April 12, 2015

Training the Cat

Did you know you can train a cat?

Me and my Buddy
He's a bit of a Daddy's boy :)
If you're like most people, you're probably thinking, "You don't train a cat - a cat trains you!" Well, in many cases, this may be true, but I want to share with you the story about how I trained my outside cat, Buddy, and what I learned about myself in the process.

Buddy is a yellow tabby, and we've had him since he was a kitten. He's pretty well-behaved, I'd say... at least most of the time...

Buddy has actually developed somewhat of a reputation in the neighborhood as a pretty adept hunter, even though we do feed him cat food every evening. One of my co-workers, Jacque, told her parents about our rabbit-hunting cat one day, and her parents decided to come out and see him for themselves. When they asked to see Buddy, I said OK, stepped outside, and hollered his name...
"You call him like a dog?"
"Yeah. Most dogs think they're people. I have a cat who thinks he's a dog!"
"You've got to be kidding me! I've never heard of a cat you could call like that!"
I yelled out for him one more time, and the next thing you knew, here he came, bounding across the street and meowing at the top of his lungs, as if to say, "Here I am! I'm coming, Dad!"

That's my Buddy! He meets us at the car when we get home. He walks ahead of us on the steps to the house. He even wags his tail when he's happy! And he's Daddy's boy... unless he acts up... ;)

So, as I was saying, Buddy is an outside cat. He has a little place set up on our porch that we refer to as his "house", and that's typically where he sleeps unless it's too hot out or we get a bad storm, in which case, he knows to go underneath the porch. The only times he comes in are when weather gets particularly harsh, maybe when we've been out for a long time, and often when it's about time for his cat food dinner.

It used to be that, if Buddy came in, the only way to get him to go back out was to get food or a treat and have it in your hand when you went to the door, or else you had to chase him around the house and under furniture to catch him and take him out! I felt like Buddy had trained us to feed him if we wanted him to go out... But then I had the brilliant idea to try to train the cat!

Buddy waits patiently to go outside!
Today, if Buddy comes in the house - whether it's dinner time or he just slipped past us as we were going in or whatever the reason - when it's time for him to go back out, all I have to do is walk to the door, call him, open the door, and say, "Go outside," and he usually will. I'd say I've had about 80-90% success rate in the last couple months!

How did I do it? Well... he thinks he's a dog, so I trained him like a dog! Using food and treats as incentives, I gradually taught him to trust me that, even if the food wasn't in my hand, or - after a while - even if it wasn't in sight, if he went outside when I told him to, he would be rewarded.

It took time. It took patience. Many times, it took forcing him to go, and then rewarding him even though he didn't do it by choice. It took consistency. Gradually, we got to the point where, if he didn't go out for me, I tried a few times, but then I would just get him and put him out without a treat, and we'd try again another time. Slowly, he learned that it was better to listen. Eventually, we got to the place where, if it wasn't Dinner time, the only reward was, "Good boy," when he went outside, but he knew to go outside for me the next time because next time would probably come with food or a treat.

Buddy is living proof, then, that Yes, you CAN in fact train a cat! They may be strong-willed. They may not listen every time. But it can be done!

So what did I learn about myself along the way?

I learned that Buddy and I are not all that different. "Like Daddy, like Buddy," you might say! I can be pretty strong-willed, myself. I don't always want to do what my Father tells me. Whether it's a case of just not understanding why His way is best, thinking that I know better than He does, or just not wanting to step out of my comfort zone, sometimes I've been guilty sometimes of running the other way or trying to hide when my Father tells me to "Go outside."

I think we're all like that sometimes, aren't we? Have you ever felt God tugging on your heart when you saw a homeless person or a hitchhiker, but you didn't stop because you weren't sure they could be trusted or it would take a few extra minutes out of your day? Have you ever had the strong feeling that you should talk to someone about the Lord, but then you kept your mouth shut because you weren't sure what they would think or how they would react? Have you ever let something go un-checked in your life that you knew was wrong, but you just thought, "Aw, it won't hurt anybody. It's just a little thing."? (Suddenly, it's not so easy to condemn Jonah for running the other way after God called him to preach in Nineveh, huh?)

He really is a good boy!
We all have our moments of stubbornness, but God wants to teach us to trust Him. He wants us to learn that His ways are best. He wants us to listen to His voice. So what does He do? He gives us time. He's patient. Sometimes He does things to actually force us to do what He wants - not because He's being hateful, but because He wants us to learn to do the right things on our own! Sometimes when we do right, we see His immediate blessings, and other times, the best we get for now is knowing that He is pleased and the reward will come later.

Of course, no analogy is perfect. I don't mean to imply that our entire relationship with God is as condescending as a master training a pet. We are not saved by our ability to live up to everything God wants us to do - we couldn't do it if we tried! He truly loves us, though... so much that He was willing to send Jesus to die in our place so that, even when we fail to live up to His perfect standards, we are still favored in His eyes. When our faith is in Jesus, we will receive the reward, even if we still haven't learned all that God wants to teach us!

But for what it's worth, I'm glad that God hasn't given up on trying to teach me to do better. I'm even coming to recognize it as a blessing when God tells me to "Go outside" and do something - even if it isn't always what I would have picked for myself!

It's a blessing just to know that He calls me by name... and I want to come running every time He calls!

"Here I am! I'm coming, Dad!"

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