How to Train Cats

By Jack Wilson

Training cats is like juggling three balls made of Jello or sorting wet noodles by hand; they go off in all directions at once. There are ways to indicate what you want them to do or refrain from doing, but the results depend a lot on the willingness and intelligence of the cats.

Of course, you don’t ever want to hit them and any correction must be done at the very moment of the infraction or the cats won’t make the connection and will be bewildered about what you want. One approach is to make a noise of disapproval just as the cat is where you don’t want it to go; as it is just getting there. I have found that they respond to a hissing sound. I start with a quiet “ssssssssss” then gradually increase the loudness. Clapping hands once is startling and effective. Nothing will be very effective the first time, but after a while the cats, if they are smart enough, will recognize that certain places and actions are not allowed. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to go there, but they will be looking out for signs of disapproval. It is also true that they may get used to certain behaviors on your part and ignore them when earlier they would find them startling.

I have a smart cat (for a cat) and another one whose brainpower may be limited. The latter cannot learn or will not obey. I haven’t figured out whether she is just dumb or simply willful. I have learned to accommodate her for the most part, but will still insist that she not play with or chew wiring and stay on her side of the kitchen counter. I do this mostly with a squirt gun. The water is harmless (except to books and papers) and after a few squirts, the cats respond to the sound of my picking it up; they dash for the hills, (the bedroom).

One of the biggest problems with cats is scratching. People used to solve this problem by de-clawing the cats. It is still done but is much frowned upon by humane societies since it is very painful for the cats and has been compared to cutting off the first knuckles of a person’s hands. Most people these days keep their cats inside because of the danger of the cat picking up rabies or other diseases by catching infected mice. A de-clawed cat that accidentally gets outside is helpless without claws.

I have several scratching boards and cylinders which the cats use regularly. They can hide inside or scratch on the outside. I trim their claws regularly; just the tips. They have done very little damage with their claws.

Ultimately you will have to realize that the cats are limited and you will have to adapt to their peculiarities. Just think of them as teen-aged humans covered with ever-falling fur.

Jack Wilson is a writer and artist in Tempe, Arizona:

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