They said the earth was flat.
They said man would never walk on the moon.
They said you cannot train a cat.
They were wrong!
A new form of competition is attesting to cats’ great ability to learn. Cat agility is popping up at cat shows across the country. In cat agility, a cat and her handler negotiate a series of cat-sized obstacles. The competitive event is timed, and points are deducted for incomplete or missed obstacles. Running the course demonstrates the cat’s grace, athletic ability and coordination, along with the quality of her training relationship with her handler. The competitions are open to pedigreed, non-pedigreed, purebred or mixed cats who are eight months of age or older. Adoptable shelter cats often participate in agility demonstrations all over the country.
If you think about combining the cunning and natural curiosity of a cat with its love of climbing, jumping, crawling under things, and chasing the elusive butterfly, the sport seems meant to be! Cat agility becomes the ultimate game or play! The benefits of the activity, even if the cat practices only at home and never participates in an actual competition, are obvious. Healthy exercise, mental stimulation and an outlet for energy are added to the cat’s anticipation of special time with a favorite human!
Most competitions are sponsored by The International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT), which was founded in 2003 and uses the slogan “Play with your cat every day.” The purpose of the organization is to sanction cat agility competitions held by local cat clubs. You can find ICAT course standards, rules, training tips and general information on its website at http://www.catagility.com/.
In cat agility, cats are guided through the obstacles by a handler with a teaser toy. Cats can be clicker- or reward-trained with treats before learning to negotiate individual obstacles. When cat agility began, handlers expected training with treats to be the norm. To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that for most cats, the best reward was to get to run the obstacle or course again! Play, with a little praise thrown in, was the best motivator. There are even cats that balk at the final obstacle because they do not want the game to end!
Is your cat ready for agility work? Any healthy cat with a positive bond with a handler can learn to do agility at home. If the cat also has the confidence to handle new situations and stay focused on the game, she may become cat who participates in competitions. Getting started is easy. Set up a simple tunnel of boxes, a jump onto a chair, a stool to leap up on, or a hula hoop to go through. Guide kitty through each obstacle with a teaser toy, treats or praise, then put a few together and do it again! Work in ten-minute sessions to reduce any frustration that may occur and to keep kitty eager for the next time. She can learn it, and you both will have fun and grow together. PLAY WITH YOUR CAT EVERYDAY! And we’ll see you on the agility course!