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Cat training to crate often is neglected, although it gets lots of attention with dog owners. Kittens learn more easily and quickly than adult cats, but even set-in-their-ways felines can accept cat training to crate.
Kittens and cats should always ride in a carrier when traveling in your car to keep them from distracting the driver. Pets become furry projectiles should you be in an accident, but a carrier protects the kitten and also keeps him from running away in fear and pain.
Most cats hate the crate simply because it’s used so seldom and associated with scary stuff. How many times have you pulled the kitty carrier out of the closet, only to have the cat disappear? Most felines only see the crate to be taken to the veterinarian or groomer. Kitty is no dummy—it only takes once for her to learn that CRATE means NEEDLES, or a thermometer placed in a rude location. In fact, surveys report that “hates the crate” is a top reason cats don’t visit the veterinarian as often as they should.
Instead, train your kitten to associate the crate/carrier with fun, positive experiences. This allows you to quickly confine and safely transport the cat whenever necessary, rather than play hide-and-seek during emergencies to find the frightened feline. Happy acceptance of the crate also means less stress, and a happier, emotionally healthier cat.
10 Tips for Cat Crate Training
1. Make the crate part of the furniture—set it on the floor in a corner of the room for Kitty to explore at his leisure. If it’s out all the time, the “strange/scary” factor wears off.
2. Take the door off so he can come and go.
3. Toss a soft blanket or towel inside for a bed, especially one that you've rubbed over him so it smells like the cat.
4. Spritzing a bit of Feliway on the inside of the crate can help calm kitty fears. Feliway is an analogue of the cheek pheromone that makes cats feel safe.
5. If you’ve chosen a hard crate, toss in a ping-pong ball inside to create a kitty playground.
6. For treat-motivated cats, leave tasty tidbits inside for Kitty to find so he discovers the magical-crate has the most delicious smelly bonuses for going inside. You want to make the crate the most fun place in the house.
7. Consider using clicker training to inspire your cat to quickly go into the crate. Review how to “load the clicker” and locate the training treats for spur of the moment sessions. Then wait for the opportunity when you see Kitty approach, sniff, or (hallelujia!) enter the crate. Click the clicker to tell the cat THAT (touching/going inside/even approaching) the crate is what you want, and then reward with the treat or favorite toy. The more you practice, the better Kitty will become at hanging out near or even inside the crate.
8. It may take a week or more for the kitten or cat to feel comfortable around the carrier. Once that happens, put the door back on, and wait until Kitty goes inside. Then shut the door while praising him in a calm, happy voice that’s matter of fact to convince Kitty this is normal and no reason for upset feelings. After a minute or so, let him out and give him a treat or toy reserved only for his best performance. Praise the dickens out of him! He should know that staying calm inside the crate earns him good things.
9. Repeat training sessions at least once a day over the next two weeks, building up the time until the kitty stays inside three minutes, four, then five minutes and so on.
10. Once he’s reached ten minutes and remains calm, pick up the carrier while he’s in it and carry him around, and then let him out. Take him in the carrier out to the car, sit there and talk to him, then bring him back into the house and release him--don't forget to offer the treat.
Soon, you should be able to take him for car rides in his carrier, without him throwing a fit. He’ll learn that most times, the carrier means good things for him--and the vet visit isn’t the only association it has.

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Fearful cats are often confused with aggressive cats. The distinction is very important because the approaches to correct these problems are different. Actually almost all hissing, spitting, swatting, puffed up cats are terrified of their circumstances. These are not mean, crazy or bad cats. They just want the scary thing to go away and not hurt them.

Frightened cats will react in one of three ways: fight, flee or freeze. Depending on the individual cat they will use these responses in different orders of preference. If their first option fails to stop the threat they will then proceed to another option. For example a person unknown to the cat has come into the house and the cat flees to another room to escape. If the stranger then follows the cat making it impossible for the cat to avoid the situation she may very well hiss or swat to get the person to move away. She is not a mean or hostile cat. She is just trying to escape the fearful circumstance.

In understanding cat behavior it is important to keep in mind that because of their position in nature as both a predator and a prey species, cats have to be very careful about changes in their environment. They need to err on the side of caution in order to survive. This explains why activities which we know are benign such as moving the furniture or having work done on the house or company coming over can be very stressful to the resident feline. Anxiety, hiding, changes in appetite, or failure to use the litter box are all examples of normal behavior for a cat whose environment is changing and uncertain.

On the other hand, it is not normal behavior for a cat to live under the bed. I spoke with a client not long ago who told me that ever since they got their new dog, four years ago, their cat has not come out from under the bed except to eat. This cat is clearly suffering from an anxiety disorder and living a very poor quality of life. She is not under that bed because she is happy. A normal cat may take refuge for a few days, but will gradually rejoin the family when she decides it is safe.

The trigger for fears in cats will vary with the individual. For some cats loud noises, seeing another animal, trips to the veterinary hospital, or the presence of a certain person will cause a behavior change. Some triggers can be avoided and others cannot. So what can cat owners do to help reduce their cat’s anxiety and help her become more confident?

The first step is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination. Notice that the symptoms of anxiety in the cat mirror the symptoms of illness. It is necessary to rule out physical causes for the cat’s behavior.

If your cat is healthy but hiding, leave her alone. She will come out when she is ready and forcing her to come out will only increase her fear. Evaluate what things are going on in the environment that sent her into hiding. If it is a temporary circumstance, just allow her this safe haven, bring her food and water close to her and be sure she has a litter box nearby. If the stress will be on going like a new pet or a baby, you will need to do more.

Minimize her exposure to the fearful stimulus. Close the door to her room so she has a physical barrier for security. At night, when the baby is sleeping or the new pet is confined elsewhere, open her door so she can choose to venture out.

Keep to a routine. Animals and humans feel more secure when daily activities are predictable. Give her extra attention doing those things she likes best whether that is grooming, cuddling or playing with a favorite toy.

Once she is interacting with you again slowly begin to desensitize her to the fearful stimulus. Keep her at a distance where she is not reacting fearfully. Praise her and give her very special, tasty treats. Gradually bring her closer to the stimulus and when she does not react negatively repeat the praise and the treats. If she does begin to appear nervous, back up because you are moving too quickly for her. This is a slow process taking days to weeks in many cases so be patient and don’t rush her. Pushing her too quickly will put you back to square one.

In some cases the use of anti-anxiety medications for a short period of time may be required. Your cat needs to learn that she doesn’t need to be afraid. Learning can not occur when the individual is overwhelmed by fear and anxiety because their thoughts and energy are totally directed at survival. Medications will lower her anxiety levels thereby allowing her the chance to learn that she does not need to be afraid. There are many medications available from your veterinarian to help her get better.

No cat lover would ever want their kitty to live in physical pain. We need to expand that same loving awareness to mental pain too.

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