Is it possible to train a cat?

I have two kitties, Joey and Oliver. They are adorably cute and I love them to bits, but Oliver is a runner. Any time he sees the opportunity to make a break out the front door he takes it. I have learned to swing my purse through the doorway low to the ground on my way inside to prevent him from escaping when I am coming home from work, but if I have laundry or something else causing me to leave the door open for even a second longer than normal he makes a break for it. Right now this isn’t a huge deal because my apartment only has 1 door and it leads to a stairwell in my building so even if he runs he isn’t escaping to the outside world.

However, in about 10 days I am moving into a new apartment with my SO. It is a gorgeous loft space about 30 blocks south of where I am now and it has a back yard. Not a patio with some potted plants, but a 700 sq ft yard with grass and a little brick walk through the middle of it. If Oliver manages to escape into the yard and climb the gate I might very well lose him forever. This is NYC so traffic is a given at all hours of the day and night and I really want to spare him from a skull crushing encounter with the neighborhood taxi cab. I really don’t want to have to lock him in the bathroom any time I need to go outside so I would like to train him to stay away from the doors, but my brain is laughing at me for even thinking it might be possible to train him to do anything. Short of setting up an airhorn to go off every time the back door opens I can’t think of any way to get him to behave himself and stay inside. Has anyone here ever managed to train a cat to stay inside against his will?

I have a cat who does this whenever I open the front door; he knows the sound of my car horn (which honks when I lock it) so he meets me at the front door, ready to make a break for it.

I have had a 99% success rate with making a habit of doing something he doesn’t like the moment I walk in the door…whether it’s yelling, “NO!!!” or swinging something at him–grocery bags are good because they make a crinkly noise–or actually chasing him…or a combo of all three. I’ve also developed a habit of kicking my foot in the door before I walk in, to block and dissuade him from trying to dodge between my feet.

Now, this makes me look like a crazy woman if anybody’s watching, but I don’t care; I hate chasing him down the hall of my apartment complex. (He hits the stairs and gets spooked; he’s never used stairs before or undoubtedly he would get a lot further away.)

If your cat is more determined than mine, I’d think about carrying a small water bottle and spraying him with it every time you walk in your door. You could even leave it outside your door. As long as it has a good hard stream (vs a “mist”) I don’t know any cat who likes that at all.

I don’t know that you can ever completely TRAIN a cat to do or not do anything on a permanent basis, but you can certainly make it unfeasible.

Yes. I had a housemate who didn’t believe in indoor-only cats, and used to let my cat out when I wasn’t home. (Karma eventually caught up to her big time.)

The first several days, I’d sit near the open front door for a while and relocate the cat when she wanted to explore. After I thought she kind of knew but didn’t care, I did the same thing with a spray bottle. She was never 100% convinced, but after that she kind of had to steel herself to go outside. In other words, we couldn’t just leave the door open, but she stopped darting out opportunistically.

It may have helped that she was kind of stupid on the overall cat scale. Dearly loved, but no brains. My other cat is far less trainable.

It can be done, but I’ve found that the best remedy for this is for the cat to get out and try living as a stray.

My beautiful Mao got out and was gone for over a year. When I found her and brought her back, she never went near an outside door again.

My cat Graham was like your Oliver. I put a chair outside, and whenever she got out, I would hold/confine/restrain her while sitting in that chair. We’d sit outside for 10-20 minutes, generally long enough for her to stop growling and start just being miffed. Then I’d take her inside. 15 minutes later, I’d go find her, pet her, tell she was a good girl and give her a treat. Eventually, she got the idea that being outside wasn’t going to be any fun, and was going to cause her some (mental) discomfort while inside was all petting and food. YMMV.

How did you find your cat after a year?

Well, some can. Ever been to Key West and seen Dominique’s Flying Cats.

Ah, yes. This technique is known as the “kitty sweep”, and it’s not only highly effective, but amusing to all as you partially recreate the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch right there in your doorway, complete with Kato-like shouts and grunts.

Constant looking. I loved that cat more than I can properly say. I wrote about her here. (WARNING: kinda sad)

Would one of those invisible fence thingys set up at the doorway do anything for a cat or would he just be pissed off and not understand why his collar kept shocking him?

I live in Chicago and we have pet cats go out all the time. Cats can get killed in the suburbs too. We have one cat in my building that climbs out of some flat and onto the ledge. She then makes her/his way around to the canopy (my building has a big canopy over the entrance) and she/he jumps onto it and then the cat spends all day sitting ontop the canopy.

I haven’t figure out yet how the cat climbs back up, unless she/he waits for his/her owner and goes in through the front door.

But I think traffic is less of an issue than the other cats starting a fight. Cat’s are territorial and until they work something out they can get into a few fights

Is it possible to kitty-proof the backyard? Putting chickenwire fencing that angles inward at the top might do the trick (that’s what I’m planning to do with my next yard).

As for training, I’ve had good luck training my cat to stay off tables and kitchen counters, but when it’s something they desperately want, I think it gets a little harder to convince them. Our cats are supposed to stay inside, too, and we mostly accomplish that with a combination of foot-sweeping, using an old mop to push them back (they hate the mop), and going and getting them when they dart out.

I had a runner and nothing I tried to get him to stop worked. He rarely got past me and pretty much stopped trying but he would get out whenever anyone else came over. I wouldn’t have cared if he had been my only cat, but I was worried that he would contract a disease and give it to the other cat.

My aunt did this, with the wire at a 90° angle. Bonus: when a cat did get out, though the door, it was able to get back into the cat pen on its own at night by jumping in somehow.

I think a 'scat mat’might be a good option for you. You could lay it right by the door, and he would pretty quickly learn that it’s not a fun place to be. It gives a mild electric shock. I’ve seen them as cheap as $25 - but make sure you don’t accidentally order a ‘dummy’ mat, which is the same material without the electrodes, for use after your animal knows to stay off it. Good luck! Dominique has had a trained cat act in Key West for decades. His cats walk tightropes, jump through flaming hoops and they sit on stools and stand on their back legs when he commands them to do so. They are just strays he gets young and teaches them.
I have seen his act 20 times at least.

Another vote for a scat mat. Just be sure you can train yourself to step over it!

Ooh, the scat mat looks excellent! I will order one of those right away!

I just toss mine out a few times when it’s crappy weather. They learn.

The scat mat has been ordered and is on it’s way to my office as we speak. I don’t like the idea of shocking my cat, but I like it better than him getting eaten by a neighbors dog or hit by a car.

When “training” a cat, the toughest thing is often tying them securely to the tracks.