Cat’s lack the pack behaviour of dogs which makes training dogs inherently easier. That is not to say that training cats is particularly hard and it’s certainly not impossible – it just requires a different approach. Dogs seek structural order in their pack… you being part of that pack. Cats don, and they don’t have a desire to please their pack master merely because of the dominance of that other creature.

So if training a cat cannot be based on a desire to please, to find a settled place in a pack hierarchy what approach should be taken when training a kitten or cat? The best way is to appeal to your cat’s sense of self-interest. Ensure your cat realises certain behaviour is likely to be rewarded and thus be in its self-interest whereas negative behaviour will result in a lack of rewards.

With cats, it’s very much a case of using a large carrot and a small stick if you want best results.

Kittens and the Great Outdoors
Being naturally bold and curious – the world inside and outside the home is one big exciting playground to them – kittens can get into all sorts of trouble and distress if left to their own devices. A kitten that becomes a cat will at some stage become street smart to a degree but don’t expect your kitten to know what to do with a busy road. Many dogs will ignore a kitten, but hounds and herding breeds will always seek to chase or round him up. Other larger more dominant cats may see kitten as a threat to be kept inline. Wildlife can also be a danger.

Editor’s note – I live in Byron Bay adjacent to a nature reserve. We regularly have Eastern Brown Snakes in our yard but even worse – a four-metre diamond python who has been known to eat full-grown cats and small dogs.

Even inside can be a dangerous place. A kitten is very likely at some stage to wander into a cupboard and get stuck inside. Not great if you then go out for the day and they are left with no food or water. Power cords might seem like an ideal pouncing and chewing toy, but if used in such a way this poses a danger not just to the cat, but also to his humans.

Training and Intelligence It is quite a simple task to teach a dog a number of commands or tricks. Some dogs have been known to master over 100 commands whereas cats will likely learn far less. This is not to say cats are less intelligent than dogs, indeed the opposite is likely true. The thing with cats is because they lack the desire to demonstrate loyalty and love for their pack master through doing their bidding, they will be spending less time focussing on learning different preferred behaviours.

Their intelligence and memory likely exceed that of the average dog, and their problem-solving skills are often extremely high. They learn quickly and teach their kittens a multitude of tasks. In the wild, a kitten becomes a cat that will invariably need to be able to hunt a multitude of prey independently and that takes a lot of learning and intelligence.

What should I teach my cat? Toilet Training By the time your new kitten arrives in the home it will invariably already be toilet trained, but in the excitement of moving into a new place, it might mistake a non-toilet area for a toilet area. You might keep the kitty litter in the laundry, whereas in the past it was kept in the bathroom. In such cases… it’s common for a new kitten to mistake the laundry basket for the toilet.

After a kitten has eaten, take them to their kitty litter station and place them in it. If it’s an open style tray, you can move their paws in it, if it’s an enclosed tray, encourage them to enter it themselves.

Toilet training will not take long as cats and kittens have an instinctive desire to cover their urine and faeces so as to not advertise their presence to other cats and predators.

Praise and treats for successful kitty litter tray usage are the way to go here. Make sure the tray is cleaned daily as a dirty tray will be avoided and other places around the house used instead. If your cat gets into its mind that the tray is ALWAYS dirty expect it to assume its best of looking for an alternate place to go. Not good. Modern kitty litter clumps urine and faeces together and is easy to clean. Often it also contains a mild perfume. Look for these products, they are awesome.

A tomcat may still spray its urine around to mark its territory – neutering is a great solution for this problem. If you are planning on keeping a Tom with bits intact make sure he has easy access to the outside world. Toms tend to mark the edge of the territory and if they have access to the yard, the edge will be there, as opposed to at the ends of the living room. If he does make the mistake of spraying inside and is caught in the act, clap your hands together loudly and say NO! Before ushering him outside. Rubbing noses in the smell or smacking your cat will have little effect other than to make your cat distrust and fear you.

Not to Scratch the Furniture Sharps claws are an essential survival tool for a cat in the wild so the urge to sharpen them runs deep. Often deep into your new couch. You will never succeed in programing a cat, not to scratch, but you can redirect their attention from the couch to a scratching pole. Indoor cat play areas can be a bit hit and miss. They are a popular item at Garage sales, only ab exercisers seem to be more popular. The trick is not to buy the small, low ones. Cats like the multi-storey ones so they can climb, scratch and even sleep on them. A tall cat play area will not only provide your cat with an alternative to the furniture for scratching, but it will also provide them with an alternative to the drapes for climbing.

Make sure you buy one with carpet that does match your current carpet or furniture so your cat does not confuse the two.

Come when Called. It’s harder to train a cat to come when called than a dog but it is achievable. Always call your cats name when you put down food. Keep some treats on hand for when you call your cat from outside and make sure they get one on arrival. Once they have learned this, alternate treats with just lots of affection, and then some weeks later just give your cat a pat on their prompt arrival… otherwise you will end up with an obedient but overweight cat!

Forbidden Behaviour Whether it’s jumping on the table, sleeping on the drying clothes, chewing on a power cord… there will be times when your cat is engaging in behaviour that just has to stop. Again, a sharp NO! Will usually do the trick. Be firm and consistent. If your cat is allowed on the table some days but not others, it will not ever learn what is allowed or not

Use of deterrents Cats do not like certain smells such as citronella. A drop or two rubbed on a couch they are not permitted to site on will quickly change their desire for making this place a bed. You can also use cat deterrents which are available from the pet store in places like you petunia bed to stop your cat using that exact place as a toilet.

How to use a cat door. Until your cat realises how the cat door works, it won’t use it. Training a cat to use a cat door is simple, simply walk them through the cat door several times, and soon after they will get the message. This is the way to FREEDOM! And also… to the outdoor toilet.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.