I’m going to say it right up front: I’m a dog person. Not only because I’m slightly allergic to cats, but also because in my opinion cats just don’t have the personality and loyalty that dogs have.
My dogs will come running to say hello, not just when I come in the door but repeatedly throughout the day just for the chance to be pet and loved. I’ve never owned a cat of my own so I wouldn’t officially know, but I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from cats. I also don’t picture them listening very well when I ask them to sit or stay or do any other number of tricks — but that perception may be changing soon.
Steve Appelbaum, president of Animal Behavior College, is working on a program to teach trainers how to train cats. ABC is a vocational college that focuses on animal-centered careers like training, grooming or veterinary assistants. The courses offered through ABC are a combination of online schooling and a hands-on experience with a local professional. The college also offers continuing education courses to its students who might be interested in dog walking, dog sitting or training shelter dogs. Last October they began offering a continued education course on feline behavior, which has quickly taken off. Today, more than 600 students have taken the course.
“If you go to animal shelters, on the dog side you see all this outreach,” Appelbaum said. “You have shelters that are connected with a variety of volunteer organizations that help place dogs. For many years the mantra you’d hear was ‘spay and neuter’ and that’s an important message but nowadays you’re hearing, at least on the dog side, ‘spay, neuter, train.’ They realize there’s a correlation between behaviors and why these animals end up in shelters in the first place. On the cat side it’s a deafening silence. There isn’t the same focus on training cats as there is in training dogs, in part because there’s a perception on the part of many cat owners, that cats can’t be trained.”
Appelbaum said while many cat owners may not have a desire to put their cat on a leash and go for a walk there is sometimes a need to correct some behaviors like scratching furniture, spraying, or going to the bathroom inside.
“Dog training, cat training, human training, dolphin training all revolve around pretty similar principles,” Appelbaum said. “You have to show the cat what an appropriate behavior is and reward the cat for that appropriate behavior. That a lot of times is where people get stuck. With a dog you tell the dog to sit and then you pet the dog on the head and scratch behind their ears, or rub their belly and you tell them what a good dog they are. Most dogs are happy with that. If you do that to a cat they’ll look at you strange. They are much less motivated to work for that kind of reward than a dog would be. Their personalities are so different from dogs and that’s where the perception comes in. People think they don’t care to please you, which isn’t necessarily true. It’s just about finding what motivates them. A pat on the head might not work, but a cat treat might.”
Dianne Decker, pet education trainer at the Arizona Animal Welfare League, said while the shelter may not teach cats to sit or stay they do focus on socializing the animals and sometimes they will train rambunctious cats to walk on a leash with a harness. They also have a program where they pair excited kittens with slightly older cats that teach them how to behave properly. The biggest reason she sees cats coming to the shelter, besides a family moving away from their home, is litter box issues, which could be fixed with the right kind of training.
“If a cat urinates in the house, in my mind, people seem to tolerate it far less than if their puppy or adult dog urinated in the house,” Decker said. “The toleration level is less. It’s quite often that cat poop or urine smells more. You clean it up the same, but people are far less tolerant of cats going out of their designated area than dogs.”
Decker says small things like placement of the litter box, cleanliness, type of litter, or even whether or not the box has a cover can all have a big effect on why a cat is or isn’t using the litter box. Learning these types of behaviors could keep a lot of cats out of shelters.
June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, so if you’re thinking about adopting a cat but aren’t sure you can deal with some of the behavior issues, just know, it’s OK. Believe it or not, cats can be trained.
And if you’re interested in specializing in training cats maybe ABC’s class could be for you. You can find more information online at http://www.animalbehaviorcollege.com/curriculum.asp or by calling (888) 600-7220.