Friday, September 30, 2011

Does your kitty have cabin fever?

Have you ever been jealous of a friend or neighbor who has a well-trained dog that will walk on a leash, come when he’s called and sit up on command? Believe it or not, many cats are just as trainable with the clicker training method, and tasty treats. Not only will you wow your family with your savvy cat, but you will also be providing daily enrichment for your cat.

Kaiser is a Bengal who knows 51 tricks.

Cats are very smart – they find lots of ways to entertain themselves all on their own. A cat may spend 14-15 hours a day resting or sleeping in the wild, but they also spend about 5 hours hunting and traveling from place to place*. This hunting behavior is mental stimulation and exercise. Many indoor cats are unable to provide this much entertainment for themselves daily. To prevent behavior problems, and to burn excess calories, you can provide 5-10 minutes of exercise once to twice daily, or alternate with a 10-15 minute training session.

A brown tabby cat with a mouse toy
A mouse toy
How do you play with your cat? The best cat toys are ones that are interactive. While jingle bells are great dual-purpose toys that can be tossed for a cat (and maybe even be used to train your cat to fetch) or that the cat can bat independently, most cats need a variety of toys to keep them entertained. Too many similar toys can cause a cat to become bored. Not all cats will like every type of toy, however. Some cats prefer toys that simulate birds (feather wands, chirping toys, suspended toys), some prefer toys that mimic rodents (stuffed toys, balls and mouse-shaped toys) and some prefer toys that simulate crawling bugs (laser pointers, knotted strings) Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find out what your cats like. A variety of ball-type toys of different textures, a laser pointer, toys on the ends of rods or wires, food puzzles, and even a bird feeder near a cat-friendly window or a fascinating fish tank are some of the types of toys and entertainment that cats love. Even with a variety of toys available, it is usually a good idea to put some toys away for a while from time to time and then rotate them with the toys your cat is currently playing with. Older toys will develop novel appeal when the cat has not seen them for a while.

A black and white kitten with a ball or "bug" toy
A bug toy
Toy reviews
How to choose a toy
Matching toys to your cat’s personality
Great cat toys don’t have to cost a lot of money, either. Here are some sites with some creative DIY toys.
Homemade food puzzles
A huge list of creative homemade toys

As for training, cats respond very well to food rewards, which is part of the clicker training method. Basically, you make a sound and associate it with a food reward. Once your kitty figures out that the sound equals food, they are yours to command! You can use this method to train your cat to sit, come, beg, high five, shake, turn off lights, and even complex activities such as navigating an agility course with tunnels, hoops and see-saws.
One thing to keep in mind when planning training sessions is how many treats you give during the session. Treats should make up no more than 10-15% of your cat’s daily intake. If you find yourself using too many treats during training sessions, you can always take a portion of your cat’s daily diet and use that as a reward, remembering to decrease the amount of food offered at mealtime. You can also break treats into small pieces – after all, to a cat a tiny ant is considered a delicious snack!

An orange tabby kitten with a feathery "bird" toy
A bird toy
While it is not a good idea to deprive your cat of food simply for training purposes, many cats will respond better to training sessions just before meal time – this only works, however, if your cat is on a meal-fed schedule versus having food available free choice. If your cat has food available all day long, try to keep an eye out for the times your cat visits the bowl regularly and try to plan your training sessions near that time. Cats are creatures of habit, so it isn’t usually too difficult to figure out their routine. If you can’t figure out your cat’s schedule, then just make sure you have a fabulous treat available that your cat will love.
High-energy play sessions and rewarding training sessions will build on your relationship with your cat as well as helping to keep your cat physically and mentally alert and engaged.

Ohio State University’s Indoor Pet Initiative
FabCats, a UK site about environmental enrichment for indoor cats
How to address the different activity needs of cats
A scholarly article from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery with recommendations for environmental enrichment, and dealing with frustrated and anxious or fearful cats
Two articles about feline clicker training strategies
Clicker training your cat
Can you train your cat?

*For those of you who noticed that doesn’t add up to 24 hours, most of the rest of the day is spent grooming, and about 40 minutes a day is spent eating. Shop for cat toys at our Amazon Affiliate Store:

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