Attention, attention, tricks are not just for dogs anymore! Despite the popular stereotype that cats can not be trained, the truth is that, with a little bit of time and effort, cats can be trained the same as dogs. From simply sitting to performing tricks, here is how you can train your cat.
One of the key defining, and endearing, characteristics of cats is their independence. Unlike dogs, who generally are highly loyal and obedient, unless the outcome is something they want, cats are unlikely to listen to commands. Therefore, the key is to understand your individual cat’s motivations and use positive reinforcement to during the training process.
Typical Cat Motivations
Food is a common motivation tool for cats. After all, who doesn’t want a tasty treat? Not all treats are made equal so try a couple of different brands to see which ones your cat prefers. In addition, be careful to not overdo the treats as you do not want your cat to get fat. While ideal weight ranges vary from breed to breed, having a couple of extra pounds puts your cat at risk of health problems, including arthritis and diabetes.
Some cats are just needier than others; it is all a part of their unique personality! Attention-seeking cats will commonly meow at you, sit on your lap, wait outside your door or knock things off the table. If your cat demonstrates these behaviours, use it to your advantage during training to reinforce good behaviour with pets, belly rubs and cuddles.
Play is an important way to keep your cat active and relieve stress. Unlike in the wild where cats can hunt prey, you will need to get creative to keep your cat stimulated indoors. There are many different toys on the market, ranging from squeaky toys to feathers to small mice. It will be trial and error to determine which types of toys your cat enjoys most.
How to Train Your Cat
Now that you better understand what motivates your cat, it is time for training. Cat training requires significant time and patience; you aren’t going to see results overnight. To be consistent, switch from giving your cats rewards throughout the day to giving your cats rewards when they exhibit the behaviour you are trying to encourage. This will allow them to directly correlate the behaviour to the reward, encouraging them to make that behaviour a habit.
Clicker training is also a commonly used tactic. A clicker is a device that will make a clicking noise when pressed. Triggering the clicking noise right after they demonstrate correct behaviour and reinforcing with a treat, will teach your cat that this is the right thing to do. Over time, the cat will start performing that behaviour unprompted. Keep these lessons short and sweet, just a few times a day, so boredom doesn’t set in.
While the immediate reaction when your cat behaves in a way you don’t want them to, such as scratching furniture or climbing on counters, is to punish, try to refrain from this. Instead of learning what not to do, the cat will likely just get frightened and run away. This can stress out your cat, leading to anxious behaviours such as over-grooming and hair loss.
Tricks to Teach Your Cat
Sit is one of the first tricks we teach most pets, as it is simple and common position for cats to be in. When your cat is on all four feet, hold a treat in your hand to get their attention. When their rear end touches the ground, reward them with the treat for sitting and staying in position.
Fetching sticks and tennis balls are common tricks for dogs, but did you know that you can teach your cat to fetch as well? This type of play engages their natural hunting instinct but is a bit tricky to train. Rub some catnip or wet food on a small toy and wave the toy in front of your cat to get their attention. Throw the toy a small distance away and be patient. If your cat walks to the toy, give them a treat. Overtime, you can encourage them to bring the toy back to you, reinforcing with another treat.
Up, or the posture of standing on their two hind legs, is an easy trick to teach at meal time. While you are preparing their food dish, your cat will likely be already by your feet. When you are ready to serve, hold the dish just above their head and out of reach. After a few moments, your curious cat will get on their hind legs to reach the food. At that moment, you can praise them and put the food on the ground for them to eat. Over time, your cat can maintain that position for longer.
4) Hand Shake
Shaking paws with your cat is an easier trick to teach than most would expect. Just prepare a treat and get their attention. Tap your cat’s paw while saying “paw” and give them a treat when they move their paw. Overtime, you can actually hold and shake your cat’s paw before rewarding them.
Cats love heights, so teaching to jump on command is a fun task. If you have a cat tree, jumping to the top of the cat tree is a good goal. Place some food on the top of the tree, or wiggle their favourite toy there to get your cat’s attention. Once they are engaged, they may get into pouncing position and jump. Give them a reward once they reach the top of the cat tree.
Doing brief training sessions a few times a day and using only positive reinforcement is the best way to teach tricks to your cat. It is going to take patience and consistency, but enjoy this bonding time with your pet and know that this is not a race. All cats will learn the tricks in their own time.