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Do Cats Learn from Their Mistakes? Feline Assimilation Facts

People develop and grow from making mistakes and learning from them, but can the same be said for cats? Do cats learn from their mistakes? The answer is not entirely clear.

Cats, like other animals, do not use human logic. They are survivalists and act on instinct. However, by providing them with their basic needs and proper training and guidance, cats can learn acceptable behavior. The same is true for discouraging negative behaviors.

When they are kittens, we may allow bad behaviors because it seems cute. Those behaviors can become a problem as they grow into adulthood. So, knowing how cats learn and how to train them is crucial for helping them learn from their mistakes.

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How Cats Learn

If we understand how our cats learn, we can influence their behavior and better look out for their welfare. Remember, cats learn from their owners in part. That means it is just as important for us to understand how our actions may be contributing to the behaviors exhibited by our cats.

Having the knowledge and proper training tools is critical to the harmony between you and your cat. Some of the ways that cats learn are from things in their environment, exposure to stimuli, conditioning, and observation.

Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock


Cats learn over time the things in their environment that are or are not important to them. They eventually ignore the things that are harmless to them. A cat may fear a particular sound until it realizes it doesn’t affect them in any way. It can then be ignored.


After repeated exposure to certain stimuli, cats will have an increased positive or negative reaction. A cat may view an animal in a negative way which creates a reaction any time he sees one that is similar or that specific animal.


There are three types of conditioning that contribute to a cat’s learning process, which can assist them from learning from their mistakes.

Classical Conditioning: Learning through association. For example, opening the refrigerator to get their food excites them because they know they are going to get fed. The opening of the refrigerator door creates the same feelings as food does. This learning process is reliant on repeatedly associating the sound of the fridge door right before they get their food.

Operant Conditioning: Behavior that is “controlled” by reinforcement and punishment. These responses will have an impact on behavior based on the consequence of each behavior. The behavior will increase its likelihood of being repeated if the consequence is positive for the cat and decrease the probability of it being repeated if the consequences are negative for the cat. For example, a cat that gets a treat when sitting in a certain cat tree is more likely to return and spend more time on it. A cat that has been scared by a dog while sitting at the same cat tree might avoid it in the future.

Behavior is molded by the following:
  • Positive reinforcements: something positive added to the environment, for example, a treat or toy.
  • Negative reinforcement: something negative that has been removed from the environment, in this example removing the dog from the room.
  • Neutral: No positive or negative consequences associated with a behavior.
  • Positive punishment: adding something negative for the cat for example bringing the dog into the room.
  • Negative punishment: Removing something positive for the cat, for example, removing a toy, or a treat.

The connection to the behavior and response needs to be immediate for the cat to learn the association of the consequences with its behavior.

Observational Learning: Learning by watching others. Adult cats and kittens have been known to learn behaviors from other cats. For example, jumping on the counter. There are differing opinions as to whether the “follower” cat is learning directly from the “tutor” cat or just drawing the “follower” cat’s attention to the counter.

It is very important that we know the different ways that cats learn. Having the knowledge helps us make the training a positive experience for both of you.

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Image Credit: dan.wighton, Flickr

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Top 10 Cat Breeds that are Easy to Train

While all cats have individual personality traits, some cat breeds are easier to train than others. Here are the top 10 cat breeds that are known for trainability:

  • Abyssinian: These cats are outgoing and friendly and regarded as a cat that enjoys direct involvement with its owner. This breed is known to learn to do tricks, walk on a leash, and play fetch.
  • American Shorthair: These are even-tempered, silver tabby cats. Their calm personalities and learning abilities make them a favorite for acting and modeling.
  • Bengal: This cat breed is a descendant of the Asian Leopard Cat. They are good-looking, energetic cats and enjoy spending time with their owners.
  • Japanese Bobtail: Highly active and social, these cats love spending time together and make a great family pet.
  • Maine Coon: Referred to as a “gentle giant,” these cats have easygoing personalities and are said to be very resilient and quick to learn new tricks.
  • Ocicat: A cross of Abyssinians with Siamese, they are full of excitement and curiosity. Ocicats are “people cats” and want to be close to you.
  • Pixiebob: A breed that is quiet and confident, they enjoy involvement and are eager to please. Although they look like mini bobcats, DNA tests prove they are not descendants of wildcats.
  • Siamese: A socialite that loves attention, Siamese are playful and eager to please.
  • Somali: Intelligent like its relative, the Abyssinian, these cats can be taught to play fetch and enjoy playing games.
  • Turkish Van: A breed that enjoys strong bonds with its owner, Turkish Vans love attention and are eager and willing to play a game of fetch.
Abyssinian cat sitting in tower
Image Credit: Darya Lavinskaya, Shutterstock

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There are many factors that can assist cats in learning from their mistakes. While some cats are better at remembering their mistakes than other breeds, cats are intelligent and have the potential to learn. But you might need to offer them some assistance every once in a while.

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Featured Image Credit: bookwurmee, Pixabay