Cat Training: Feral Cats
Cat Training Tips
I’ve never been very interested in cat training, so I’ve never really felt a need to find cat training tips. That changed recently. We’ve been feeding several feral cats for a couple of years, and I didn’t mind doing so, but the feline population is nearing an unsustainable number. For me, training a cat didn’t mean teaching one to jump through hoops – I just wanted to teach them to be friendly and trusting. We’re spending a lot more money on feeding cats that don’t actually belong to us than we spend on feeding two Great Danes that do belong to us. If you’re thinking that perhaps we should just discontinue feeding feral cats, that’s not an option. I don’t let any creature go hungry around me – human or animal. I had to somehow tame these wily critters so that I could find them homes and/or get them sterilized. If you have a feral cat problem, you might want to try some of my cat training tips.
I’m not sure where all our feral cats came from, but I have a pretty good idea. We have a quirky neighbor who lives across the street, and she once had numerous cats. One day she decided she didn’t want to feed them anymore, and every time the cats would come in her yard, she’d chase them away with a broom. The unwanted cats spread across the neighborhood, breeding and having kittens. I’m pretty sure our feral cats are descendants of the original unwanted felines.
I’ll never understand how people can do this. How can anyone just up and decide one day that they no longer want to care for their pets? And if they do make that decision, why not call local animal shelters to come get the animals, instead of expecting the animals to fend for themselves? The neighbor’s cats were loving and docile, and I’m sure local animal shelters could have found good homes for some, if not all, of the felines. Now, the resulting generations are wild as minks.
Catherders – Herding Cats
My grandchildren are wannabe catherders. They love animals, and when they found out we had two litters of kittens, the kids were delighted. Of course, they were itching to pet and play with the kitties, but the kittens wanted no part of it. The kids decided that since there were four of them, they could drive the kittens into a human trap.
As the grands went about herding cats, I couldn’t help but recall the famous catherding commercial from a years-ago Super Bowl commercial. I think it’s the best commercial of all time, and I’ve included the video so you can see it, just in case you missed it.
Herding cats isn’t easy, and the grandchildren had no luck in their endeavors. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have horses? Next time, I suppose they could saddle up the Great Danes and ride them. Actually, it’s probably a good thing the kids weren’t able to catch the kitties. I picked one up the other day and thought I was tangling with a buzz saw!
Okay, the simple solution to our feral cat problem would be to call one of the animal shelters, right? Yeah, we tried that. They came and set out live traps that were baited with canned cat food. When a cat was captured, we were to call the shelter, and an employee would come get the cat. I had a different plan, however. I figured once a cat was captured, I could tame it. I could at the very least take it to our veterinarian to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated. That way, the cat could live out the rest of its life without adding to the unwanted feline population. Sounds good, huh? Things didn’t work out as planned.
Feral Cat Traps
The feral cat traps the shelter brought were live traps - wire cages, more or less. A can of food was placed at the closed end of the cage, and when a cat walked into the cage to get to the food, it stepped on a mechanism that triggered the opening to close. Hence, the cat would be trapped.
Most of our feral cats were too smart to go into the feral cat traps. Finally, we noticed that the food in the traps was disappearing, although we had no cats to show for it. Okay, we got defective cages, so the shelter brought out a couple of new feral cat traps. After a couple of days, we caught a cat – our neighbor’s. We released it, of course. After days of catching no cats, the shelter came to pick up the traps, saying they were needed elsewhere. I guess we’ll just have to buy our own feral cat traps. After researching, I think Havahart traps are our best bet.
Feral Cat Traps - Havahart Traps:
When training a cat, you need a basic understanding of cat behavior – especially of feral cat behavior. Cats are secretive and suspicious by nature, in order to survive. Cat behavior is much different than dog behavior. Dogs are predators, while cats think more like prey animals. Yes, I know that felines are predatory, but house cats are preyed on by dogs, coyotes, and occasionally foxes. Some animal experts believe that cats aren’t completely domesticated, and I agree with that assertion. Even loving pet cats have a mini-tiger lurking somewhere deep inside. Don’t believe it? Consider the following experiment that I’ve seen in action on numerous occasions.
Let’s say you find a litter of homeless puppies that are about four weeks old. They’ve never been in contact with humans. What happens when you pick up one of the pups? Nine times out of ten, the puppy won’t try to bite you, and it won’t go berserk. It might be frightened, but it probably won’t attack you. Try the same thing with feral kittens, and you’ll see real cat behavior in action. Such kittens will most likely do everything in their power to escape, including scratching, clawing, and biting.
How to Train a Cat
With cat behavior in mind, how to train a cat becomes easier to understand. Many cat lovers will disagree with this, but there’s a huge difference between training a cat and training a dog. I’ve trained many canines, and I believe that most dogs want to please their humans. Cats, on the other hand, are more interested in self-preservation. Most felines don’t care about pleasing humans – they care about pleasing themselves. Felines are much more independent than are canines, and they’ve never been as closely associated with man as dogs have been over the centuries.
With cat training, think like a cat: What’s in it for me? I used this approach with my cat training tips to tame our wild kitties. For a long time, whenever we went into our carport, which is our “cat haven,” the animals would scurry as soon as they saw us. There was no reason for them to stay. We always leave out an unending supply of dry cat food, so the cats didn’t think they needed us for anything. I upped the ante by introducing some canned cat food.
I’d place a can of food on a paper plate and call “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” then I’d have a seat on the carport, about ten feet away from the food. You have to be patient for this. When the cats found the food, I’d remain in my chair and just talk to the cats as they ate, getting them used to my voice. At first, any movement I made would make the cats run away, but they became more and more used to my presence. When I left, I’d take any of the uneaten food with me.
How did this apply to cat training? It gave the cats a reason to tolerate my presence. They began to associate me with something good. After a few days, the cats would come running as soon as I called them. Cats might be hard to train, but it’s not because they’re stupid.
I gradually began to move the cat food closer to my chair. The key word here is “gradually.” Once I got the food to within five feet of my seat, I had to move it in inches. I continued to talk to the cats as they ate, and I was careful not to make any sudden movements. I finally had the cats eating at my feet, but I let them get used to that before I attempted to actually touch one of them.
I began trying to pet the “least wild” cat. At first, whenever I attempted to touch her, she’d run away. After several days, however, she’d allow me to touch her, but she didn’t like it. She finally got to the point where she didn’t mind being petted. In fact, I can pick her up now. I continued with my cat training tips with the other feral cats, and I’m making progress with all of them. The toughest has proven to be the old tomcat. He’ll allow us to briefly pet him sometimes, but sometimes he won’t. He doesn’t even want us petting the other cats. When he’s dining at our feet and we stroke one of the other cats, old Tom sometimes tries to slap our hand away.
Remember that with cat training, patience is a real virtue. Actually, it’s a necessity. You have to gain the feline’s trust, which isn’t always easy. Feral cats might have been abused by other humans, so they see you in the same light. You also need to make it worth the cat’s while by offering them something in return for their tolerance and eventual acceptance. In our case, dry cat food would never have worked, but wet food did. My youngest granddaughter wants two of the white kittens, so I’m eager to get them “human trained,” but I can’t get in too big a hurry. Success with cat training as taming feral cats has to be measured in small increments.