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Reward-Based Positive Reinforcement Training for Cats

Reward-based positive reinforcement training is the most humane and effective way to train cats; it sets the animal up to succeed, is enjoyable for the cat and positively enhances the relationship bond between the cat and handler.

Reward–based training methods involve positive reinforcement whereby the animal is rewarded when the desired behaviour is performed and unwanted behaviour is ignored.

Cats learn through experience. It goes roughly something like this – enjoyed it, I’ll do it again; got attention, I’ll do it again; no attention or reward, I won’t do it again. If you don’t want your cat to do something, you must not reward the behaviour, remembering that any attention can feel like a reward.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

Reward-based training does not involve punishment, aversive stimuli or dominance. Punishment doesn’t work because the animal often does not make any association between the owner being upset and the event and it does not address the underlying cause of the issue. Punishment also tends to make the issue worse as the animal can become more anxious and fearful.

For example, a verbal reprimand simply won’t be understood, especially after the event has already occurred and can come across to the kitten as: “I need to be wary of him/her because she’s unpredictable”.

Patience

Before you start, it’s important to be clear that training takes time and patience. The cat needs to enjoy what it is doing, or it will simply wander off. While your cat may get the general idea quite quickly, refining this into a specific behaviour may take a little longer. Here’s an example.

Training Your Cat to Love the Carrier

Say you want your cat to view his or her carrier as a good thing. You might start by rewarding no more than a glance at the carrier. Rewards can be in the form of a tasty food treat or cat toy. You might need to move through stages: rewarding a move towards it, then rewarding a paw or head inside, until the cat goes completely inside to get a treat. Don’t expect these stages to happen in a single session. When the cat is willingly going inside, make the game even more fun by tossing the reward (away from the carrier) so that it can be pounced on. Eventually the cat should reach the point of actively entering the carrier just for the fun of the chase and pounce.