Training our pets is not all about having well behaved pets, although that’s pretty handy too! Training is a great way to build a bond and strengthen your relationship. It helps you work out a common language so you can work better as a team with both parties understanding what is being asked and what is expected. It is also great enrichment for your pet. Using their brain and getting some variety in their lives is so important for their welfare. Especially if they have limited access to exercise for any reason.
‘You can’t train cats, rats, rabbits etc…’
You can train any animal! You do need to take into consideration the animals physical and mental abilities though. For example, a puppy isn’t going to be able to learn highly complex tasks like an adult dog can and a geriatric cat may find repeatedly sitting & standing impossible due to muscle weakness. Dogs are generally easier to train but that’s because they have spent thousands of years evolving to work alongside humans.
If you’re still not convinced look up ‘training zoo animals’ on YouTube!
‘I shouldn’t have to use treats, they should just do as they are told.’
Do you go to work for free? No, I didn’t think so. You might choose to do a voluntary role, but that is likely because it is something you enjoy doing. Lots of the things we ask our pets to do are exactly the opposite to what they actually want to do. For example, they really want to chase that deer, but we call them back. They really want to eat that pizza, we tell them to leave it.
Animals aren’t robots they have their own emotions and motivations which drive their behaviour. If we want to change that behaviour we need to change those feelings and desires. Using treats is a great way of ‘paying’ your animal for doing something you like. The more you pay them, the more likely they are to repeat the behaviour. Also, if you rack up a good credit history, they are more likely to let you off when you miss a payment.
‘They need to know when they have done wrong’
If you reliably reward your pet when they do right, then they will know when they have done ‘wrong’ because they won’t get the reward. Reprimands are very unlikely to be effective and using physical punishment has been shown to increase the risk of aggressive behaviours. If you tell your cat to stop jumping on the work top, they are quite likely to just jump on the table instead. Saying ‘don’t do that’ doesn’t teach them what you would like them to do and if you leave it to their imagination I’m sure they’ll come up with some more fun ideas which you might not like either.
Our Top Tips
Make training fun! Play is a great way to learn. Toys can also be a good alternative to food rewards.
Keep sessions short and sweet.
Practice makes perfect. How many lessons did it take for you to pass your driving test? Probably quite a few, and you might still have made mistakes after you passed your test. Learning is a process not a one-off event but put the time in and it will pay off.
Quit while you’re ahead. If you or your pet is getting frustrated, confused, or bored it’s not going to be a productive session.
Learn what your pets favourite things are. Then keep these just for training treats. Maybe stash away a favourite toy and use it to reward your dog when they come when called. Or use tiny bits of smoke salmon to reward your cat for resisting the urge to pounce on the dog.
Get advice from professional, ethical and reliable sources. There is a lot of harmful information out there. Do your research, ask for personal recommendations and check for professional accreditations. Most of all if it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t seem kind or fair, then don’t do it – trust your instincts.