Posted: March 30, 2012, 1:15 p.m. EDT
Being in the know about training techniques can bump up retail sales and lead to veterinary partnerships.
By Steven Appelbaum
Training a cat or kitten to feel comfortable in a carrier is a very important skill to teach pet owners. Many veterinarians believe some clients don’t take cats in for regular checkups, or even when cats show physical distress, because of the difficulty they have in getting them into crates.
Statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) support this belief: “Only 60 percent of cat owners visited the veterinarian within the past 12 months, in comparison with 85 percent of dogs.” What’s more, independent surveys of cat owners list “hating the crate” as one of the top reasons feline owners don’t take their cats in for routine—or even necessary—veterinary care.
This is potentially very valuable information for several reasons. First, it allows you, as pet retailers, to sell products to cat owners that will assist in safely transporting cats in public. Second, some solutions can include suggesting customers connect with a local veterinarian. This means you might be able to create a reciprocal referral relationship with a veterinary hospital.
There are basically three types of carriers: soft, hard and cardboard. However, for the purposes of training, I am only going to suggest two types: soft and hard. Soft carriers can often be a bit more comfortable for the cat and some, like those made by Sherpa or Bergan, are approved for under-seat airline travel. These products are usually made of nylon or a similar type of fabric. Soft carriers are also a bit easier to store when not in use.
These products are not typically as durable as hard carriers, however. Petmate and Hagen make excellent hard carriers. While there are a variety of quality carriers that can fit most any budget, the biggest challenge for cat owners is getting a kitty to actually associate positive things with riding in one.
Encourage cat owners to use products—everything from treats to toys and catnip—to create positive interactions with a crate.
So, why do some cats loathe traveling in a crate? It’s mostly a learned behavior. Generally, people only put their pets in a carrier when they are taking them somewhere that usually isn’t all that pleasant for the cat. These include veterinary visits that involve fear, pain or other discomforts, or grooming, which may involve much of the same. It’s no wonder most cats—and some dogs—make themselves scarce when the crate comes out.
The solution is to educate owners about methods to teach cats to make positive associations with the crate. While this is easier said than done, it’s not impossible, and with practice and patience, most cat owners can note real progress quickly.
Many people only take their carrier out when it is time to go somewhere. Instead, suggest that owners leave the carrier out where the cat can see and reach it all the time. It might not make the best décor (though some carriers are quite attractive), but, over time, the cat will simply get used to seeing the carrier in a non-stressful fashion.
Make sure owners leave the door to the carrier open so as to allow access whenever the cat feels like checking it out. They can encourage this by leaving favorite cat treats in the carrier, as well as favorite toys. Remember to remind owners that behavior becomes stronger when it is rewarded.
If customers can get their cats to willingly go in a carrier five or six times a day, and each one of those times the cat is rewarded, in a few weeks the carrier will be considered a place for reward and treats. I have found numerous cats that love Whiskas Temptations Cat Treats and Wellness Pure Delights Jerky Cat Treats, although there are dozens more that are excellent as well. Catnip can also be used to teach a cat to like the crate. Kong, Ethical Pet Products and OurPet’s Co. all offer quality catnip.
Customers can also use Feliway very effectively here. Feliway is a pheromone product that can, when used correctly, instill a sense of calm in cats. It is typically sprayed on items. Cat owners can use a small washcloth or blanket for this, although owners often simply spray some in the carrier without bothering to use a cloth. It is important for owners to understand that Feliway is most effective when used in conjunction with behavior modification. In the case of carriers, this means making sure the cat is encouraged with food and/or catnip to enter the carrier numerous times each week.
Owners can further enhance the entire training process by praising the cat whenever they see it sniffing the carrier and, of course, entering it.
After about a week of noticing a cat will willingly go into its carrier, it’s time for the owner to start to teach the cat to tolerate being locked in it and going for rides. This will be the topic of a future column, as will another about how you can use your knowledge to forge relationships with local veterinarians.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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