Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You Can Train a Cat

It's not easy, but yes, you can train cats the way you train dogs. The trick is to find a cat with the intelligence and energy to perform "on demand" and to use consistent, gentle methods.

Genghis Khan kitty (shown above) came to us when some idiot dumped Genghis and his litter mates into the woods by our house. We live on a 17 acre wooded parcel that adjoins hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, and we're the only cat-owning household for many miles. Someone dumped Genghis, his brother Neko, and his sister out into the woods without any help at all. My neighbor's little boy adopted Neko, and found a home for Genghis' sister, but Gengie was so crazy and wild that no one could get near him...until my husband discovered he could be lured with car treats out of the woods and to our home.

Genghis lived in our garage for a few weeks until we were able to pet him and handle him, then it was off to the veterinarians for his vaccinations, FIV/FeLk testing (FIV and feline leukemia, two highly contagious and ultimately fatal cat diseases), and neutering. Once he'd passed all those hurdles, this crazy feline became our third indoor cat.

Only there was a problem. A big problem.

Our chief feline, Pierre, HATES Genghis. And by hate, I mean not just "hiss and run" kind of spats, but "I'm going to claw your eyes out, rip your fur off, and dance on your corpse" kind of hate.

Just around the time we adopted Genghis, my father in law, who had lived with us since we moved to Virginia, passed away. We decided to move Genghis into Jack's suite consisting of a large bedroom/living room and attached bathroom. It was big, sunny, warm, and had plenty of bed space for a kitty to snuggle into, big south-facing windows for bird watching, and lots of hidey holes.

So our new system went into effect: Genghis came out to play in the house during the day when Pierre went outside, and at dinner time, we have the changing of the guard where Genghis goes to "his" room and Pierre gets the rest of the house. (Our third indoor cat died so it's just the two of them now.)

At first, it was tough to get Genghis to relax in "his" room at night. Convincing him to go "home" each evening took some doing. I trained him by using food, his favorite reward.

  • I put dry cat food into a small plastic container with a lid.
  • I shake the container three times.
  • I call, "Genghis to your room! Genghis to your room!" and shake the container.
  • As soon as he appears, he gets a food reward.
It took a few weeks of repeating this behavior to get him to understand that I meant business, and whenever I called him to his room, he was to come, food or no food. The trick to the training was simply consistency. I use a consistent tone of voice, a consistent sound, and a consistent repetition of sound. Now I can call this darned weird cat from anywhere in the house to go to "his" room and he goes on the run!

It cracks visitors up when Genghis performs his "trick" but for me, it's a life saver. No matter what happens around here, I know I can always catch Genghis just by shaking his dry food container and giving that call. If there's ever an emergency, I know how I can catch the little feline weasel and get him out of the house, fast. Food does the trick every time.

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