Training Tips to Help Socialize a Shy Cat

Step four: Train behaviors that will have the most benefit for the cat. Rewarding signs of relaxation, confidence or social intent are good starting points with a shy cat. A clickable moment may be as simple as a moment of brief muscle relaxation or forward movement of the body, ears or eyes. Tricks are also highly useful for creating positive, predictable ways your cat can interact with people. Touching a target or hand, making eye contact, going to a spot, sitting, staying or high-fiving are all behaviors that can be taught with relative ease and can be used to help your cat feel more comfortable in social situations.

Step five: Pair frightening things with positive consequences. For instance, if your cat is touch-sensitive, a hand reaching to pet her may be terrifying. Turn petting into a positive by pairing reaching hands with a desirable reward to make the situation less aversive for your cat. The key is to slowly build your cat’s confidence and create a happy expectation of the event — in other words, to teach her that petting is accompanied by a tasty treat or a fun toy. The same strategy can be used for other potentially stressful events like nail trims and grooming.

The more frequently you interact with your cat in a gentle and positive way, the more confident she should become. As her confidence increases, you can use the same principles to expand her comfort zone and introduce her to new people and experiences. The process takes patience and forethought, but it will be worth it, both for you and for your cat.

One last note: If your cat has a pronounced fear and doesn’t respond to the training, seek guidance from your veterinarian, who may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist. There are other options available to help ease your shy kitty out of her shell.

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