What are the benefits of training your cat? Yes, it’s pretty cool to be able to ask your cat to jump over obstacles and through hoops (cat agility!) but training also opens a line of communication between you and your cat. Animal training utilizes principles of psychology to create a common language between the human and animal.
If we know the cat salivates when food is presented (the food elicits an involuntary response in the cat) we can pair this instinctive response with an initially neutral signal- such as a click! (classical conditioning). When we pair the click with the food repeatedly the click is associated with the presentation of food and takes on meaning for the animal. “Oh, when I get a click- I get a treat!” You can use this new form of communication to let your cat know which behaviors you like and want them to keep doing. Your animal will connect the click with their behavior and will choose to engage in those behaviors more frequently (operant conditioning). “I see… they like it when I sit. Let me sit again and see if I get a treat!”
As animals undergo more training, they often learn they will get rewarded for new behaviors and start to display unexpected, novel behaviors. “Lets see if I get a treat for standing on my back legs! Yup!” The cat gets to be creative and find new ways to interact with you and earn rewards.
Sometimes your cat will even “ask” for training sessions. My cat Cecilia (started training when she was 7 years old) has a very specific stance she gets in when she is ready to do a training session. She looks me in the eyes, sits completely upright and lifts her right paw (probably a superstitious behavior) as if to say “I’m ready to earn some treats!”
There are multiple ways training can benefit you and your cat:
- A common language formed between you and your cat. You can ask your cat to do behaviors instead of forcing them. For example, if you need your cat to leave the room you can ask them to go to their “mat” in the other room, instead of physically picking them up and moving them.
- Serves as an outlet for excess energy, which could alleviate some behavior problems and keep your cat in shape!
- Allows the cat to use their brain. The cat makes the choice to engage in behaviors during training sessions. Cats will often display unexpected behaviors- trying something new to earn a reward. This allows your cat to think and problem solve, which may aid their mental health.