How to introduce a cat flap
Q My cat Sabrina loves going outside but just doesn't seem to be able to use a cat flap - she won't push through it. She is happy to use it while I have it taped open but comes to a standstill when it hangs down. She even seems to be slightly scared of it when I push it for her. Oddly, she pushes and pulls normal doors around the house on her travels and they are much heavier than this little plastic flap. What can I do?
Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini suggests: This is common if cats have not been introduced to a cat flap when they are young. You could try to create positive associations with it and see if that works, but there's no guarantee that she will happily get used to pushing it. Many cats dislike the noise cat flaps make.
Through repetition and a very tasty food treat (anything Sabrina likes that you can give as lots of tiny rewards) associate the flap being moved with the nice activity. Keep the flap taped up so that she can come and go as she pleases during this process. Once you feel that she doesn't mind the sound, start training sessions with the flap down and, when she approaches it, quietly toss her a reward as near as you can to the flap.
Once she starts to show more interest in the good things that can happen around the flap, leave it down and go to the other side with your treat supply. Show Sabrina what you have and make sure she has one or two pieces to emphasize how nice they are. Then wait for her to try and get to you through the flap - you may need to raise it slightly to start her off, and do make sure you reward every bit of bold behaviour. It will take time, patience and plenty of tasty treats to tempt her.
The most obvious mistake is that you go too fast so that when Sabrina wants to come inside in a hurry she finds the flap down as that will undo all your work. But if you use the right approach you may be able to make this work. When giving treats in training, remember to take it out of her daily food allowance so as not to overfeed Sabrina.
Read our full feature on cat flap training in the June 2013 issue of Your Cat magazine - call 01476 859820 to order a back issue.