioural training
As soon as you bring your kitten home you can start some form of training. Often it is said that foodie treats are the best way to initially hold a kitten’s attention. A kitten’s attention span is short though so you should also keep training sessions short.
Try to focus on one command at a time (such as ‘sit’).
Cats will naturally sit down on a regular basis. If you want to train your cat to sit on command then wait for him to sit down and as he does so say confidently: ‘sit’. Praise him and hand him a treat. Keep doing this repeatedly for as long as it takes until your cat responds to your ‘sit’ command by sitting.
If you want to train your cat to shake your hand then wait for him to move his paw from the ground and praise him when he does with a chosen command such as ‘hi’. Over the course of a few days or weeks you may notice him expect a treat as he lifts his paw. At this stage, hold a treat in your fist and wait for your cat to paw your fist. When he does, praise him again. Finally, remove the treat and let your cat reach your hand when you say ‘hi’.
Focus on one command at a time. Once one is mastered you can move on to something else. You may also consider using the clicker technique to help with other aspects of your kitten's training. No matter what you train your kitten to do you should do so from Day One of your ownership of him.
Training your kitten has an added benefit. An animal that is trained is more aware of the household hierarchy; by training your kitten well you place yourself in a position of trust and power, both of which are useful to avoid antisocial behaviour.
A kitten’s obedience training will also benefit his mind and body.
Crate training a kitten
It is important that you get your kitten used to his crate. Crate training is a vital part of kitten-hood because his trips to the vet will be commonplace. To carry your cat in a crate is safer for your cat and easier for you. It will also help the vet.
Train your kitten to love his crate. Feed him in the crate to begin with so that he associates the space with positive feelings. Keep the door open on the first few occasions of your kitten’s visits to the crate. Do not make any sudden moves or loud noises. Your kitten should feel as though the crate is a place of safety.
When you think he is used to the space you can begin shutting the door on occasion.
Potty training a kitten
An important part of owning a kitten is potty training. Cats are clean animals. They like to keep themselves clean and they like to keep their ‘doings’ very private. Your cat will soon learn the rules of the house with these simple measures:
- Set up a litter tray in a calm area of the house
- Make sure your kitten can easily find the litter tray
- Within 10 minutes of food or drink your kitten will need to use the tray
- Immediately after food lift him into the tray and leave him alone
- Repeat the above step until he does what he needs to do in the tray
- After he has done his business in the tray praise him
- Clean the tray but leave a trace amount of wee inside it
Some kittens may begin to squat when they need to urinate or defecate. If you notice your kitten doing this outside the tray lift him into the tray immediately.
Keep the area around the tray clean and hygienic. Cats are very particular about their toilet habits. Do not keep the litter tray near his food or water.
Kitten training is not about punishment. Punishment of any kind is both a route to further misbehaviour and the development of anxieties. It also doesn’t work! If you struggle to eradicate bad behaviour try to find a way to make the cat associate his bad behaviour with a negative experience, such as a bad smell or scary sound. Praising your cat for the good behaviour and withholding praise for the bad is the only real route to success.