How to become a pro at pet training
Being a pet parent involves lots more than providing them with food and drink. A new kitten or puppy needs raising and training. When you take on a pup or kitty, the responsibility for that training and raising falls to you. Your cat won’t start using the cat flap on their own accord, and no puppy ever simply knows what ‘sit’ of ‘heel’ means. So, how do you go about training your brand new furry friends?
Behavioural training for cats
When you think about cats, the words that probably spring to mind are independent, stubborn and quirky. That doesn’t mean cats aren’t trainable; for example, it’s pretty easy to train your kitty to use the cat flap. It’s also vital to accustom them to fur, teeth and nail care. Not only will it be easier to brush them yourself, but they’ll be much more relaxed about letting the vet or a groomer handling them.
The single most crucial thing to remember about training cats is to never punish them for getting it wrong. Cats react strongly to punishment, which will have an adverse effect. Instead, use positive reinforcement to stimulate the desired behaviour.
Before you start kitty boot camp, be clear on what you want to achieve. In other words: which behaviour would you like them to exhibit? Let’s stay with the cat flap example. You want your cat to learn that they can use the flap to enter and leave the house. Try breaking this up into smaller steps. Get a toy your cat is nuts about and loves to hunt after. Use that to entice them through an open cat flap. Catching the toy feels like a reward to your cat. Repeat this many times, but slowly start closing the flap a little more each time. The cat will begin to learn that they can pass through the flap, even when it’s closed.
Is your cat food motivated? Replace the toy with a cat treat, such as the Grillers or the Salmon Sandwich. When trying to teach your cat, it is essential to know them well and to know what motivates them.
You can apply the structure of this exercise to every desired behaviour. Do you want to teach your cat that brushing is not scary or annoying? First, while you are holding it, let them sniff and explore the brush. Then gently stroke their back, then brush it. Slowly take things a bit further, while rewarding them for good behaviour at every step. This way, they will learn which behaviour leads to rewards.
Behavioural training for dogs
Happily, a lot of help and guidance is available for canine behavioural training. Most owners will probably take their young dog to puppy training, where they will practise basic behaviours together. When you continue training at home, it is important to react to the desired behaviour immediately. If you don’t, your dog will not learn to associate the behaviour with the reward. The same goes for discipline. If you try to discipline your dog for something that happened earlier, they will have no clue what you are so worked up about. It is also vital to train in multiple environments. If you do not, you may notice your dog will sit on command in the living room, but not when you are waiting to cross a street safely.
Be aware training may take time, so don’t forget to be patient. It may take a while before your pup masters a command fully, and not all breeds learn at the same speed. Observe your dog during your training sessions. That way, you will discover which rewards they love the most and which method of discipline works best. On the other hand, you may find you have a rebel on your hands, that flat out refuses all of your attempts at training them! Oh, dear…
A clicker is a popular training tool for both owners and professional trainers. A clicker is a small device with a button, that when pressed produces a clicking sound. You can use this device to teach your cat or dog the click is a reward in itself, and then use it to train them. The significant advantage of clicker training is that it becomes much easier to reward your pet immediately. Clicking straight away when your pet is exhibiting the desired behaviour will help them understand what the desired behaviour is. When you reward by using snacks, there is always a delay between the behaviour and the reward, which means they may not connect the behaviour with the reward. Don’t forget to give them the occasional treat, to prevent them from losing interest.
Before you alert using the clicker, it’s important to familiarize your dog with the sound the clicker makes. Now you have to teach them the click is a reward. Do this by making the click sound and simultaneously giving the animal a treat. Repeat a minimum of six times, so your pet starts to associate the sound with yummy goodness. Now you are ready to get to work!
Final pro tip: always use the same clicker, as the sound may differ per device. You may not notice, but your pet definitely will!
You now have enough guidelines to start training your cat or dog. As long as you practise consistency and clarity, anyone can teach their pet specific behaviours. Don’t forget to have fun with it, because the more your pet enjoys your time together, the easier things will be. Good luck!