Training a cat alone is never impossible. Challenging? Yes. Requires patience? You got it. Helps to be consistent? For sure! Once you have training inside mastered in a way that works best for you and your cat, learning beyond the house is a great next step!
This journey of training Gibson has been such a fun one! He's a very quick learner so I'm always thinking of what else I can teach him. While he's really good at trick performance inside it is extra challenging to train beyond the house!
1. Build Their Trick/Skill 'Setlist'
The first time I can recall intently training beyond the house was at a local pet-friendly store entrance (see photo below). There were actually 3 accessible stores, 3 automatic doors/entrances, an elevator, and 2 escalators (up/down). At this point Gibson had mastered at least 4 or 5 tricks. Dictionary.com defines mastery as comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.
For Gibson, mastery of a trick or skill is measured through him doing it:
Without much hesitation
Upon meeting these three criteria, I know that he has a complete understanding of any trick/skill which sets him up for every possibility of being successful in training outside of the comfort of our own home/space. His comprehensive knowledge of those 4-5 tricks/skills which were mastered helped to build his confidence to perform as he was surrounded by many distractions.
2. Their Agenda Before Training
I'm not sure about other cats who go beyond the house but when Gibson first gets outside it's like he's off to the races with all the scents, sights and sounds to encounter. He's got an agenda to do when he first steps out that door so what I've learned works best for Gibson is to bring him on his adventure first. It also helps for him to get some physical activity in before he gets all the treats as he's then hungry and motivated to train!
I will say that I've noticed that Gibson will sometimes lose interest in his regular treats (Crumps Mini Trainers) when training outside. I feel that the distractions outside can sometimes overpower the treat he's used to getting on the regular, if that makes any sense. For this reason I typically have some Richmond Valley Farms Freeze Dried Chicken Breast treats or Inaba Churus on hand. Since they are treats he gets less often they are really special to him.
"In the end the special treats end up overpowering the distractions and he becomes more focused on training to work his way towards the reward."
4. Consider Location
The easiest place to train would be "the road most travelled". Training in familiar spaces enables Gibson to feel most comfortable and confident. Though we did initially begin training in a space we normally don't go to, I do feel it would've been easier to train in our backyard first. It was, however, winter so we had no choice but to go in a store. Though our backyard still has it's fair share of distracting elements it is a place that Gibson often explores so it's almost as if he is in another room of the house. Check out the video below as he's doing a somewhat new trick - it was pretty easy to perform in our "backyard room". Once they have mastered training in an outdoor space that their most comfortable and confident in you might end up being more successful in challenging them in newer places.
Other General Advice
I will say that I could afford to be a lot more consistent with training beyond the house. If I was, I truly think that it would be a lot easier to train outside. As we train in areas other than our inside space he does sometimes take some time to find his focus and he will often get distracted even as I have his attention. Doing this daily would really help his focus.
At times, maybe even challenge them - they may surprise you like Gibson has, me! There's not always a need to follow the way we do things as every cat is different and therefore learns differently. These steps have just been what we've found work for us. The video below was a SUPER distracting environment at a brewery with lots of people and their dogs. We had been at this location for a while and decided to see if he was comfortable and confident enough to do one of his mastered tricks and though it took him some time, he did do it!
At the end of the day I always encourage you to be a part of a community of others who train with their cats so you can encourage and support one another as you learn. Remember as you train outside to always keep your kitty's safety as your top priorty. Don't get so fixated on training in distracting environments to the extent of not paying attention to potential dangers and threats. Focusing on the bond you have with your feline companion is also such a benefit of training that can help you both to learn and navigate training outside. Finally, always remember to have fun - some days your furbabe might not be "feeling it". At this point it might just be better to focus on enjoying your time together!
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I would love to hear any tips on how you've been effective in training beyond the house. Please share your experiences by messaging me on Instagram, emailing me, or dropping your comments below (just note that I cannot comment back but always read what you write).