Positive reinforcement in cats What is it and how is it used?

Positive reinforcement in cats What is it and how is it used?

If you live with a cat, you will know how difficult it is to educate it to use the litter box correctly or so that it does not roam freely throughout the house, especially if it is a puppy. If you want your coexistence to be relaxed and happy, you should master one of the most effective training techniques that exist, positive reinforcement.

In fact, it has been shown to be much more effective than punishment in respecting the welfare of the animal. If you practice it regularly, you will appreciate that your pet’s behavior improves every day and that it is increasingly predisposed to learning. Let’s see what it consists of.

You may also be interested in: Common mistakes when educating a pussycat

What is positive reinforcement?

Do you know that your cat already practices it with you? If you don’t believe it, think about how many times he gets what he wants in exchange for a sweet look or letting you caress him. Far from being manipulative , felines are masters of operant conditioning.

The good news is that you, too, can use it to try to straighten out certain unwanted behaviors. Most of them have to do with a biological need, but associative learning can be used in many other areas such as social behavior, the control of aggressiveness or the reversal of bad habits.

By using positive reinforcement, you should reward each achievement or positive behavior that your best friend carries out. Of course, these rewards must meet a series of requirements that we delve into below.

How to implement positive reinforcement in cats

Before embarking on this adventure, you should know the physical and mental qualities of your cat, since they are not all motivated by the same rewards. Some prefer playing with their favorite toy to food, while others react better to caresses. Usually the food is most effective to the least in the initial phase.

It is essential that the reward is immediate and consistent. All family members should reward and reject the same behaviors. In turn, the reward must be produced immediately, since the attention span of the felines is short, and must be repeated each time the cat performs the desired behavior.

Likewise, it is convenient that you choose the right moment so that the results are as expected. Before meals is a good time, because being hungry will be more receptive if you reward it with a piece of liver or sweet ham. Of course, do not extend these training sessions for more than 15 minutes.

Types of rewards

The prizes in the form of small pieces of chicken, sweet ham, liver or homemade treats made with ingredients that are well tolerated by your kitten and that are nutritious will favor the construction of this association.

The clickers can also be your allies in this educational process. By listening to the click, your cat will remember what you want him to do to get what he wants.

What if you get bored fast with the rewards?

Like any learning process, it is natural that once the desired behavior is internalized, your cat experiences a turning point and it seems that the reward is not motivating enough. It will be time to remove it. You will need to move on to variable reinforcement.

It means that you will resort to another type of reward, more emotional, such as a game time with you, a caress or an affectionate talk in 50% of the occasions in which that acquired skill is repeated . This type of reinforcement has been shown to be more powerful in the long term. The uncertainty of whether or not he will receive an award is very exhilarating.

After a certain time, you should remove all the reinforcements and apply them only on specific occasions as a souvenir.

Benefits of positive reinforcement

The ethological studies available agree that this type of training-oriented conditioning is the one with the most advantages. When you know them you will understand it better:

  • Cats learn more and better. -They are more emotionally stable.
  • They are more conducive to learning new tricks or skills because they are not afraid of the negative outcome.
  • They show a significant improvement in their social skills.
  • It stimulates them physically and intellectually.
  • The reinforcement is so powerful that increasingly positive behavior is achieved.
  • Your bond will be strengthened, since you will be part of that positive association.

Differences between punishment and reward

In contrast to the reward, the punishment manages to generate a memory of fear, stress , anxiety and even aggressiveness. However, if you repeat it every time the animal carries out that behavior that you intend to eliminate, it will produce a deterrent effect and you will achieve your goal.

However, the price you will have to pay is that your relationship will deteriorate. Punishments are more aimed at making inappropriate behaviors disappear and rewards for acquiring appropriate behaviors, but both can be positive and negative and are used in behavior control therapies by ethologists .

Felines, possessors of a more complex character than dogs, do not tolerate punishments and you will achieve nothing good from them if you undertake that path. As you can see, if you intend to teach your best friend something, reward him whenever he repeats what you want and you will see that he quickly incorporates it into his daily behavior.


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