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Cats training themselves

I see training as harnessing the power of our cat.

The power of what they want.

A Handy Guide to Cat Body Language

Attention and affection and appreciation, from us, is what they want. When they love us, that is. This is why gaining the friendship and respect of our cat is also the easy path to a well-behaved cat.

After the last couple of years with grown and trained cats, Mithrandir, our eight-month-old kitten, is a great reminder of how this process works.

Our first, and somewhat formidable, task was to completely tame him. He had to both love and trust us before we could teach him anything.

He needs to be comfortable with us before he can listen to what we are telling him. He must be happy with us for him to care what we think.

Then, when he scratches the couch and we say, warningly, “Now, Mithy,” he realizes this is somehow wrong. When we place him on the cat tree, he scratches it twice as hard. He’s happy because we are giving him permission to scratch something (which is all he wanted) and we are saying nice things to him about scratching the tree.

By laying out this Happy Path for him to follow, he will remember (when he’s reminded, since he’s only eight months old) that we want him to scratch the cat tree. Soon, he won’t need the reminder.

This can only happen when he’s connecting these actions to an enjoyable outcome. If there was fear or confusion or panic involved, it wouldn’t stop him from scratching the couch. It would convince him to scratch the couch when I’m not around. Which is even worse. And the opposite of what I want him to learn.

That is why, even when it is ill-timed or exasperating, I welcome my cats when they ask for my attention. My happy focus on them is what their training runs on. It is what keeps them willing to go to sleep when it’s bedtime, and leave my container of cords and chargers alone, and stay off the armoire we keep the TV on, and dozens of other things.

Every time our cat asks for love, we reinforce all of their training.

Likewise, if we hit a rough patch in our relationship, our cat’s memory of of the good times will help us bring things back to normal again. For a few days after Mithy’s return from his neutering, he was often cautious and apprehensive. He was naturally uncertain about what had happened, and why. But since we had laid down a solid foundation of trust and good times, he decided to go with the “weight of the evidence” and dismiss the vet visit as an aberration.

Whether it’s an illness, a move, or the arrival of a new being on the scene, our cats will lower their misbehavior from stress if they are confident we care about them. An insecure and apprehensive cat is one who will ramp up their stress relief behaviors: scratching and racing around recklessly and demanding attention. What we think of as a cat being “bad” is often a cat who needs reassurance about something, or the fixing of some aspect of their environment.

Our cat’s desire to please us is our strongest persuasive technique. We cannot use punitive methods to teach our cat anything. So when we invest our time and affection in our cat, we make our training easier and our relationship more enjoyable.

It’s wonderful how all of this works together.

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