The Unrealistic Expectations Behind Training Stubborn Pets


Digital Media teacher April Mullinix’s dog, Bindi, poses during playtime.

The internet is full of hilarious examples of the do’s and don’ts of training pets. Videos filled with cats and birds and, shockingly, even fish. The idea of training a pet to do the unthinkable can seem all too tempting to resist- but is it too much to expect?

To answer this question, I began my own quest to teach my pet, Lord Caspian, to do the most basic of tricks- sitting when told. The catch?

Caspian is a cat.

Cats are well known to do what they want when they want. They are notoriously stubborn and unreasonable on a good day. During my search to find whether it was possible for my cat, I wondered if other students and staff from Air Academy have attempted – and possibly succeeded – in training their stubborn pets.

Sophomore Abigail McCown may not have attempted to train a pet known for stubbornness, but she described her dachshund dog as “under-baked” and quite difficult to train. Training a dog may seem rigorous enough to those who have first-hand experience, but McCown had to manage to work around her dog being both deaf and underdeveloped.

“My family does our best to train her with signs (ASL). It is difficult to train her due to her underdeveloped brain. She forgets things easily. So far she knows ‘No!’, ‘dinner/breakfast’ and ‘outside’,” McCown mentioned fondly.

Sophomore Abigail McCown’s dachshund dog settles down for a nap.

To some, it may appear to be a difficult and odd choice to train animals with sign language, but it turned out that McCown was not the only Air Academy resident to attempt to do so.

ASL teacher Natalie Thomas remarked that her journey to train her cat with sign language was due to her own difficulties with communication.

“I wanted to have some kind of interaction experience with my cat,” Thomas wrote.

Interestingly enough, despite the difference in their pets Thomas and McCown had similar results; Thomas’s approach involved a spray bottle and treats while McCown’s was pure determination and repetition. Both experiences ended in the same outcome: nothing to write home about.

Other interviews on the subject had short but clear responses, such as their dogs know the basics and their cats refuse to even try. However, nearly every interviewee agreed that it was beneficial to teach pets to do tricks regardless of their species.

Digital media teacher April Mullinix wrote that her cat learned to do a few tricks by watching her dog (an accidental success). Though she did add that, much like other pets, her cat would only follow commands when there was a treat waiting for him.

The consensus for Air Academy pet owners seems to be, while possible, some pets are too stubborn to follow through with tricks. A crucial factor during this process was patience, which every pet owner can understand.

When I returned to my own attempt at teaching Caspian to sit on command, I kept the responses from students and teachers in the back of my head.  While I knew I’d never spray my beloved cat with water, nor would I be able to use sign language, the idea that it was possible (with the right incentive) gave me hope that I’d at least get close.