Sunday, July 9, 2017

When Cat Training is Potentially Life Saving

As you know if you've been following this blog, one of my many obsessions is training my cat. Not many people in the past considered cats trainable and that mentality continues today in many cases. However, I'd argue that a trained cat is a healthier cat mentally and in some cases physically, as it's easier to get your cat out of danger or a sticky situation if it already knows some basic training. Granted I don't have a degree in this (yet... I've been eyeballing some cat training courses), but here are a few scenarios where training can save the day:

Ensign Ticky says he's been well trained at the Academy.
He always follows the Prime Directive.
...Ok, maybe not always but he tries his best.
Ticky needed to be comfortable with being handled in order to get him in and out of his harness. He had to become accustomed to being lightly restrained and pushing his head through his harness and then back out of it each time we went for a walk. I never thought about how useful this would be in other situations until Ticky got his head stuck through a bag handle and didn't know how to get it off by himself. Cats are nosy but they can also panic if they think the thing around their neck is "chasing" them when they try to get away from it. Plastic bags, or in one cat's case when I was growing up a string of jingle bells, can become terrifying monsters pretty quickly. Luckily Ticky wasn't in panic mode yet and I managed to lift the bag up and say "head through" like we do every time he has to back his head out of his harness. With a familiar-ish scenario and command he pulled his head out of the bag handle, no problems.

As you can see, Ticky finds himself in odd bag-related
situations pretty frequently.
Training a cat to go into a carrier on their own is very useful for vet trips, but especially so if the vet trip is urgent or if you need to get the cat out of the building quickly in an emergency. Not that your cat is going to go in as smoothly as in a calmer situation, but they will at least not associate that gaping carrier maw only with going to the vet. It is more likely that you won't have as many problems if they go in and out of the carrier on a regular basis. We had a fire alarm go off in our building one time and Ticky was confused enough by the noise that I could scoop him up, deposit him in his carrier, and close the door in about five seconds. We'll see how it goes if it happens again now that he knows what the noise means... But at least getting him in the carrier won't be the hard part. It'll be dragging the cat out from under the bed.

Ticky learning "mark" which tells him to go to a specific spot on the floor.

Cats, like many animals, like predictability. Trick training mentally stimulates a cat when they're bored but it also provides something comforting and familiar to do when guests arrive or your cat is feeling unsettled about something in its environment. It proves to the cat that there's something they can actively do to receive a predictable reward, giving some semblance of control and familiarity in the moment.

For stressful scenarios always return to very simple, well-learned tricks.
For Ticky, these are "sit" and "up".
Finally, if you harness train your cat and walk them around outside then they are more likely to be familiar with the area if they do escape. Ticky runs immediately back to our porch and asks to be let in when something scares him outside. He now knows which door is ours so he can get back home if he's only a short distance from it. When I'm not quick enough closing the screen door and he dives off into the shrubbery then I at least know he's not going to bolt into the next county. I can go fish him out from under his favorite bush.

"Mom, I don't like it out here. Let me inside."
There are countless other scenarios I probably won't even think of until they arise. The point is- a trained cat is not impossible, in fact many people train their cats without thinking about it. Does your cat come running when you rattle a treat bag? Do they sit in the kitchen while you're getting their food? They have been trained! Training isn't as hard as you think and might be something that saves your cat's life.
Ticky trains hard! His motto is "just did it."

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