by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
It is widely believed that cats cannot be trained yet look at how well your cat lives with you. She knows where her food and water bowls are and when they are filled with good things. She knows where the litter tray is, where the best sleeping spots are, when you come home and how to play with you. How did she learn those things?
Cats learn from the consequences of their actions; from their successes or failures. Behaviours that satisfy a desire or a need are repeated while those that don’t are modified or discarded. Cat’s needs are simpler that ours, they need food, shelter and security and like to have some extras such as a warm and cosy home, friendly company, people to play and share things with and a place to be be private and contemplate the world.
Kittens as well as cats also learn by example. Mother cat shows them how to catch a mouse or use the litter tray by example. They watch how we open doors and the dog begs for food and if they can see a benefit to using these they will adapt them to suit their needs.
The early learning time for kittens is from 7 to 12 weeks of age. It is extremely important that kittens are left with their mothers and siblings for this time as they learn so much that will make them sociable and confident adult cats who can be easily integrated into any household.
One of the early learning exercises is bite-inhibition, learnt from litter mates and other cats that may be part of the household or colony. This is a lesson in how sore a cat-bite feels! When the kittens start to play they will bite each other and feel the consequences so they learnt not to bite friends, only food.
Older cats in the household or colony help with teaching the kittens how to deal with other cats that are not siblings. There may be friendly cats, old cats, males and females, other kittens of different ages and even dogs or other pets to deal with. Cats that learn from dogs are more inclined to bite since dogs use their mouths more that cats.
Human contact during these first weeks is important too, as kittens learn to deal with large two-legged folk who are powerful enough to pick them up and force them to behave in certain ways.
It is never too late to train a cat; just like us some take to it easily and some resist at all costs!