Does your cat love her cat carrier? So many cats do not because the only time they’re put in it is to go to the vet. In years past, I’ve bled while trying to stuff my cat into the carrier and by doing so I was likely as stressed as she was. It doesn’t have to be that hard or nerve wracking for you or your cat.
It’s no wonder most cats don’t like their cat carrier. Consider associative learning.
If the only association your cat has with the carrier is negative, then of course she’ll dislike the carrier. It’s entirely possible to help your cat love the carrier.
The key is to go slowly and at your own cat’s pace. It may help to buy a brand new carrier that looks a bit different than your existing carrier. It’s easier to install a positive assocaiton to a new carrier than it is to change a negative association with the old carrier.
Introducing your cat to the new carrier is where classical conditioning comes into play.
You want your cat to develop a positive association with the new carrier and think it’s the best thing in the universe. To your cat, the new carrier is a weird, new thing. Many cats shy away from something new and odd looking in the environment, so go slowly during the introduction period.
Place the new carrier inside your home in an area where your cat already enjoys spending time with you. This is a great way to pair fun experiences with the new carrier. You can play games with your cat near the carrier, have fun training sessions near the carrier, let your cat enjoy a catnip toy beside or on top of the carrier, and even feed your cat meals near the carrier.
Once the cat is quite comfortable around the new cat carrier, you can begin to feed meals inside the carrier with the door open.
Let her gain comfort inside with the door open, before you begin closing the door – only for as long as it takes her to finish her meal. At other times of the day, keep the door to the cat carrier open and periodically put a few over the top, yummy cat treats inside so that she can find them and go in and enjoy them at her leisure.
Now it’s time to begin actively training your cat to the carrier.
My preferred method is using clicker training. Using the sound of a clicker to mark the exact behavior of your cat’s interaction with carrier ensures more effective training and learning. You can begin by clicking at the exact moment your cat looks at the carrier (a yummy piece of food follows each and every click). If your cat puts her head near the door, click/treat. When she puts even one paw inside the carrier, click/treat. Two paws inside the carrier, click/treat. What you’re doing is clicking/treating successive approximations toward the final goal of the cat being inside the carrier. The key here is to take this at your own cat’s pace. Please do not ever force or push your cat into the carrier. You want all associations with the new carrier to be totally awesome!
Have fun, keep training sessions short and before long your cat will be enjoying time in her new carrier!
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities and distance consults for clients, dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. and Europe. www.coldnosecollege.com