How can I take advantage of my cat’s natural curiosity to teach her tricks?

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Unlike dogs, who are pack animals intent on pleasing their “leader,” cats approach their world with curious observation. When they decide to do something, it’s much more to please themselves than you, although they don’t mind your agreement and approval, especially if there’s a treat attached.

Cats are astute interpreters of body language, and will often respond more readily to gestures than verbal commands. If you want to teach a cat a “trick,” observe what naturally catches her eye and how she responds. The most successful cat “tricks” are extensions or augmentations of existing behaviors and responses.

Since a cat’s name is the most abstract concept she’s liable to learn for your benefit, use the name only to attract attention and deliver positive response. When you’re scolding the cat, choose a negative phrase and gesture, but don’t pair her name to the admonition. Cat’s are all about return on investment. They’ll start ignoring their names if they’re not getting consistent rewards for their responses.

Let the cat dictate the timing. If you’re trying to turn an existing behavior into a conditioned response, be prepared to “play the game” when the cat is ready. When a cat sees you’re interested in what she’s doing, she’ll then be curious to find out why you’re interested. With praise, reward, and patient repetition, her behavior can then be guided subtly and slowly.

The cat will, in turn, lead you if she becomes curious to see what you’ll do next. Your responses are as important as hers. Be open to her “suggested changes.” If cats see training as a shared and respectful exercise in curiosity, they can and do give some amazing responses.

Cats learn on their own learn to open doors, manipulate electronic devices, and turn on lights. Given their propensity to figure out complex sequences? You may not want to leave the computer out and your credit card in plain sight.

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