What could be more difficult than herding cats? Probably training them. Unless you’re the Dumb Friends League, that is. The Denver-based animal welfare organization (named “dumb” because pets can’t speak, not because they’re stupid) is offering cat-training classes, called “Clicks & Tricks,” for adventurous cat guardians.
The full course lasts four weeks, and during that time feline students learn to sit stay, roll over, high-five, and even come when called. Billie Reynolds, one of the behavior technician leading classes, says people underestimate how well cats respond to training.
“You can talk to someone until they’re blue in the face, but until they see it they won’t believe you,” Reynolds says. “Cats want to learn. They’re willing. They just don’t have the conditioning that we associate with dogs. It takes more patience.”
The “Clicks & Tricks” class, as the name suggests, teaches a form of clicker training. When animals successfully perform a trick, they’re given a treat, and the treat is accompanied by a sound made with a clicker. Eventually, the animal associates the click with the treat so much that you can do away with the treat, and the animal will perform the trick for the click alone.
“With the clicker, the animal learns 30 percent faster than with verbal feedback,” Reynolds says. “And the click sound is consistent no matter who uses it, the owner or the trainer.”
Sure, getting Sprinkles to come, sit, and stay will sure be handy, but these classes aren’t just for the benefit of the humans. Lots of cats blossom in training, says Reynolds, who trains some of the cats at the Dumb Friends League’s shelters.
“The most fearful cats are the ones who get the most out of training,” Reynolds says. “They get calm.”
Clicker training can increase the bond between pet and human. Most of the time, cats and their people simply coexist in the same place, Reynolds says, with the human on the couch and the cat in the window. During training classes, the two are forced to learn to communicate with each other in new ways. For some, it can even relieve anxiety and resolve behavioral issues like house soiling.
“Clicks & Tricks” class cycles start the second Wednesday of every month. To participate, cats must be at least 16 weeks old and fitted for a leash and harness. To find out more, visit the Dumb Friends League website at DDFL.org. —Amanda Hughes