I’ve always preferred cats over dogs for one simple reason: independence. Still, I find myself wanting to enforce certain behaviors that are, well, dog-like.
Whenever I grabbed the bag of food to feed my cat, he would get really excited, sometimes even blocking my ability to pour the food by sticking his head in the bowl. This eventually started to bother me, so I decided to train him how to behave when I’m giving him food. I decided he shouldn’t be sticking his head in the bowl – he should be patiently waiting until I pour the food, and also wait for my command before he begins eating. I felt this would help cover cases where I wanted to add more than one type of food to the bowl. Also, without waiting for my command – he might run to the bowl too early, potentially getting in my way again.
So, here’s the approach I take:
1) Grab the bag of food, and approach the bowl. If your cat is anything like mine, he’ll be running around in a hyperactive frenzy, meowing and sticking his head in the bowl. My cat’s bowl is on the floor, so I stand in front of it, holding the bag of cat food.
2) Lightly push the cat away from the bowl, and after doing that, say “Stay” firmly as if you’re telling him to stop doing something bad. Use a hand gesture also, telling him to stop. If the cat never encountered such a command before, you may have to do this about fifteen times. When the cat stops and sits down, quickly pet him on the head, and say “Good” in a positive tone… but watch out. He might see this as a total green light, and will try to walk towards the bowl. Because of this, I find it useful to tell him to “Stay” multiple times, even after saying “Good”. This makes him realize that he’s not out of the woods yet, he has to behave. Over time, after multiple of these feedings, you can reduce the amount of “Stay” commands, and the cat should still behave. The pushing should be the first thing you get rid of, though. The verbal command and hand gesture should be enough.
3) Now that the cat is sitting watching you (at least an arms length away), you can start bending down to pour the food in the bowl – but keep an eye out. Don’t allow the cat to come towards the bowl as you are doing this. If you need to, say “Stay” in a negative tone at intervals while you are doing this. If the cat comes towards the bowl while you are doing this, stand up – don’t give him food. Start again at Step 2. Ideally, you want to pour the food and have the cat patiently waiting while you do so, sitting at a distance.
4) With the food in the bowl, you can now stand up – but again, keep an eye on the cat – he might see this as an opening to approach the bowl. Don’t let him do that. The cat should remain sitting patiently until you give the command to eat. I usually wait at least ten seconds to see that he’s still obeying the rules, and then I say “Come, [Name]!” in an overly positive tone (though I say the French equivalent, for some reason), while backing away from the bowl. The overly positive tone and the physical retreat are clear messages- the cat should run towards the bowl, excited. Make sure to sound excited yourself, that way he will have no doubt that he can approach.
Note: The cat will likely not obey well the first time, so you might want to give him food once you see a sign of improvement. You can just continue the next feeding, trying again to move towards this new behavior.
So, there it is – how I trained my cat to follow a specific set of rules when it is time to be fed. It works well – but if you stop enforcing the rules for a few weeks, the cat will stop obeying them – so this needs to be maintained.