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I've been trying to train our cat to let us put her in the carrier, in anticipation of a long car ride. She absolutely never lets us hold or handle her directly without freaking out. No purritos either. She is very food driven, so we use treats to get her into the carrier.

However, she is clever and knows that she can eat her treat outside of the carrier safely. So almost always whenever we reward her with a treat for going in the carrier, she will jump outside to chew.

We've given up on trying to get her into the front door of carriers; if you lure her with a treat she will never fully step inside, only enough to grab the treat and step out. We got a carrier with a top door, and finally got her to the point where she will sit in the carrier and wait patiently for the next treat.

However, we're stuck on the next part of training: acclimating her to closing the door. She will sit in the carrier for several minutes at a time but as soon as we touch the zipper she jumps out. No matter what we've tried over the last few months, including clicker training, she won't let us touch the door. What can we do to get past this plateau in training?

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    You deserve respect for the dedication and patience you've shown in your training so far. Cats are hard to train and especially if they are skittish or have had bad experiences in the past.
    – Elmy
    Apr 21 at 9:29

3 Answers 3

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With that caveat that I haven't personally attempted this, so these aren't exactly tested, but I have some suggestions:

  1. Get a different carrier. Zippers take a bit to zip, and meanwhile the door is just flopping open, making it possible to escape. A hard carrier with an actual door will surely work much better, because even if you have to fiddle with the catch, you can shut the door quickly and the cat won't be able to flee. Hard carriers can be disassembled as well. If necessary, you can start your training by introducing it to the bottom half of the carrier only, and eventually attach the lid, and then the door.

  2. Rather than using single treats in the carrier, feed the cat all its meals in there. Don't even bother touching the door at first. You want the carrier to feel super normal, rather than this thing you bring attention to regularly. Giving it a whole meal also means that it has all this food to be distracted with. It can't just grab the treat and zip back out. Then proceed similar to what you have been doing, that is, very slowly work up towards closing the door.

  3. Be careful to not form bad associations. If the cat reacts negatively, then go back a step or two for a bit. You do not want to accidentally train it that eating in the carrier means that it's going to have to be on the lookout for you trying that "closing the door nonsense" again.

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Take a few weeks and just leave the carrier in a room the cat likes - with the door open. Put something soft on the bottom, like a folded up towel or some blankets, etc. Most cats will explore it on their own, discover it's a nice little spot to curl up in. They'll mark it, claim it, and you'll likely find them napping in it from time to time within a few days.

This way they don't see it as a harbinger of a terrifying car ride - it just becomes another space that's comfortable and safe to them, so they lose their aversion to being in it.

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  • It may also help if there are few similarly attractive places for a nap available. Apr 22 at 14:25
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We were the delighted owners of a family of rescue cats such that 3 siblings had never been adequately socialsed when we got them. And we were never able to acclimatise them to the existence of the carriers.

However, in time we worked out a strategy whereby we made sure that the doors to the rooms where they had impregnable hiding places were closed, so they had nowhere to hide and we were able to physically catch them and firmly place them in the carriers (hard carriers with doors) and once inside the job was done.

There was no thought of training them (we were never really able to acclimatise them to feeling comfortable being held in a human's arms), but once in the vet's consultation room they were manageable enough (after the first time when Simmone took a hefty chomp on the vet's hand), and that was sufficient for us.

So as you seem to be in a similar position to us, then protective clothing (e.g. leather jacket), heavy gloves, firmness and a lot of patience may be the only immediate practical way you can manage this.

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