Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yes, You Can Train Your Cat

Dogs are man’s best friend. Cats? They’re more aloof. Even the millions of doting cat owners will often acknowledge that their pets can be enigmatic, hard to please and frustratingly antisocial. They run away. They hide. They scratch. They refuse to get in the carrier when it’s time to go to the vet. They kill rodents and birds and offer up the bloody carcasses up as if they were gifts.

None of this is the fault of cats. They are just being cats, obeying the rules that nature has laid down for them and in them. The fault is ours—both for holding wrongheaded expectations of these natural-born, solitary hunters and for failing to train them (yes, cats can be trained) in ways that make sense for felines, not just humans. It is long past time that we changed the way we relate to cats.

Unlike dogs, cats have become purely domestic pets only very recently, within the past 50 years. In many ways, they are still wild animals, and the demands of modern life cause them tremendous stress. That pressure often drives cats to act out in ways we find difficult: scratching the drapes, dragging mangled animal corpses through the cat door, pooping behind the couch.

The only way to help cats adapt to the demands we put on them is for their owners to intervene—kindly, through training. Many people will find this suggestion strange or downright bizarre: The conventional wisdom is that dogs need training and cats don’t. But cats can benefit even more from training than dogs, which have a much longer history of living and interacting with humans.