When people hear the word “agility” most of the time a dog in the midst of a time trial comes to mind. Or in my case, a vision of a Mastiff doing the weave pole. (Check out thebark.com.) However, since it’s inception in 2003, cat agility has become increasingly popular. One would never think that cats would excel at a fast moving, timed sport. But one would be wrong. Very wrong.
Cats are natural athletes as they must be good hunters to survive in the wild. This means a lot of running and jumping. Cats are also prey to larger animals and so good physical condition is essential to their survival. Cats are fast – a cat can run up to speeds of 30 miles an hour and leap six times its height. They have great visual acumen and are built low to the ground which makes it easier for them visually.
Cats give the impression that they do what they want but they are just as trainable as dogs. They like to learn in the same way as dogs using positive reinforcement. Cats may not be as food motivated as dogs but if you find a food item that is high value to them, they will pair the reward with the desired behavior. Their recall is estimated at 16 hours versus 10 minutes for a dog. Indeed, cats are truly very intelligent animals.
According to International Cat Agility Competitions, there are five components of physical fitness. These are agility (changing body position), balance, speed (endurance), power (burst) and reaction time. There are also four judged mental exercises as well. These include concentration, trust, learning and surface texture variety.
You don’t have to enroll your cat in agility classes or special training. In fact, just using a lure such as a fishing pole toy or a laser pointer can turn your home into a cat agility ring. You can use chairs, tables and cat tunnels to set up your own course. Alternatively, you can buy cat-appropriate agility equipment on the internet.
To train your cat, pair the desired behavior with the high value treat. You can also use a clicker. For example, if you want your cat to jump onto a table, use the lure to entice the cat to perform the behavior. When he does, give him the treat or click the clicker. Eventually the cat will associate the treat or the clicker with that behavior. Start with simple things before moving on to a more complex obstacle.
Before beginning any agility training, check with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is healthy enough for this. Most of all, have fun! The most important part of training is increasing the bond with your pet.