Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cat Training 101

Princess Abby
I originally put some of this information into the last post about my cats and their homemade halters. I got so many questions about cat training that I thought it would be better to make this a single post. So much of the info that used to be in the last cat post has been moved to this one, and more added. 

Shadow
We have two cats, Shadow and Abby, both dearly beloved, usually well behaved, although not perfect, pets.  

Training a cat to be a well behaved family member takes time and patience. "Scruffing" is a valuable tool (Information on "Scruffing"). The very first time you scruff your cat, expect a freak out episode that you will need to hold for awhile, unless he/she is a very young kitten. We have also used a spray bottle of clean water, occasionally, for certain types of training.



I have never, not even once, had to "scruff" Shadow. I'm not sure I could now, at this size. Because Abby is a tabby and has that personality, she will always be bossy. It's the tabby nature, but tabbys can still be taught respect. (She can be amazingly tenacious!)

Biting: Cats will often gently bite to play or to let you know they don't want to do something. Even though this type of biting rarely breaks the skin and doesn't really hurt, it is "bad" behaviour and should not be allowed. (Ditto for puppies.) You can usually train your cat to stop this if you immediately turn your back on him/her and walk away at the first touch of claws or teeth, ignoring them. Cats live for your affection and approval. Scratching and biting in an angry temper should never be allowed and often requires scruffing or spraying with water. Scruffing is more effective.

It works the same for any biting. If your cat bites you when you pet her or play with her, turn your back on her or push her off of your lap and walk away. Ignore her for awhile. She will learn to keep her teeth to herself if she wants your attention and approval. Be tough!

Claws: I would never declaw a cat. Even city indoor cats occasionally have to defend themselves. You never know when your cat may get out, even just in the hallway of a building, and need to defend themselves against a dog or another cat.  

Cats use their claws for a lot more than defense. They hold onto and manipulate objects with their claw tips and use them for tools. You would find it difficult to manage without your finger tips - not to mention the pain you would go through if you had your nails removed.

Cat scratching can be controlled and cats can be trained not to scratch where they are not allowed, but it takes a little time and patience. It also takes an alternative area for them to use. If you are not giving your cat a place for them to scratch that does the job, you are asking for trouble. Cats need to scratch to remove the skin that grows over their claws and to keep their claws trimmed and healthy. A good scratching place needs to be tall or long enough for your cat to get a good back stretch while scratching. They will scratch and it cannot be trained out of them, but you can train them to scratch in an acceptable location, if you have one that fits the bill.

If you live in an apartment/condo in the big city, have expensive furniture and wallpaper that you cannot abide to have scratched even a little, have no time to train your cat patiently, don't want a cat post or rough log in your living room, perhaps a small dog would be better for you. 

More on claw maintenance and scratch training.


Neutering: You cannot keep an unneutered male cat indoors. It just cannot be done. You will never train him not to spray the inside of your house with foul smelling urine. It's instinctive. 

Likewise you cannot train a female cat in heat to be quiet. They prance and yowl loudly, day and night, off and on until it passes. You might also end up with unwanted kittens. Female cats in heat draw all the neighborhood unneutered males, even the wild ones with fleas, ticks and disease.

Keep an unneutered cat at your peril.

Feeding and Aggression: Cats are territorial. Give each cat his/her own dish and feeding spot, not too near each other. They will very quickly learn where their spot is and which dish is theirs, especially if the dishes are vastly different. Always feed each cat from their own dish and in the their same spot every time. They will automatically go to their spot and wait at feeding time, usually meowing loudly for you to hurry and even doing little dances on the spot while they wait. They will also be nosy and have to see what the other cat gets, just to make sure it is fair. They can be so funny sometimes!

If you have a problem at feeding time, separate them visually. A large piece of cardboard between them, so they cannot see each other, will help.  

Fighting: Cats usually fight over attention or food. Do not physically try to separate fighting cats. You might get hurt yourself. Throwing a blanket over them will usually stop a fight long enough for you to remove the less aggressive of the cats. Sticking a large piece of cardboard between them, from a distance, also works. Scruff the aggressive cat until he/she relaxes.  

Cat aggression can sometimes be severe enough to put the aggressive cat into a separated area for awhile, until the cat learns to get along. They should still see each other and be able to communicate, just not touch. With enough time, hopefully they will learn to adjust. This separation is especially important when introducing a new cat or dog into the household.

Mousing: (Warning! Some of this is not for the faint of heart or city "Barbie Dolls".) Good mousers are born, but they are also trained. I have to say this again...cats live for your approval and affection. Even a well fed cat  will still kill prey to feed their family. In most cases, that's you. 

If your cat brings you a dead mouse, or any mouse, it is important that you accept the gift in the spirit it is given. Praise your cat, pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. You will see him prance around, coo and generally let you know how proud he is of himself. Take the mouse out of sight and quietly, secretly, dispose of it immediately. Let your cat think that you really enjoyed the treat he brought you!

Many times he will run outside to find another one for you immediately, he is so overwhelmed with pride and wants to do it again and again! This will become a favourite game if you treat it right!

Without this training, a cat that is well fed will often still kill a mouse that invades their territory out of instinct and boredom...maybe, but you will insure a good mouser if you let them know how much you appreciate the efforts and enjoy the food! If you scold him or just leave the dead mouse on the floor for a long period, you will eventually be less happy with your cat's mousing efforts. 

Shadow went through a span of a couple of months when he thought I wanted to kill them myself. lol! We had some grand times chasing little mice around the house after he brought them to me and dropped them at my feet in the hall, almost daily. I don't know where he got that idea! lol! Cat's are very smart, intuitive and watch you for the smallest cues in how to behave in order to get your approval. It only lasted a couple of months, thank goodness, before they were dead upon arrival again. I must have overdone the praise with the first live one I got...

Many of them he eats himself and just leaves me the little green stomachs on the porch. Some mornings I would find a few little green mouse stomachs, licked clean, in a small pile on the porch. I am assuming that he brought the mouse back to the house, but it was nighttime and no one came to get his offering, so he ate it himself.

Cats are natural predators and will kill all small creatures, birds and chipmunks included. It is sad, but this is part of making a good mouser. They get praise no matter what they bring you, even if it brings tears to your eyes. Your cat doesn't understand the difference.

Cats who catch or eat mice will need regular worming. Cats get the worms from the mice. You will find the little worm casings all over their bottoms when they have worms. I have tried the common powder from Heartz for round worms. It does work to kill the worms, IF you can get your cats to eat it. Regardless of what the packaging says, I have never had a cat that would touch it, even in canned food or tuna. You also have to watch the weight and dosage with that particular stuff. You can make your cats sick if you overdose them. Shadow is particularly sensitive to it. 

We use a liquid wormer now from Excel that works much better and cannot be overdosed. We can buy it at the pharmacy here in BC. The dose has to be given twice, 10 days apart, but it works well and only takes a few minutes to administer. 

I have to wrap the cat with a towel, careful to enclose all four feet tightly, hold the head in my elbow and force feed the liquid down the throat with a syringe. It only takes a minute and ensures that the cat gets the full dose. They will hate this, of course, but I hope they are getting used to it. I haven't actually seen any evidence of that...


Affection and biting:  Cats will learn to love attention and also like being picked up and held if they understand that they are still in control while you are holding them. If you pick up your cat, put him/her down at the first little wiggle and turn your back on him. Don't hold your cat in your arms or on your lap against her will. Repeat this a couple of times each day. It takes time and patience. 

Holding your cat when she is cold to warm her helps too. Put her out in the snow for a few minutes. When she decides that she doesn't like it and gets cold, pick her up and cuddle her. As soon as she wiggles, put her right back down in the snow. Continue this a few times. She'll get the idea. Abby will now ask to be held anytime she gets cold

Shadow loves to be picked up now and will respond by nuzzling for a few minutes, then wants down, but he will still ask to be picked up. He doesn't like to be held for a long time or anyone walking around with him. He suffers easily from motion sickness, so I don't blame him for that. I started training him to like being picked up when he was small. I didn't realize how big and heavy he was going to get! lol!

Please don't pick your cat up with a full belly, right after eating a big meal. They won't appreciate having their belly squished when it is full. Shadow will respond to that by barfing. (Just so you know...)

Getting a cat? If you decide, after reading this, that you want or need a cat (trust me, if you live in the country, you need a cat!) please look into adopting one that needs a home. If you advertise or look on Kijiji, you will see many, many cats that are under a year old and already neutered that are free and need homes. These are perfect! They are still young enough to be trained and scruffed and taught to respect all family members, with time and patience. 

I think the black and white tuxedo "Jeffries" cats have more gentle personalities and make the best pets, imho. The Ragdoll cat breed are called that because they will take any handling without reacting, as a ragdoll will. This makes them the objects of cruelty more often than not and I would never have one with small children who could, inadvertently, or on purpose, tease and hurt them. Tabbies and tortoiseshell cats are bossy, tenacious and temperamental, but still make excellent pets with training. Calico cats, although beautiful, are noted for being psychotic...

This is just a generalization that I have heard from dozens of pet owners and people who feel the same way about the various cat personalities, as well as my own experience. There are always differences and exceptions based on the backgrounds of the individual cats, of course.

Most of this comes from my own experience and research I have done with my own cats over the years, some from discussions with other cat owners and vets. I hope it is helpful. 

If you have a big problem with a pet, it is usually best to consult a professional veterinarian.  



 



2 comments:

Ramona JapaneseRedneck said...

That scruffing doesn't work on my gray tabby.....that's one mean queen when she gets mad.

Unknown said...

The cat look exhausted from training.

Living jungle