Updated: Mar 10
Training and learning is a lifelong journey for both cat and human. Obedience training, something that most dogs will learn at some point in their lives, is also a necessary part of a cat’s training, not only for adventuring outside, but also for providing mental stimulation and enrichment in their lives. Needless to say, Tomo and I are still on that path to being better adventurers.
You may have recalled about Tomo from our previous posts that she is a very non-food driven cat. This makes training both indoors and outdoors extremely challenging if she just isn’t in the mood to cooperate.
Soon after we first got Tomo, we began her obedience training accompanied by a clicker, commonly known as clicker training. For those of you who are unfamiliar with clicker training, it is essentially a form of positive reinforcement training, where the clicker sound and a treat are given as a reward for the successful completion of a task. Over time, after the positive association has been built for the sound of the clicker as a positive reward, the frequency of treats given can also be tapered off.
We started with a simple command, “sit”, which Tomo learned within a day. I can’t say Tomo knows very many commands yet at this time, but she can also do “up” (stand), “paw”, “touch” (touch finger to her nose), “place”, “follow” (following finger a short distance), and “come”, all with varying degrees of success depending on the day.
For all of these commands, we have a verbal command and hand signal component, although Tomo is mostly recognizing the hand signal component of the command as she can do the command from the hand signal alone, but not just from the verbal.
So how this obedience training relates to adventuring outside is her ability to be recalled, or “come” when called. Being able to recall your cat or dog when outside is crucial for your pet’s safety and the safety of others. Although I do not let Tomo off leash at any time when we are outside, if I were to accidentally let go of her leash, or if she escaped from her harness, then being able to recall her back to me would be the best possible scenario.
Admittedly, we still have a long way to go in terms of recall. Tomo’s “come” when she is indoors in a quiet, distraction-free setting is maybe only 50% at best. Let alone outdoors, she has not yet been able to complete this command successfully.
But here's how we’re working on improving her recall/obedience training through a few things:
1. Practicing more frequently indoors
I wouldn’t expect Tomo to be able to have her recall down outdoors if she isn’t yet performing optimally indoors. I try to get a training session in every day, but sometimes, Tomo just isn’t in the mood to accept any treats for any commands. What I find does help is having a training session a few hours before or after meal times, so that she’s not too hungry nor too full.
2. Practicing easier commands outdoors
We have had success at times with some simpler commands outdoors, such as “sit” and “up”. Tomo is the most cooperative if she is in an environment that is quiet with minimal distractions and stimuli, as well as in an area she’s comfortable and familiar with.
3. Going outside more often in general
Expanding on the previous point, if Tomo is too distracted or anxious wherever she is, she will not be in the right state of mind to listen to commands. During the warmer months of the year, we take Tomo out several times a week, and the areas we frequent she becomes quite familiar and comfortable in. These are the ideal settings where we try to get some outside obedience training practice in. To test Tomo’s comfort level when we are outside, I will also try to offer her treats (without commands) to see if she will take it. If she takes the treat, I can tell that she is feeling relaxed enough to eat (she will refuse food if she is uncomfortable), and that it might be a good time for training as well.
4. Having special outside only treats
A tip I got from my dog owner friend is that using special treats for specific scenarios has helped her with training her dogs for performing their best in agility classes. She suggested using an irresistible treat that I only give to Tomo when we are outside to encourage Tomo in these scenarios, as she will be more keen for that treat if it isn’t usually accessible to her. So far, the most appealing outside treat for Tomo I’ve found are the Catit Nibbly Grills, but I’m always still experimenting to find an even better treat.
Although perfect recall outdoors may be an unattainable goal for Tomo and I based off her personality and drive, I would very much like to be able to get to a point where I can ask Tomo to “come” if she has stopped while we are out on a leashed walk.
I’d love to hear from you all if you’ve had experience or insight into training non-food driven cats or other pets!
Happy adventuring until next time!