Is it better to try to train a kitten rather than an adult cat?

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Although it is not impossible to train older cats, there are many advantages to starting when the feline is young. The greatest of these is simply time. Cats give their trust when they see that you’ve earned it. The longer a cat is with his human, the deeper the bond, and the greater the degree of communication and understanding between the two.

Cats have a unique language built around posture, vocalizations, tail gestures, and countenance. As solitary predators, they are by nature observant, ever on the watch for prey or larger animals. Cats watch their people and draw many behavioral cues from this silent communication.

In very practical terms, young cats are best at learning the “good” and “bad” behaviors that are the lot of the everyday housecat. Kittens normally take quite well to litter box training, although leaving the upholstery alone is a bit harder for them to grasp. Cats love routine, and a kitten will get used to yours and adapt his accordingly in terms of eating and play times.

There are some lessons, however, that you don’t want to pass on to a cat, like rough-house hand wrestling. It may be adorable to have a tiny kitten pounce on your hands or ankles, but it’s not going to feel so good when your cat weighs 14 pounds and more.

Also, never verbally admonish a cat by using its name. Cats are capable of learning about 50 words in a functional vocabulary. Their name, however, is an abstraction. If you use it when telling Fluffy he’s been bad, and he develops a negative association with that word you insist on calling him, he’ll just start ignoring you when you say that word — an experience many a cat “owner” has endured.

Although it may not seem like kittens pick up on what you do and don’t want them to do since they are such little fireballs of energy, they are watching and listening. At about 18 months of age, young cats begin to settle into adulthood and if they’ve received good cues in kittenhood, they will be problem free adults and wonderful companions.

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