Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | March 11, 2009

Positive Cat Training

Sasha likes rewards

Hi my name is Sasha, a lovely Calico cat “in waiting” here at the Second Chance Shelter.  Like any pet you decide to integrate into your life as a new member of the family, there will be a need for training as to appropriate or inappropriate behavior within your household.  And just like humans and dogs, cats also like to be praised rather than punished – the theory behind positive reinforcement, which with help from the Humane Society of the United States, I would like to explain to you from my perspective.

Positive reinforcement means giving your pet something pleasant or rewarding immediately after she does something you want her to do. Because your praise or reward makes her more likely to repeat that behavior in the future, it is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your cat’s behavior. It’s more effective to teach your pet what she should do than try to teach her what she shouldn’t.

Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur immediately-within seconds-or your cat may not associate it with the proper action.  As an illustration let’s use the act of training your cat to attack her scratching post rather than the furniture.  Keep some pieces of dry cat food in your pocket; when your cat uses her scratching post, you can throw a piece for her to chase as a reward. Many cats enjoy chasing (hunting) their food and it is good exercise, too. However, if you throw the food when she has stopped scratching the post and she is walking towards you, she will think she’s being rewarded for coming to you.

Consistency is also an important element in training. Everyone in the family should reward the same desired behaviors.  Positive reinforcement may include food treats, praise, petting, or a favorite toy or game. When your pet is first learning a new behavior, she should be rewarded every time you catch her using her scratching post. You may even help shape her behavior of using the scratching post by spraying it with catnip (if she reacts positively to catnip) or enticing her with a toy that you dangle on the post. This will excite her and cause her to claw at the toy (and the scratching post).

Conversely, avoid taking her over to the scratching post, positioning her paws on the post, and raking them along the post to show your cat what she’s supposed to do. This will likely have the opposite effect and make her less likely to use the post. She may interpret your actions as frightening and uncomfortable. It’s important to look at the world from her point of view.

Once your cat reliably offers the desired behavior, you may reward her with treats intermittently-for example, three out of every four times she does the behavior. Then, over time, reward her about half the time, then about a third of the time, and so on, until you’re only rewarding her occasionally with a treat. Continue to praise her every time. Your cat will learn that if she keeps offering desired behaviors, eventually she’ll get what she wants-your praise and an occasional treat. You won’t be forever bound to carry a pocketful of goodies, but it is great to surprise your cat from time to time.

Next week we will discuss the use of punishment as a training technique – and why it may not be as effective and even can be detrimental to the training process.

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online:  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.orgPhoto by Real Life Photographs.


Sasha likes rewards

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