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Cat Tips

Animal shelters must screen their cats for health and temperament, whereas pet adoption ads posted on the Web or in newspapers by individuals are usually unregulated. Adopting a new cat from a shelter is therefore often the best, safest option.

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Expert Q&A

My cat is overweight, so I avoid giving her treats between her regular meals. Treats are so often recommended, but what else can I use when attempting to train her?

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When training your cat, the goal is for her to associate a certain desired behavior with a reward. To some extent, humans are no different. We’re more inclined to do something if we know a reward -- be it monetary, edible or verbal praise -- is coming. Cats, of course, love to eat, so food is an easy option. But in situations where you want to avoid extra edible handouts, try clicker training combined with verbal praise and extra attention.

Let’s say you are trying to teach your cat to sit. When your cat adopts the proper position after you say “sit,” immediately click the clicker and offer the praise. Studies show that cats respond to “sweet talk,” technically called “motherese,” which is similar to what we use when communicating with babies and kids. So, verbally praise her and then pet her, focusing on her favorite areas for massage.

Cats can quickly learn to associate sounds with expected consequences. Over time, your cat will know to sit when it hears the command and the clicker. Cats will often even behave when they hear the clicker alone, just as you may work overtime even when your boss forgets to praise you. You might stop when the rewards end, though, and your cat will too.

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