Can Cats be Trained. No, really!

Steven Appelbaum, President of Animal Behavior College

In 1981, when I first started training dogs professionally the only cats I was aware of that had any type of training were those trained for TV commercials.  The idea that cat training would ever be offered to cat owners seemed ludicrous. Common sentiments then and now include; cats can’t be trained because they don’t care about pleasing you, they are too independent, etc.

Part of this perception is due to a natural and unfortunate comparison to dogs.  It is easy to picture the noble Lassie rescuing Timmy or the bouncy Labrador Retriever working for a belly rub.  Picturing this with kitty isn’t so easy. What’s more, when people think about “training”, they often visualize teaching obedience cues, something many cat owners don’t consider.

The truth is dogs are motivated by many different rewards, some are food motivated, some work for toys, some for praise.  Cats are much the same.   In a nutshell, cats are highly trainable if you know how.

Here are a few reasons you should look into training for your cat:

  • It can solve a lot of problems:  A great deal of cat training is about problem solving.  Cat owners are less concerned with teaching kitty to lie down then teaching her to eliminate consistently in the litter box, not scratch up furniture, spray all over the house, and to be more accepting of other cats, dogs and people.  These are all behaviors that can be modified.
  • It can prevent challenges: Prevention is always preferable to reacting to problems once they take place.  Some preventative methods are surprisingly simple.  For example; to reduce litter box problems, make sure the box is cleaned regularly, once you find a litter the cat likes stick with it and make sure you have multiple litter boxes if you have multiple cats. Training of behaviors like acceptance of dogs and people may take more work, but are important if you have a busy, pet friendly home.
  • It can help with veterinary care: On average cat owners take their pets to the veterinarian less frequently than dog owners. One reason owners site is the difficulty in placing cats into a carrier.  However, with training, a carrier is something cats can learn to tolerate and, in some cases, even like.
  • It creates opportunities: Cats can and should learn to walk on a leash with a harness.  It’s good exercise, allows owners to take them places without having to always place them in a carrier and believe it or not can be fun. Like most training, leash and harness training goes easiest when introduced early, so start them young.

For more information about cat training please check out Animal Behavior College's article on cat training.

Steven Appelbaum has trained dogs professionally since 1981.  He is the founder and President of Animal Behavior College a school for dog & cat trainers.  Steve writes a column for Pet Age magazine, is the former editor of Off Lead Magazine, his book The ABCs of Practical Dog Training was published in 2004.  His beloved Basset Hound Truffles (pictured) attempted to chase a cat in 2012.  She was unsuccessful and so slow it is doubtful the cat even knew she was being pursued.  Truffles prefers to sleep on the couch.