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I have a friend who just lost her kitten. The kitten was about 10 months old, and had gotten into the habit of "escaping" out the door whenever possible.

Any time someone went towards the door, the cat would try to position himself to sneak out the moment the door opened. They also have a dog, and the cat would try to sneak out whenever the dog went outside (the dog can and does open the screen door if it isn't latched properly, if he wants to go outside).

The escaping behavior went on for months, but for the most part, he would only stay out for short periods of time (a few hours at most).

Two weeks ago, he got out, and stayed outside all day before finally coming in again. That night, he got out again, and never came back.

It turned out that he had gotten hit by a car.

Unfortunately (in my personal opinion, a cat was a poor choice for her, and I'm very upset that the escaping behavior was allowed to go on unchecked), my friend decided to get a new kitten.

I have no real confidence that she'll be able to strictly avoid the cat escaping again, if he proves to be as persistent in his attempts as the previous cat.

Is there any advice I can give her to help discourage the new kitten from having any interest in even trying to escape outside?

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Was the cat spayed? It is very important that house cats get spayed - if not, they're going to do anything possible to get outside, because HORMONES. Leaving for a few hours and then coming back is typical behavior of cats in heat. –  surfmadpig May 13 '14 at 0:01
    
Yes, he was neutered (male, not female, so it wasn't a case of being in heat), and I expect this new kitten will be too, once he's old enough. –  Beofett May 13 '14 at 0:20

3 Answers 3

That's very sad. For such risky "behaviours" prevention is very important and whatever training you might do the risk will always be present.

Nevertheless, it might be very interesting to try simple classical conditioning, aka. Pavlov conditioning.

You start training the kitten as soon as possible, once or a few times a day. Depending on the house, you would have one person at the door and another one in the next room, with some very tasty food. The person at the door "loudly" opens the door (and makes sure the cat can't escape) while the other person gives the food to the kitten. To create a strong association the food should appear within 2-3 seconds of the noise, but not before or during.

Soon enough the cat will associate the noise and other visual cues of the door opening with the apparition of the food.

Classical conditioning can be extremely strong! They are usually even stronger than "negative conditioning" (you hit the cat in the face every time he tries to get out). Additionally there is no risk that the cat habituates to the aversive or that you damage your relationship with him.

You have to be very consistent at the beginning (to create the association), but once learned the conditioning will become "resistant to extinction" if you keep rewarding from time to time.

I can't provide reference but I heard about an experiment with a rat: two cages connected by a tunnel. The rat is in cage 1. A red light is switched on and food appears in cage 2. The rat quickly learns to run to cage 2 every time he's in cage 1 and the red light is switched on. Now the food appears, but he gets and electric shock when jumping in cage 2. It was found that the classical conditioning "red light == food" was stronger than the aversive. The rat habituated, even with a shock becoming stronger and stronger. Believe my words or help me find the reference, do not reproduce!

That's surely a good way to have the cat away from the door. If you try I'd be interested in hearing the story!

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In a Jackson Galaxy 'Cat from Hell' episode they had a fix for a cat that ran outside when people entered.

They put a cat shelf about shoulder high by the door and when the door was opened put the cat on it. The cat could peer out but the urge to run was lessened. The cat even would go up on their own when the owner tried to go in, as seeing out was all he really wanted.

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The best answer depends on the cat and why/how much they want out. For some cats sneaking past the human is a game, for others it's a serious business of patrolling and defending their territory.

It's easier if you start setting the rule when they are young, so they think their territory is just the house. Once that's established they will be interested in what's happening outside but often won't be especially interested in pushing that boundary. A friend's cats will actually resist if she tries to carry them out of the house except in their carriers ... obviously very convenient for her to know they can be trusted to distrust an open door.

Once a cat has decided that outside isn't inherently scary, though, you're into "I'm the alpha and I said so, that's why". As with training them to stay off the stove and not to chew electric cords, you just have to stay alert, anticipate their actions. and tell them no firmly when they've about to do something undesirable ... and be very consistent about the rule. Eventually they will figure out what you're trying to tell them, and since you're sorta their adopted parent they will mostly behave.

My compromise with my kids is that they are allowed onto the screened-in porch when I say so, and they are allowed to try to sneak onto it as a game but then (a) must come back if I say "IN!", and (b) run the risk of being locked out onto the porch for a few hours and missing whatever cuddles and treats their sibling might be given. So far this has worked for us; they are clearly interested in what's beyond the next door but accept that they can't go there. I do try not to test that too often, though.

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