How to Train a Maine Coon Cat?
Of the millions of cats populating homes across the country, only a few are ever trained with the same focus and attention given to dogs from their earliest days. This is a sad waste of the sharp feline intelligence that has made cats such an icon for cunning in our legends. Cats, especially Maine Coons, are imminently trainable and only lacking the opportunity to prove themselves.
In the past, cats were largely outdoor pets. They worked as mousers in farms and kept rodents out of the kitchen. Only in the last century, have cats begun to stay indoors and get the same devoted attention as their canine counterparts. It had never occurred to most people that cats could be trained. Their image as wild hunter was too deeply ingrained. Without even attempting, they assumed that their cats were untrainable. It suited the aloof way their carried themselves, after all.
Modern training methods are particularly suited to the way a Maine Coon cat’s mind works. Historically, aggression from a trainer only served to stress cats out. Punishments didn’t work very well, and only caused behavioral problems later on. Positive reinforcement appeals to a Maine Coon’s liking for interaction based games. This method focused on shaping a cat’s behavior and rewarding every successful step towards the eventual goal. With short sessions and a lot of practice, all pet parents can train their Maine Coon cats to perform impressive tricks.
With the help of a clicker or any short, clipped sound, you can teach your Maine Coon that certain actions mean reward. Begin by shaping the most basic, desired behavior:
Getting your Maine Coon to pay attention. Your cat’s natural curiosity will bring him to you, if you set up somewhere with a clicker and a plate of treats. Once there, his attention will be riveted to the food and he will try his best to persuade you to give him some pieces. Use this interest to your advantage. Say his name, then wait patiently until he looks up at you. Click immediately and give him a treat. Repeat this five times. If he never looks at you, he never gets a treat. Stop the session, then come back to it a few hours later. Most Maine Coons pick this trick up within a day, while some cats take weeks to figure out the mystery. Once your cat starts responding to his name by looking at you, extend the time between the look and the click. Add a beat in the pause for every session. You’re aiming to have him look at you and not immediately look away. Don’t attempt sustained eye contact, since staring can be aggressive in cat language.
Teaching your Maine Coon to Sit. Cats sit frequently. This makes the trick almost impossible to get wrong. When your cat looks at you at the sound of his name, use this trick all the time to get his attention and call him to you. He’ll come for the treat, but the habit will soon become ingrained. Once he’s before you, shape the next trick. Hold a treat piece above his brows and then slowly trail it over his head and towards his back. Be careful not to go too far back or your Maine Coon will simply turn around. You want him to look up, until his bottom naturally drops down in the sit position. Immediately click and let him have the treat. Alternately, you can say sit and wait for him to settle down. This may take a few tries, but the idea is to ignore other behavior and only reward the one that you want. Once it happens, the Maine Coon will soon figure out what prompted you to give him the treat the last time. Whichever method you choose, use the command “sit,” along with a hand gesture, every time before he does it. This creates an association between the word/gesture and his action.
Asking your Maine Coon for a high-five. When your Maine Coon knows to sit on command, you can start teaching fancier tricks like the paw-shake or the high-five. Bring your hand to hover over his paw. Cats will usually tap your hand to figure out what you’re up to. If this doesn’t work, tap his hand first. With these first tricks, it’s even worth just sitting there waiting for the cat to act on his own. As your Maine Coon begins to understand that he’s being rewarded for certain behaviors, he’ll start trying out different actions to see what gets you to feed him again. Once he places his hand on yours, click and treat. With every short session, raise the height of your hand, until it’s about waist level. Insert the word “shake” here to create an association with tapping your hand at that height. Once this trick is memorized, raised you hand higher still and face you palm towards his face. Ask your Maine Coon to “give me a five” and he’ll tap his paw to your palm. With work and patience, your cat will master these tricks in a short span of time.
Walking your Maine Coon on a leash. Much like all training, the tricks above are just the preliminaries to some practical learning. Walking is an excellent exercise for indoor cats, where they get to enjoy exploring the outdoors under your supervision. Begin by getting your Maine Coon used to wearing the harness indoors. Then using a mix of treats and praise, attach the leash, and start walking your cat around the living room. If he stops when you stop, then he gets a click and a treat. Do this for 5 minutes, several times a day, until your cat is comfortable walking along your side. Add in a mix of “sit” and “shake” between walks, so your Maine Coon has sufficient opportunity to earn treats. The next steps is to take your cat outside. Initially, limit yourself to your backyard and driveway. Increase the area of your walk, in increments. Much like walking a dog, your cat will also need to be taken out daily to become completely comfortable with this exercise. Over time, this will become an activity both you and your Maine Coon look forward to.
Once a cat understands the principle of reward and praise based training, they will get faster at picking up the tricks you come up with. Maine Coons can be taught almost any trick you can imagine, if you can figure out a way to explain the concept to your cat. As you will see while training your Maine Coon, this breed is happy to try new things, if it means more time with you and lots of treats!