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According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), at of the end of 2018 there were 94.2 million cats in the United States. In fact, cats outnumber dogs by roughly 4.5 million. That’s a tremendous, gigantic number of kitties. Yet even with almost 100 million cats living among us, there is a disconnect and frankly a misconception about cat’s trainability.

When dog training is mentioned no one really questions whether dogs can be trained. Sure, some dogs for example Basset Hounds, might be harder to teach than others, but no one really doubts whether dogs as a species are trainable.

Alas this is not the same perception when it comes to cats and training. Mention training your cat and people get a strange look. Common comments include; “Can you train a cat? Cats can’t be trained! Cats are too independent to be trained. Cats don’t care about pleasing you like dogs!”

At first glance some of these reactions are understandable. Our expectations and history with cats are different than that of dogs.

In modern times most everyone can conjure up an image of a noble dog. It could be Lassie who against all odds and ignoring great discomfort or danger to herself comes through to rescue Timmy. One can picture this gorgeous rough coated Collie swimming across rivers, fighting mountain lions, hunger and heat all for the love of her human family. Variations on this plot have been redone countless times for successive generations. Now try picturing this with a cat.

Problem behavior

The term “problem behavior” is a loaded one. Much of what we humans consider problematic in our pets is perfectly normal for them. Understanding that might make us feel less judgmental but it doesn’t change our need to modify behaviors we find unappealing, dangerous and unacceptable.

…Guide to Fostering Basics

Taking in a foster kitty in need is one of the most rewarding, and stressful, things you can do. By stepping up to volunteer, you’re not only helping to free up space in your local shelter, but you’re also providing a safe space for vulnerable animals to develop into loving pets; free of the diseases and other stressors they might encounter in the shelter environment.

Reasons to Foster

There are a variety of reasons to bring a foster cat into your home. If you’re thinking about signing up to become a foster parent, here is a list of potential reasons that fostering might be right for you:

  1. You love cats and want to help them get acclimated to a healthy home environment, so they’re able to find their forever homes.
  2. Your home has a quiet space for the kitty, separate from your household pets.
  3. If you’re interested in fostering kittens, be sure you have plenty of free time and a flexible schedule for frequent feedings and other essential care.

Be Prepared

You can start preparing your home for foster kitties by setting aside a quiet space, whether that be an entire room you rarely use or a corner of your space for a large crate. Prepare the space by placing a litter box in one corner, a food bowl and a warm bed. If you have other pets in the home, try to position the kitties where you will have the ability to keep them separated. Introductions, especially between the kittens and other cats, should be done slowly and under careful supervision (if at all).

When preparing your foster space make sure to move all valuables, remove any cords or wires that could be tempting to chew on and move any houseplants out of reach. While your shelter will provide you with the necessary supplies, here is a general item checklist you’ll want to make sure you have:

  • Litter Box
  • Blankets or a cat bed
  • Food and water bowls
  • Toys
  • Scratcher

If you are fostering kittens there are additional items you’ll need, like baby wipes, a heating pad, and kitten specific food.

Tips for Fostering Kittens

Caring for kittens under eight weeks of age can be a whirlwind of basic needs, medical concerns and unbelievable cuteness. Most shelters will offer trainings and educational materials to help demystify the process, but here just a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Understand the developmental milestones you should be reaching. Week by week your kittens will have different needs as they mature, for example you can typically start introducing them to toys around week four, you can start weaning them during week five, etc.
  • Your shelter will provide you with kitty litter, but if you are using clumping litter you still need to keep close watch on your kittens to make sure they aren’t accidentally ingesting it. Due to the curious nature of kittens, a pellet-based litter is ideal.
  • When introducing kittens to toys and play, start slow. They will be timid so you need to have patience, this is the ideal time to teach them healthy play habits — so never use your hands or fingers as toys.

The process might seem overwhelming, but it is important to vet all candidates to make sure they are ready for this short-term (but big) commitment.

Cats Need to Play

Play and enrichment can be used to redirect behaviors that are deemed inappropriate and channel the cat’s energy into a more constructive manner. Whether your cat is quiet and timid, or boisterous and confident, all cats need to play. Try out different toys and styles of play until you find what your cat likes best.

Here a few essentials you should have in your home to enrich your cat mentally and physically, while keeping them out of trouble

Scratching Toys

Cats have a basic instinct to scratch and keep their nails short, so it’s important to provide non-destructive outlets for this need. Scratching posts and incline scratchers can save your doorframes and sofas from prying kitty nails. Try out a few different scratching options until you find what your kitty likes best.

Teasers

If you’ve ever caught your cat staring at birds out the window, then you know how much they love to stalk and hunt. Teaser toys mimic birds fluttering around; you’ll be able to satisfy their hunting instinct while bonding and interacting with your cat.

Wrestling Toys

Wrestling toys like Kickeroos provide cats with independent play and an opportunity to let out some of their playful energy while you’re busy cooking dinner. If you have multiple cats, it can also be a great idea to place wrestling toys in areas where they frequently have conflicts. Instead of chasing each other, your cats can wrestle the Kickeroo, letting out aggression in a healthy manner and keeping your home harmonious.

Catnip

We all know how funny cats can be around catnip, but did you know how enriching it can be to their mental wellbeing? While this won’t have any effect on kittens, adult cats will enjoy mental stimulation that will bust boredom by making their toys all the more appealing.

Preparing for Adoption

It can be really difficult to say goodbye to your foster pets, but it’s important to remember that you are providing a very valuable service to your local shelter. If you kept every foster then you wouldn’t have space left to help other animals in need, so trust that your shelter will work hard to place the animal in a loving forever home.

Training cats? Yes really!

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), at of the end of 2018 there were 94.2 million cats in the United States. In fact, cats outnumber dogs by roughly 4.5 million. That’s a tremendous, gigantic number of kitties. Yet even with almost 100 million cats living among us, there is a disconnect and frankly a misconception about cat’s trainability.

When dog training is mentioned no one really questions whether dogs can be trained. Sure, some dogs for example Basset Hounds, might be harder to teach than others, but no one really doubts whether dogs as a species are trainable.

Alas this is not the same perception when it comes to cats and training. Mention training your cat and people get a strange look. Common comments include; “Can you train a cat? Cats can’t be trained! Cats are too independent to be trained. Cats don’t care about pleasing you like dogs!”

At first glance some of these reactions are understandable. Our expectations and history with cats are different than that of dogs. While both species have a long relationship with humans, we’ve expected more from dogs and done more to breed dogs for specific purposes that suit our needs.

In modern times most everyone can conjure up an image of a noble dog. It could be Lassie who against all odds and ignoring great discomfort or danger to herself comes through to rescue Timmy. One can picture this gorgeous rough coated Collie swimming across rivers, fighting mountain lions, hunger and heat all for the love of her human family. Variations on this plot have been redone countless times for successive generations. Now try picturing this with a cat.

The idea of teaching a bouncing 60-pound Labrador Retriever pup to walk properly on a leash and not drag you down the street seems logical. Many of the same folks who nod their heads affirmatively at the idea of training the dog, will look confused if I suggested doing the same thing with a cat.

None of this means cats can’t be trained. It just means that we have different expectations and perceptions about cats than we do with dogs.

The truth is that cats are highly trainable. You just need to understand what motivates them and be clear about what you want to train them to do. In this respect dog training and cat training are the same. Not all dogs are motivated by belly rubs, or food, or praise or toys. The same holds true for cats. A good trainer learns to figure out what the motivators are and uses them to get the response they are looking for.

Let’s touch on a few things that cat parents often want/need to train their cats to do.

Problem behavior

The term “problem behavior” is a loaded one. Much of what we humans consider problematic in our pets is perfectly normal for them. Understanding that might make us feel less judgmental but it doesn’t change our need to modify behaviors we find unappealing, dangerous and unacceptable.

Common feline problem behaviors

Litter Box challenges. Solutions. Rule out any physical problems by taking the cat to a veterinarian. Place box(es) in quiet areas away from heavy foot traffic. Litter boxes must be kept clean. Cats are usually fastidious and failure to consistently clean the box is a major cause of litter box challenges.

So is the kind of cat litter you use. There are numerous types and while one type doesn’t fit all, generally it is best to stay away from scented litter and litter that the cat is uncomfortable walking on. Once you find a litter the cat likes, stick with it. Many cat parents change litter without considering their cats preferences.

If you have multiple cats you need multiple litter boxes. A good rule of thumb is 1 cat should have 2 litter boxes and 2 cats 3 litter boxes. Older cats sometimes need easy access litter boxes as they have a harder time climbing in and out of them. Praise and reward cats when they eliminate in the box. If the cat is food motivated a treat will work wonders. If they like to play with toys, wait till they have finished eliminating and then play with them for a minute or two. Catnip can sometimes be used to encourage cats to go to a litter box.

Remember that catnip only works on about 70% of cats. It can be very helpful but is not a cure all or solution to every problem.

Scratching on furniture. Solutions. Scratching on furniture is analogous to dogs chewing. It’s a normal behavior that needs to be modified. The key is to get the cat to scratch on the correct items and leave the inappropriate ones alone. At this juncture many cat parents purchase a scratching post. This is logical but the devil is in the details. If you get a scratching post made of similar material to the furniture you want to stop your cat from scratching you won’t alleviate the problem. You might even make it worse. Scratchers made or cardboard or sisal are best. Catnip can be used to attract cats to the post. Numerous other toys can also be helpful in dealing with a root cause of scratching. Boredom.

So, in closing, cats are highly trainable and there are a growing group of professional cat trainers available to assist you with your feline friend.

In future blogs we will discuss what cues to teach your cat as well as address other common behavioral challenges.

Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer with over 35 years of experience. He is the president and owner of Animal Behavior College the nations largest animal career school. He lives with his wife Shelley and new Basset Hound named Roy.

Looking to switch up your holiday décor with a fun, inexpensive activity you can do at home? You can easily add your precious pets to the decorating fun with these simple DIY ornaments.

Wood-backed Photo Ornaments:

Materials:

  • Unfinished wood slices or coasters (available at most craft stores)
  • Printed photos
  • Ribbon
  • Mod Podge + brush
  • Scissors
  • Drill to make a small hole for the ribbon

Steps:

  1. Trace the wood circle on the back of your photo. Cut out the photo and test it on the coaster for size, trim any access.
  2. Place a bit of Mod Podge on the back of the photo and stick it to the wood, let dry at least 1 min.
  3. Put a layer of Mod Podge over the whole front side of the ornament over the photo. Let dry completely.
  4. Drill a small hole at the top large enough to fit a ribbon through.
  5. Tie ribbon through the hole so it can be hung on a tree or mantle!
Snow Ornament:

Materials:

  • Iridescent artificial snowflakes
  • Fillable clear plastic craft ornaments
  • Ribbon
  • String or fishing wire
  • An object to go inside (here we used an XS KONG Classic)

Steps:

  1. Open the ornament and pour some of the snowflakes into one half.
  2. Take your object and tie a piece of fishing wire or a string around it and set into the half with the snowflakes with the string close to the top.
  3. Carefully place the other half onto the ornament, lining up the holes at the top.
  4. Tie the piece of fishing wire through the holes so whatever object you placed in the ornament hangs in the middle.
  5. String a ribbon through the holes in order to hang it on the tree.
Paw Print Ornament:

Materials:

  • Air-dry clay
  • A willing paw

Steps:

  1. Mold some of the air-dry clay into a disc shape.
  2. Press your pet’s paw into the disc shape so there is an imprint.
  3. Let dry.

Fun tip: Use different colors to make their name, and other decorations you can stick onto the disc like holly or a bow.

DIY ornaments are not only fun to create, they also make heart-warming gifts! You can use these ornament techniques for a variety of photos, objects, pets, or people.

Teaching your puppy to settle and to be home alone and happy is one of the most important steps in puppy training, though for many it is also the most overlooked! Dogs are naturally social animals and so being alone does not come naturally to them. Many owners find themselves frustrated as they are unable to go anywhere without company!

It is therefore our responsibility to help our puppies feel as calm and confident as possible while on their own. With some time and patience, you can have your puppy home alone and happy in no time!

Important note: Before discussing the training, it is important to note that puppy’s emotional state needs to come first. Many owners will try and get a jump start on separation training by practicing departures from the first day the puppy comes home. While this is a great idea in theory, it can lead to further distress as your puppy will feel confused and abandoned from the day they come home! Instead, when you bring a puppy home, for the first few months of your puppy’s life, you should focus on settling them in the space and ensuring they are happy and comfortable before being to leave them.

Step 1: Teaching Confidence Around Barriers

The first step of prepping your puppy for separation is getting your puppy confident around barriers. Having your puppy understand they cannot always have everything they want when they want it will help with not just separation training, but general frustration tolerance and impulse control.

Deciding where your puppy will be left is a crucial step in this process. Most puppy guardians will opt to leave their new puppy in a crate or pen when left, to prevent them from practicing destructive behaviour or toileting in the wrong place. Getting them comfortable in their crate will help to prepare them for eventual departures.

When looking to select your crate, you should opt for a crate that is big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down, but no larger. Though this may seem cruel, there is a practical reason for this! Puppies are taught by their mother at a young age not to toilet in their resting space, and so are less likely to toilet in their crate. If the crate is too large, they are likely to use half for sleeping and half as a toilet! If you want to buy a larger crate for your puppy to grow into, then using dividers to break down the space to help prevent this problem.

If you are planning to use a pen, then you can make this slightly larger. Giving your puppy a place to rest, a place to toilet and even some toys to play with are all acceptable in this space!

Encouraging your puppy to rest in their crate or pen at other times of day (with the door open if your puppy isn’t quite there yet!) will help to build positive associations that this is a place of rest. Giving them a stuffed kong to lick and chew in their pen will help accelerate process. While your puppy is resting or chewing, you can practice opening and closing the door to get them comfortable with this, while rewarding them for staying calm.

This can also be done around baby gates and doors. If your puppy is worried by you going to the bathroom, for example, you can scatter some treats outside the door while you are out. This keeps you puppy busy looking for treats while you slip in and out of the bathroom. If you are planning an activity that may take longer, such as getting changed or bathing, giving your puppy a kong or activity toy to do on the other side of the door will help to build up a positive association with you being on the other side of the door!

Step 2: Leaving

A note on the “cry it out” method: Previously, trainers have advised that we leave puppies to “cry it out” when we leave them. However, modern dog trainers actually advise against this, as it creates more issues than it solves. Leaving your puppy in a sustained state of distress can cause great emotional scaring. Though after your puppy has finished, they may fall silent and appear to no longer be distressed, scientists believe they are in a state of depression known as “learned helplessness”.

Getting your puppy ready for leaving can be one of the hardest things you do! When looking to leave your puppy don’t make your departures very sudden and/or long!

For some puppies, you will need to make your move to leave as standing up and sitting down again. For others, you can progress rapidly though this stage. Looking at your individual pups body language and working at their rate is key to keeping your pup happy.

Another part of training you may wish to work on is making your leaving routine super boring. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and will very quickly pick up your leaving routine. One way to combat this is to make your leaving cues mean nothing to the dog. For example, putting your shoes on and then sitting & watching tv, or picking up your keys and then putting them straight down again.

When starting to leave your pup, investing in a doggie camera or baby monitor is a good idea as it allows you to monitor your pups progress. If you are in a pinch, using two phones, tablets or computers to video call each other can also help as it gives you reassurance your pup is okay.

If you puppy can be trusted with them, leaving your puppy in their safe space with an item that smells like you can be really reassuring. Dogs are naturally smell oriented and will likely find your smell really comforting. Leaving your pup with an old t shirt you’ve worn the night before, or used socks, can really help to relax your pup!

One thing to avoid is to gradually be leaving your pup for incrementally longer periods. Dogs are incredibly smart and will very quickly work out what is happening. When you are first starting out, throw a shorter departure in every now and again to make it easier for your dog.

Summary

Though preparing to leave your puppy can seem like a long and stressful process, it is ultimately one the most important training plans you will ever go through as it sets your dog up with skills for life!

If you’re having trouble with your puppy it is always best to reach out and contact a local rewards based trainer for tailored help and support.

Have you had success with leaving your puppy at home? Do you have any tips or techniques you can share? Feel free to leave us a comment below all about it!