Updated: Apr 3
Have you ever trained a dog that seemed to be on the verge of psychic? They know exactly what you want, figure it out super quick, and advance through training like a cheetah on crack? I had a German shepherd I was working with on several things. It was like she was listening to us talk about the plan, and would then perform it correctly the very first time. Whenever we introduced a new skill or advanced in something, she’d look at us as if to say “That was too easy, what’s next!?” It became a running joke that she understood English. Suffice to say, she made us both look REALLY gooood. These are superglue dogs – everything sticks. They can advance so far, so fast, so easily, and learn some cool stuff. Even a not so great trainer can train these dogs to do a lot. However, lack of skill and experience can only get you so far.
Then there are the dogs who seem to be flipping you off as they walk away from your best efforts to entice interest. They’re the potato chips dogs – not everything sticks, and if you push too hard they’ll crumble. You break out all the big guns, exhaust all your quick tricks, and nadda. These dogs are often referred to as stubborn, defiant, stupid…even (insert air quotes here) untrainable. However, I think we can all agree that such assumptions simply aren’t true. In my opinion, it’s a lot like calling a child who is struggling to learn something stupid, only to find out they’re dyslexic! I also believe that blaming the learner usually says a whole lot more about the trainer than the learner. Stupid and different are not the same things. Look at Anne Sullivan. Turns out Helen Keller wasn’t stupid – she simply needed to be taught in a different way. Same with dogs. They don’t all have the same motivations, likes, dislikes, familiarity, or abilities. These are the dogs that can stump many trainers because it takes a lot of skill, knowledge, and experience to get results. If you can train one of these dogs to perform an advanced skill, you can certainly train my German shepherd mentioned above!
Then there are cats. If you have worked with cats at all, you’ve likely heard that they can’t be trained. Nonsense! If a bumble bee can learn to push a ball to a spot to get a sweet snack, a cat can most assuredly be trained. You just need to know what you’re doing. This is precisely why I encourage all dog trainers to learn to train cats. Think of it like running in sand to get better at running. If you can do the harder thing, you can definitely do the easier thing.
Just like some dogs, there are of course the super glue cats that will make you look very good. They enjoy training, are motivated, and curious. I encourage you to not stop here, but rather seek out potato chip cats. The ones who will walk away at your first mistake and who require really good mechanics, a lot more experience, and extra skill.
Don’t forget to video yourself. When I first saw myself training a cat, I was appalled at my mistakes. Record every session, and spend a lot of time looking at yourself until you see improvement. Then push yourself with more and more challenging cats. Shyer, fearful, non-motivated cats, especially at a shelter, can really benefit from you efforts. Of course, if you are an overachiever, chickens are even better at improving dog training skills. If you have not ever trained one, I encourage you to try! However, I am focusing on cats here because most people can get their paws on cats easier than they can on chickens.
If you’d like to learn more about training cats, I encourage you to participate in my Oct 2 webinar though Raising Canine. There, we will review information, tips, and skills that will help you get started with cat training. Why start from scratch (no pun intended), when you can speed up the learning process. The faster you become a better cat trainer, the faster you can become a better dog trainer!