Most cats will benefit from being able to use a cat flap but it is not unusual for early stages of training to founder. As with so many areas of animal training, the solution lies in trying to see everything from the animal’s perspective. Remember, where cats are concerned we are talking about a relatively solitary animal that values its territory and space.
Choosing a cat flap
An obvious point but do look at how large your cat is or ask about the size of your kitten’s parents. Some cats will need a dog flap. There are a number of reputable brands out there, so do shop around. The proper height of the cat flap should align with the distance of your cat’s belly to the floor.
Try to put your cat flap in a relatively protected area or place plant pots and similar either side of the cat flap outside the house. When looking through the cat flap cats are unable to scan for predators or ambush by rival cats and this can make them nervous to go outside. A screen either side of the cat flap will help your cat feel more confident.
Before showing your cat the apparatus make it feel more familiar by rubbing his scent all around it, especially through any entrance or tunnel areas (use a cloth and rub first around his cheeks and then onto the cat flap).
Training do and don’ts
- Do arm yourself with lots of high value kitty treats and prepare to be patient. Missing a meal before training may help puss’ appetite for treats.
- If your cat is not food orientated try pulling a favourite toy on a string through the open cat flap
- Don’t push your cat through the cat flap in order to register the microchip- registration can wait until later and will occur naturally once your cat walks through the cat flap
- Don’t sit, stare and try to entice your cat through from the other side of the cat flap- you look predatory and confrontational
- Do break down training into tiny stages, rewarding any brief investigation of the cat flap
- If a click noise is triggered by the microchip do first focus on rewarding the cat’s attention to this noise, until they cease to be startled by the sound
- First use string to prop the cat flap wide open (don’t use pens or pencils as these can easily dislodge, startling the cat, we want to keep any associations with the cat flap positive)
- It may be best to work from the outside to inside first as your cat will be more motivated to get back into the security of the home
- With the flap wide open place a trail of treats up to the entrance and wait. Praise and reward any investigation
- Continue to reward further investigation- be patient. Once your cat seems more confident, tossing a few treats through the open flap may encourage him to go through
- The next stage is to start again with the flap half way down and then systematically lower the flap, rewarding the cat’s interest at each stage until the door is closed.
- The final stage is when the cat has enough confidence to push the flap open without help
This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of SE22 magazine.