Cat agility is a feline version of dog agility, in which a cat is taught to pass various obstacles and courses constructed of them. Cat agility is an excellent way to bring content into the life of an indoor cat. It both helps to satisfy the cat's need for exercise and provides an opportunity to joyful insight and new learning as well as enjoyable shared activity with the owner.
Cat agility affects the well-being of a cat in many different ways. It offers an indoor cat important opportunities for exercise, jumping and leaping. In addition, the training aspect inherent in the sport offers the cat important and significant brain exercise. As a cherry on top, cat agility also offers pleasant shared moments between a cat and the owner, allowing the owner to learn to know their cat and its individual qualities even better. A cat with no illnesses inhibiting movement can do cat agility. The breed of the cat does not matter; all cats are in principle suited to be agility cats. For example, the multiple agility cat of the year awarded Miuku was completely blind and still managed to dazzle the audience and co-competitors with its fast agility performance. Many kinds of cats can therefore enjoy agility and the well-being benefits it provides.
All you need to begin cat agility is enthusiasm, motivation, and a hint of imagination. Practicing cat agility doesn't in principle require much space or a great number of fancy obstacles. At its simplest, cat agility is teaching a cat to leap over the legs of a person sitting on the floor. A handy person can build their own agility blocks/obstacles, but ready-made barriers are also available. When constructing barriers yourself, you must make sure they are certainly safe for both the cat and the trainer.
The basis of cat agility is teaching a cat to pass various obstacles and courses constructed of them. The agility training of a cat is done using positive reinforcement, i.e. by rewarding the cat for desired behaviour. Punishments or forcing are not part of cat training; unwanted behaviour is just completely ignored. In order to any cat training to be successful, it is imperative to find out the most delightful reward for your cat specifically, the one for which it would even do somersaults. Rewards such as various food rewards, scratching, or play cannot be put into any generally applicable order of preference, since reward preferences are very individual and depend on the cat's own likings. You can find out the best reward for your own cat by testing: if your cat leaves tossing its head contemptuously, the reward is probably not sufficiently significant.
Additionally, just like in any cat training, also in cat agility it is good to proceed with small baby steps in the training phase and to keep the requirement level moderate. This approach ensures the motivation of the cat and avoids killing its motivation by pressuring it into too difficult tasks. A cat can be taught to pass obstacles for instance by following the trainer's hand or alternatively a target stick. Luring with a toy or treat are also allowed ways of guiding a cat, so it is completely up to the preferences of the trainer and the cat what guiding method works the best.
Cat agility offers a cat versatile stimuli, such as learning new things and exercise. In the picture, landrace cat Hiski's display of skill
With dogs, going regularly to guided training outside of the home has for a long time been a common and completely normal practice. In my own experience, in the case of cats, the help of an animal instructor is sought only when problems arise with the cat. There is however in principle nothing preventing a guided hobby with a cat, as long as the cat is carefully accustomed to travelling and moving in new places, so that these do not cause the cat unnecessary stress. If you have questions about cat training, don't hesitate to contact a professional animal trainer specializing in cats. If travelling outside of the home feels unsurmountable, you can ask the trainer about the possibility of a home visit. A list of professionally qualified animal trainers pledged to train using rewards can be found at elaintenkouluttajat.com
Besides training cat agility at home, you can also compete in it. Agility Cats Finland, SAGIK, organizes a few official cat agility competitions every year, usually alongside cat shows under Kissaliitto or in pet store premises, for instance. Annually, SAGIK awards the agility cat of the year based on competition success during the previous year. Official cat agility competitions are, for safety reasons, held on a long table on which the obstacles are placed one after the other. By becoming a SAGIK member you receive, as a member benefit, the accurate measurements of the official agility obstacles, which allow you to build your own obstacles corresponding to the official agility obstacles for home use. Practicing with the official agility obstacles at home might help in the competition, since the obstacles are already familiar to the cat. Whether your aim with your cat is in competitions or not, cat agility is a remarkably versatile shared hobby for a cat and its owner.
Cat agility as a hobby doesn't require great investments. At its most minimalistic, cat agility can mean for instance teaching a cat to jump over the legs of a person sitting on the floor.
The article was originally published in Siperialainen 02/2020 (magazine for members).
The author is the chairman and communications officer of SAGIK, an Art Director specialized in animal well-being topics, and an expert in communications.
Agility Cats Finland SAGIK registered association www.agilitykissat.com was founded in 2001. The association aims to improve the situation of cats and to increase understanding about their needs. The association distributes information about cat stimulation and its methods, organizes official agility competitions, and communicates about cat stimulation and its methods. The association organizes online courses and is a member organization of Kissaliitto.