Book review: ‘The Trainable Cat’ by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis
There is such a thing as cat whispering and it’s really not that difficult. This new book by self-proclaimed cat enthusiasts John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis outlines simple ways that owners can make life happier for themselves and their furry four-legged friends.
There are two kinds of people in this world, those who love cats, and those who are wrong. Or, if you want me to be a little less biased, cat people and dog people – no prizes for guessing which category yours truly falls into. One of the biggest gripes dog people seem to have with cats is their brazen ‘up yours’ attitude to anything and everything. A cat will do as it pleases, when it pleases, and there is little if anything you can do to stop them. Dogs are trainable, dogs are reliable, cats, on the other hand, are a law unto themselves.
While the idea of a trained cat might seem contradictory, in ‘The Trainable Cat’, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis show that stress-induced behaviour in cats, such as shredding furniture and fighting against vet visits, can be prevented, making life happier and healthier for cats and owners alike. Your cat is just as intelligent as the dog next door, and far from being untrainable and ignorant, is continually learning and adjusting its behaviour to outside stimuli. You may assume that when your cat jumps up onto the work surface for the fourth time while you are baking, it is deliberately ignoring your pleas for peace, but have you ever stopped to consider that your response to the cat is actually encouraging it?
Starting from the basics, Bradshaw and Ellis delve into the inner workings of the feline mind, to uncover how and why cats learn the way they do, and what cat owners can do to make training easy for the cat and themselves. Cats have excellent memories, they say, and are therefore perfectly suited to training, but are rather different to dogs and thus have their own specific requirements. Through multiple enlightening and often humorous scenarios, Bradshaw and Ellis lay out different training approaches and programmes that can be used to teach cats by rewarding good behaviour while limiting the less appealing sides of a cat’s psyche – including those that result claw-marked furniture and bloody corpses.
Think you can’t train a cat? Think again! The video below shows one of my own beloved moggies playing fetch cat-sized stick (aka hairpin). A bit of positive reinforcement in the form of delicious cat snacks goes a long way.
This book isn’t just a training manual, though. As well as offering advice for the cat lover who wants to ensure they are getting the most out of their relationship with their humble friend, it's also packed full of awesome cat-related general knowledge titbits. The geek within me revelled in the discovery that the reason one of my cats sometimes sits with her mouth gormlessly hanging open is because she has smelled something interesting and is literally ‘tasting’ the air. The fact that cats like to seek out tiny spaces to hide is because, as retractably clawed animals, they are unable to dig and so, in the wild, would have had to seek out natural crevices to protect themselves from predators.
This book delivers on random information, psychological insight, scientific analysis and all-round cuteness, securing it a high position on my list of favourite books reviewed for E&T so far. I can’t confirm as yet whether Bradshaw and Ellis’s advice has in fact made life happier for me and my cats, but it has certainly given me a better understanding of crazy and endearing things they do. Whether you want to train your cat, are interested in the inner workings of the feline mind, or are a hard-core ‘dog person’ in need of a ‘reality check’, this book is guaranteed to make you think, smile and truly appreciate the unique personalities of these complex creatures.
‘The Trainable Cat’ by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis is published by Penguin (£9.99 ISBN 9780141979328)