cat pattern games

The Benefits of Control Unleashed Pattern Games for Cats

What is a pattern game?

Pattern games are one of the most versatile tools you can use to manage your cat’s behavior. They were originally developed by Leslie McDevitt as part of her Control Unleashed training program for reactive and fearful dogs. Luckily for us, patterns are universal and can apply to any animal, including our cats!

Animal brains are designed to look for patterns so they can anticipate what will happen in their environment. Your cat already knows some patterns, like the sound of a can opening predicting mealtime. We can also teach our cats new patterns by using pattern games. They consist of simple, repetitive actions that become predictable. Because of their simplicity, you don’t need to be a professional trainer to get started, and the games are endlessly customizable to any situation your cat may need them.

Why use pattern games with cats?

Predictability is the most important part of pattern games. The world feels safer when your cat understands what will happen next. The pattern creates structure and security in their environment which lowers anxiety. Any time your cat feels anxious, whether they have generalized anxiety, are fearful of visitors, or feel nervous at the vet office, familiar patterns can help reduce their stress.

Another benefit of pattern games is that they pair your cat’s favorite treats with a potentially scary environment. If you use a pattern at the vet office and your cat gets tasty treats, they may start to associate those good things with that place. The vet may not be such a scary place next time. 

Pattern games also give your cat something to do instead of undesirable behaviors. Maybe your cat has learned that every time he sees your new cat, he chases them. With pattern games, you might teach him that when he sees the new cat, he looks at you and gets a treat. Looking at you becomes more rewarding than chasing.

There are a ton of other benefits to pattern games, including boosting your cat’s confidence and focus, decreasing reactivity, promoting calmness, and building trust with you and their environment. They are also just a fun way to keep a bored cat occupied, which can reduce unwanted behaviors like attention-seeking.

What do I need to get started?

All you need to get started is your cat and their favorite treats. You will also want a few bowls handy, especially if you are using a wet treat. If you have done clicker training with your cat before, you may use your clicker (or verbal marker like “yes”) to help them learn the patterns quicker. Otherwise, cats can learn patterns just fine without a clicker.

You will also need a quiet space so your cat can learn the patterns without distractions first. Once they understand the pattern, you can start using them in progressively difficult situations to help them feel comfortable. For example, if your cat runs and hides when visitors come over, start teaching pattern games with no one around. When your cat is comfortable with the patterns, you can try the pattern again while a visitor sits quietly in another room. Eventually they may be able to do the pattern in the same room as the visitor.

What games should I start with?

123: This is the easiest pattern to start with. You simply say “1, 2, 3” out loud and give your cat a treat on 3. Repeat! 1, 2, 3, treat, 1, 2, 3, treat. It doesn’t matter what your cat is doing with this one – anytime you say 3, they get a treat!

Up Down: This one requires active engagement from your cat. You place a treat down on the ground or in a bowl, let them eat it, and wait for your cat to look up at you. When they look at you, place another treat down. Repeat!

Super Bowls: Place 3-5 bowls in a line on the floor. Place a treat down in the first bowl. Let your cat eat it and wait for them to look up at you. When they look at you, step forward and place a treat in the next bowl. Repeat the pattern, working your way up and down the line of bowls.

These are just a few of the basic pattern games to get you started. If you would like to learn more about how pattern games can help boost your cat’s confidence and reduce unwanted behaviors, contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training!

Share this post