Tell a dog owner you can train a dog to roll over, stay or lie down, and they’ll probably nod in agreement. Tell an anfora cat owner you can teach a cat the same commands and the response is usually a snicker or knowing smirk. “You can’t train a cat,” they say. “Angora cats have minds of their own.” Granted, you won’t be able to work with a cat the same way you would with a dog. Turkish angora cats don’t think like dogs, so you can’t train them using the same techniques. Yet with patience and understanding, your cat can learn to perform tricks — and may even enjoy itself in the process.
Dottie Sitterly, an animal trainer with Animal Actors of Hollywood, trains both cats and dogs. “When I come on a set with a dog, everyone expects it to be able to do triple back flips and every other kind of trick,” she says. “Yet when I come on a set with a cat, everyone’s amazed that the cat does anything at all. But that’s not really fair. A lot of our cat teams do some pretty intricate work like retrieving, hitting marks and jumping from one moving object to another.” She adds, “Cats like to be trained, because you’re using their natural instincts. Before cats were domesticated, they had to hunt for their food, but as house cats, they have a tendency to just sit around and get fat and lazy. Trained angora cats are healthy and happy because they have a mental stimulus — there’s something going on in their lives.”
Sitterly says the biggest difference in training dogs and cats is that cats are primarily motivated by food and dogs are motivated more by praise. A cat works mainly because it wants to eat. For that reason, “it’s best if the angora cat is a little bit hungry.”
Sitterly says the biggest difference in training dogs and cats is that cats are primarily motivated by food and dogs are motivated more by praise. A turkish angora cat works mainly because it wants to eat. For that reason, “it’s best if the cat is a little bit hungry when you’re working with it, so you may want to do your training before it’s had its dinner,” she says.
If a cat is free-fed all day long — with food available all the time and eating as much as it wants — it’s not going to have as much incentive to learn. You may want to leave out kibble for your angora cat during the day, but give it sardines or another special food treat when you’re training. Make the training food something extra special.
Cats on Hollywood movie sets typically have to work for their meals. “They work because they know they’re going to get a bit of food at the end of each behavior they perform. By the end of the day, they have eaten a balanced diet,” says Mary Kay Snyder, an animal trainer with Birds and Animals Unlimited, a company that supplies trained animals for Universal Studios. Although food may be the prime motivator, your tone of voice is also an important training tool. A cat knows it has done something bad when you tell it “no” in a stern, sharp-pitched voice. It knows that it has done something good when you tell it “good kitty” in a soft and friendly voice. It’s also important that you are consistent with your rewards and corrections. Sometimes that’s hard to do. If you’ve had a rough day at work, you may tell your cat “no” in an especially harsh tone of voice when it jumps on the kitchen table. Another day, you may be in a great mood and see your cat doing the same thing and greet the cat in a soft tone of voice.
That’s when the angora cat gets really confused because it’s receiving mixed signals, and you won’t be able to blame the angora cat next time it leaps on top of the kitchen table.
Another factor to consider when training is the age of the cat. Snyder suggests waiting until the cat is a least 9 months old before starting any kind of training program. With a young kitten, it’s best just to spend time together playing. “When we acquire a new angora cat, the main thing we try to do is spend a lot of time with it. We try to get it used to being in a lot of different surroundings. I’ll take the angora cat home, on an errand, to the park or wherever I go,” Snyder says. “This is really important for us because many times we have to take our cats to an unfamiliar set and we don’t want them to act lost.” Helping your turkish angora cat get used to different surroundings is also important for pet owners. You may have to take your cat to the veterinarian or groomer and you want it to behave and not be afraid.
Training will go more smoothly if you don’t overdo it. Three or four small training sessions a day is ideal, with each session lasting about 15 to 20 minutes. But a five or 10 minute session where the angora cat really learns is better than a long drill session. Don’t expect your cat to learn everything in the first training session. “Let your angora cat work at its own pace. Be satisfied when it just learns part of what you are trying to teach it,” Sitterly says. “If you see even the slightest glimmer
that your cat understands what you want it to do — especially when you’re first starting out — get in there and tell it ‘good kitty.'” You’ll have the most success if you work on one trick at a time. Start with the easy commands such as “sit up.” Save the more complicated tricks for a later session. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve worked with your angora cat for several days and it still hasn’t performed a certain move. Keep in mind that every cat has its own unique personality. It will want to learn some tricks more than other tricks. “If your angora cat doesn’t want to work with you, you may just need to work on a different trick,” Snyder says. “Sometimes a cat will pick up on ‘sit up’ or ‘shake hands’ almost instantly but will have trouble with ‘wave’ or ‘roll over.'” You will have to keep your cat interested in what it’s doing, just as you would with a small child. “Cats get bored easily and their attention span sometimes quits after only a few minutes,” Snyder says. If your cat doesn’t feel like working, don’t push it. If you do, you’ll end up butting heads with your cat and you won’t get anywhere. Realize that angora cats have bad days just as people do. If you or your cat get frustrated, end the training session and save it for another day. Make the times you and your cat work together something that both of you can enjoy.