Okay, most of our “training” of animals comes from domestication, which means the act of taking an otherwise “wild” animal, and making it comfortable with being around humans. Most of that “training” is done by what you would call “exposure” training, which is often showing the animal a strange situation and allowing it to get used to it and think of it as normal.

For example, if you imagine a family of kittens… if they are born underneath your garden shed, and don’t get to see humans at all while they are young, they’ll be naturally scared of people for life (and as adults they will be much harder to train). But, if those same kittens are “exposed” to people often, (for example held and petted every day) then they will feel that this is okay, and won’t have the same type of fear. It’s the same if a kitten is raised in a house with dogs. It’s not likely to be too scared of the family hounds, but if it’s never seen a dog in its early years, it’s going to be very, very scared when it finally bumps into one.

Banish all thoughts of training your cat as you would a dog. Although it’s feasible at the hands of a professional trainer, it isn’t very practical or affordable. You will want your cat to behave well, though, and you should be able to stop him from such undesirable practices as jumping up on the table to join you at mealtimes. Your coexistence will be a lot more pleasant and fun if the cat can be persuaded to come when he is called and to sharpen his claws on a scratching post instead of shredding the furniture. So there are really three cardinal rules of cat-training:

  • Favor incentives over deterrents whenever possible. Use your cat’s natural preferences to gently induce him toward the desired goal. Prefer accommodation over restriction.
  • Do not let training impair the all-important bond of trust between you and your cat. Ideally, training sessions can strengthen the human-feline relationship.
  • Consult with your veterinarian to investigate possible medical causes for any behavior problems

At any time, perhaps 10-20 percent of cats require a more intensive approach: formerly outdoor cats, orphaned kittens, abused cats, cats acquiring a new housemate (of any species), cats suffering from physical ailments or emotional conflicts. As many people who live with a cat already know, kitty is quite the savvy trainer themself. An attempt at training could help you, the human, efficiently serve your feline master, leaving both of you with more time to enjoy each other’s company.

One of the most basic things you can teach your cat is to respond to his own name. Say his name out loud whenever you greet or pet him, repeating it often as you do things together. To train your cat to come to you when called, start by saying his name as you put down the food bowl. Then, begin calling his name at mealtime before you do anything that makes a noise the cat might associate with food, such as opening the refrigerator, using a can opener, or scooping dry food into his bowl. When the cat appears, reward him immediately.

Wearing a Leash or Harness

With perseverance and patience, you may be able to get your cat to accept wearing a harness, either to go for walks or to run around safely in the yard. Admittedly this undertaking is a lot easier to do if you start while the cat is still a kitten. Approach the wearing of the harness gradually, with food rewards each step along the way. Start by leaving the harness out on the floor so your cat can smell and become acquainted with it. Once the harness is no longer perceived as dangerous or threatening, place it on the cat’s back without fastening it.

It may help to distract the cat with a treat until he gets used to the feel of the harness. As the cat begins to accept the apparatus, fasten it for a short period of time, taking it off immediately when the cat seems perturbed. Gradually increase the length of time you leave the harness on and only once the cat seems to have forgotten that it is there, add the leash. Let the cat walk around dragging the leash, making sure it doesn’t get caught on anything. Then, hold the end of the leash so the cat becomes used to feeling pressure on it. The final step is to familiarize your cat with the exciting, and possibly frightening, sights and sounds of the outdoors. Start off in your backyard or in a quiet area close to home, holding the leash tightly in case the cat tries to bolt. Gradually increase the length of these exercises until your cat is comfortable.

You are both on your way, together.