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Cats have been used as model organisms] in studies of learning and have also been observed from an ethological point of view to evaluate their ability to learn.

Cats can learn by trial and error, observation and imitation.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]. They retain certain information much longer than dogs.[11] In one study, it was found that cats possess visual memory ability comparable to that of monkeys.[12] However, for short term working memory, at least one study showed that dogs outperformed cats for periods of time up to 60 seconds.[13]

Observed learning abilities of cats

Inventing and using a tool

At least one cat was documented by a scientist to have adapted an object for use as a tool to add water to dry cat food, this tool-use being invented by the cat without any prior training by humans.[14]

Opening doors and windows

Cats that are accustomed to being let outside, or that want to get into their home, may learn to open windows and doors. They are capable of learning different routes for entry and exit; for instance a cat might find the window in its owner's kitchen easier to open to exit the house, but to get in, they might have to use the screen door in the backyard. Also, they may learn to open cupboard doors to get to food. Cats' paws are not as effective as manipulation as human hands, owing to lack of an opposable thumb, but they can for instance learn to operate door lever handles by pulling them down, even though gripping the handle is difficult for cat paws.

Playing fetch

Some cats can be trained to play fetch with a varied degree of success (which is dependent on the cat and its mood). Siamese, Bengals and Burmese cats are well-regarded as breeds that naturally carry objects in their mouths. They are easy to train to fetch and carry. Other breeds such as the Maine Coon, Turkish Van, Savannah,Short Hair and Turkish Angora, are also well known for an almost dog-like affinity for playing fetch. It is possible to get a cat to remain seated until an object is thrown. At that point, their sense of sight kicks in. As long as there is at least a remote chance of locating the thrown item, the cat will run off to find it. Once retrieved, waiting or a simple call is enough for the cat to return with the item and deposit it (usually) within arm's reach. Chasing an object in the air is a natural cat hunting behavior, and many cats will chase down a thrown toy for the sheer enjoyment of running and catching.

Using the toilet

File:Toilet Trained Cat 22 Aug 2005.jpg

Toilet trained cat

Because of their sensitive sense of smell, some cats prefer going outside to urinate and defecate, and rarely go in the same spot twice. Kittens are typically trained by their mothers to use a litter box and cover up their waste, so litter training rarely requires human intervention; once they understand where the litter box is, they will seek it out from then on. Cats can also be trained to make use of a toilet;[15] some cats learn on their own after watching their owners, but for most cats, it is necessary to be taught by owners. In general, however, a toilet-trained cat is a rare animal, and successful toilet training depends both on the willingness of the animal to learn as well as on the patience of the owner to teach.

Retrieving items from hard to reach places

A cat playing with a ball may suddenly find that the ball is under the couch. The cat will try different ways, changing paws, position, and other elements, the way a human would. This trial and error approach to puzzle solving can be demonstrated in the laboratory using Thorndike's puzzle boxes. In these boxes, cats must manipulate series of levers in order to escape. They initially achieve this by trial and error, before committing the sequence to memory. They also use memory to reduce the amount of trial and error when encountering comparable novel situations e.g. new puzzle boxes.[1] The cat may also be taught to get treats from high and hard to reach places, like on top of a refrigerator, or in a cupboard. Using the same logic as it did with the toy, the cat will get to each treat. A cat that has figured out where the cat food is kept may find that the food is inside a large bag. It might try to get in the bag or open it by means of removing the clip.

Training and Tricks

Cats are traditionally hard to train as circus animals, While this is usually true, a human with a good relationship to a cat, where there is trust and good communication, can find a cat to be almost as trainable as a dog. A good example of this is The Yuri Kuklachev Cat Theatre based in Moscow[16] , the owner of which has been training cats for many years to do a full range of circus style tricks. Also there is the belief that cats are harder to train than dogs due to impatience and boredom with the training exercise.[citation needed] Like dogs and people, many cats have active minds that thrive on stimulation, exploration and learning. Many of the same basic methods of training a dog—shaping behavior, and giving reinforcement in the form of treats, lavish praise or attention for correct responses—work extremely well when training a cat. A cat can be taught to "sit" for treats or meals; this or other such repeatable behaviour responses can act as a foundation for further training.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thorndike's Puzzle Box experiments noted at
  2. Adler, H E "Some Factors Of Observation Learning In Cats". Journal of Genetic Psychology, ): 159-77.
  3. Hart, Benjamin L "Learning Ability in Cats" Feline Practice s(s): 10 - 12 (September—October 1975)
  4. Caro, T M, and M D Hauser. "Is There Teaching in Nonhuman Animals?" Quarterly Review of Biology ): 151 - 74.
  5. John, E R, P Chesler, F Bartlett and I Victor. "Observation Learning in Cats" Science ): 1589 - 1591.
  6. Pallaud, B "Hypotheses On Mechanisms Underlying Observational Learning In Animals" Behavioural Processes, 9 (1984): 38ançois Y. "Search Behaviour of Cats (Felis catus) in an Invisible Displacement Test: Cognition and Experience" Canadian Journal of Psychology ): 359 - 370.
  7. Dumas, Claude. "Object Permanence in Cats (Felis catus): An Ecological Approach to the Study of Invisible Displacements" Journal of Comparative Psychology ): 404 - 410.
  8. Dumas, Claude, and François Y Doré. "Cognitive Development in Kittens (Felis catus): An Observational Study of Object Permanence and Sensorimotor Intelligence" Journal of Comparative Psychology ): 357 - 365.
  9. Fiset, Sylvain, and François Y Doré. "Spatial Encoding in Domestic Cats (Felis catus)" Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes ): 420 - 437.
  10. Heishman, Miriam, Mindy Conant and Robert Pasnak. "Human Analog Tests of the Sixth Stage of Object Permanence" Perceptual and Motor Skills ): 1059 - 68
  11. Re-Directed Aggression Towards Other Cats
  12. Okujava et al., Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2005;65(2):205-11.
  13. Fiset & Dore, Anim Cogn. 2006 Jan;9(1):62-70.
  14. Documented Tool Use by a Cat
  15. The Toilet Trained Cat: How to Train Your Cat to Use the Human Toilet
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