Cats are often thought of as “tricksters” instead of actually performing tricks. Their independent nature has them scoffing of the thought of being told what to do, especially for an audience of humans who want to be entertained. Their “not in the mood” attitude would have them rather take a long nap in a ray of sunlight or sneak around the house waiting to pounce on tiny spiders, mouse toys, or even the family dog.
However, as much as cats like to lazy around all day, they also love playtime, which is a good way to turn “training” into a fun bonding experience between you and your cat. Although it may take time and definitely commitment (you need to be persistent with cats), they can learn tricks just as well as their canine counterparts.
ALSO READ: Cat Training 101 – How to Train a Cat
1. Reward with Cat Treats
First things first. Cats love to eat. They are grazers and like to eat in small increments throughout the day. So treats are like a cat’s dream. Often our go-to treats are sometimes unhealthy and made up of fillers and byproducts.
Since giving treats, especially catnip cat treats, is one of the best ways to reward your cats for doing tricks, choose treats that are healthy and low in calories, because you might find yourself handing out more little bites than usual and you don’t want “training day” to cause your cat to put on extra weight.
All-natural treats like dried natural fish treats found at your local pet store or even cooked chicken, turkey, or bits of tuna that you have made yourself are considered good treats for training. Consult with your vet in case your cat has dietary restrictions.
Place cat treats in a small, transparent Tupperware container that you use over and over so your cats can recognize their reward and know it’s time for “training”. While training, make sure you offer treats often (only after they have done it correctly) so they can associate trick with reward.
2. Train in Frequent but Short Sessions
Like humans, practice makes perfect even for your feline friend. Creating mini-training sessions that are short and focused to keep your cat engaged. Try to repeat the trick upwards of five times per day – repetition is the key to success.
3. Do the Basics First
Jumping through hoops may not be the first trick you want to try to teach your cat. Keep it simple in the beginning. Teaching your cat to associate a reward with completing a trick is really a trick in itself.
If there is a trick your cat already does, for instance like playing catch, reward the cat each time it does a trick so for the next training session they are familiar with the routine.
4. Get to a Quiet Space
Cats get distracted easily. Their hunting nature keeps them alert for all sorts of sounds and movements. To effectively train your cat, find a space that is both quiet and without distractions.
Rooms with little sound, people, and any type of movement help keep your cat focused and at ease while training.
5. Utilize the Power of Sound
While treats are a good way to motivate your pet to learn a new trick, using sound is an alternative way to condition your cat. Clickers can help your cat associate sound with performing a trick.
It’s used as a positive reinforcement, much like you would use a treat. Each time your cat correctly performs the trick, use the clicker as a sign of a job well done.
6. Do NOT Use Words
Cats don’t speak your language. They are more effective taking cues from sounds (using a clicker) or treats. Your cat may stare at you funny if you constantly tell them to “Sit!”.
In order for them to associate the word with the trick, train them first to do the trick with treats or sounds and then add the word in once they have mastered it.
7. Teach One Trick at a Time
Cats can learn to do multiple tricks, but when training only teaches one trick at a time. Training multiple tricks will only confuse your cat and they won’t be able to associate which reward goes with what trick. Keep it basic and simple so you and your cat can have a successful session.
8. Never Punish Your Cat
A sure way to get your cat to not master a trick is to punish it for not doing it. Never punish your cat. Cats get disinterested easily and also very stressed. Let them have their space and be patient. Try again at a later time when your cat seems more attentive. Only reward the behavior you like, never punish the ones you don’t.
9. Always Reward Promptly
Time is of the essence of cats. Because they can lose interest pretty quickly, treats are a way to keep their attention and the momentum of the training session going. Reward your cat immediately after they perform the trick.
This has to happen within seconds so the cat knows that their good performance is associated with the treat being given. The second your cat moves on to doing something else not related to the trick, it will be too late.
10. Train When Hungry
Training at the right time is also beneficial to a successful training session. Training right before mealtime may make your cat more motivated by food because they are hungry. This makes them willing to try harder to get that treat they are craving.
If you wait until after they are full of their meal they may seem disinterested and just want to take a nap.
11. Trade Cat Treats for Love
After you and your cat have mastered the trick + treat relationship. Reduce the number of treats you give them to reduce their calorie intake. Let’s face it, just like humans, treats can make us fat.
So instead of every time, they do the trick in one sitting, maybe just offer treats three out of four times and continue to lower until it’s just one out of four times. Cats can relate cuddles and head massages to positive reinforcement too and they will realize that soon they are rewarded eventually for their good behavior.
12. Beggars Can’t Be Choosers
Because there is this new trick + treat relationship between you and your cat, giving treats at other times might prove counteractive when it comes to giving treats during training sessions. Your cat may become a beggar and want treats just for being cute. Keep the treats just for training so the cat knows that treat time is related to trick time.
13. Rewards Equal Good Behavior
The rule of rewards (whether it be treats, sounds, or cuddles) is to only reward when the cat displays good behavior or has successfully completed the trick.
This works for other types of training too like giving the cat a treat when they use their scratching post instead of the sofa. Do not reward the cat if it does something unfavorable just to get them to stop doing it, i.e. scratching the sofa, etc.
14. Use an Affectionate Voice
Your tone is everything. During training, using more sugar than spice will get you further in along in your session. Use a loving tone in your voice while training instead of a disciplinary one. This goes hand in hand with the reward they will get once they show good behavior.
15. Target Training
By using a target such as a pencil or a spoon, cats can learn the idea of a trick on the most basic level by simply learning to touch their nose to the object.
If you find this challenging, try dipping the object – say pencil – in tuna water to see if the cat is attracted to the target. With target training, you can train your cat basic tricks like rolling over and standing on its back legs.
16. Take Cues from Your Cat
Just as your cat takes cues from you, make sure you take cues from your cat as well. Training is a good game of focus and can be a good workout for your cat, but only if you are in synch with their behavior as well.
Getting bored or frustrated is a common cue your approach may not be working. The last thing you want to do is force your cat. They can bite or get aggressive if you are not paying attention to their cues as well.
17. Don’t Be Stressed
Cats live in the present moment. They do have memories but don’t hold them in the present like humans. People hold a lot of stress and anxiety with them and often tend to live their lives in the past. If you try to train your cat when you are feeling stressed, your cat will pick up on your uneasy vibes and can get irritated.
18. Allow the Cat to Explore
Don’t force the cat into a certain space for training like picking them up and placing them on a bed or in a certain room. This is a sure way to freak your cat out. Allow them to casually explore the area, sniff around. Even if you are in control, you need to make the cat think they are in control.
19. Try Luring
Another way to use treats is by placing the morsel close to his nose and lure him into a room or situation to entice him. Keep moving the morsel away from their nose slowly while guiding them. After they follow and observe satisfactory behavior, award them with the treat.
T.R.R. stands for Touch, Release, Reward. This is a training technique used when you need to hold your cat for some reason he does not want to be held – say at the vet. Hold your cat (TOUCH). Let go of your cat (RELEASE), then give them a treat (REWARD).
This is a good technique to try at home (not at the vet) to get your cat use to the Touch, Release, Reward technique so that when it comes to vetting time your cat will know a treat is coming and be a bit more relaxed.
21. Use Cat Scent
Cats are often taken aback by new spaces, especially if they don’t have a familiar scent attached to them. Take a cotton glove and rub your cat’s ears, on the outer edges, and gently inside the tips and around his face.
This will fill the glove with your cat’s scent. Rub the glove on the area (say a blanket or inside a pet carrier) where you want your cat to go so that it is familiar.
22. Tricks that Promote Good Behavior
A common trick that most professional trainers teach as a foundation for all other tricks to follow is teaching the cat how to sit. This teaches the cat to calm down and sit still.
Some cats that are high energy that like to scratch furniture and pounce on human legs are a perfect candidate for this type of trick that promotes good behavior by keeping the cat calm and focused.
23. Distance Yourself
In the beginning, you will teach your cat tricks very up close and personal, but the more time that passes performing the same trick, distance yourself so that you can teach your cat how to perform the trick from far away.
This works with the trick “Learning to Come to You When Called”. Using a unique sound from your voice or a clicker, you can teach your cat to come to you when called from up close and also from far away. Create distance between the two of you as time passes while still getting the same effective result.
24. Use Your Environment
Teaching your cat tricks and teaching your cat good behavior can be one and the same. However, both can be achieved if you use your environment to your benefit. Creating a safe space for your cat is important for the cat to feel at ease before training.
Also, teaching them not to scratch furniture and jump on counters is also a benefit for your peace of mind. Set boundaries, make these areas off-limits by using citrus scents (cats are not fond of citrus scents) on your kitchen countertops and furniture.
This will act as a deterrent as well as placing a nearby scratching post to move the scratching to a space they can mark as their own.
25. End on a Positive Note
Always end each training session on a positive note. This can be in way of a reward like a treat, a warm pat on the head, or a happy “good kitty” praise. Cats will see the short training session as a positive experience and will look forward to having another session in the future.
Cats, in contrast to popular belief, are trainable. They are not like dogs who are happy to please their owners and follow commands. Cats, much like some humans, need to receive rewards for doing work.
The use of cat treats, good cat toys, and clickers are good ways to train your cat tricks, but always remember to keep training sessions short. Cats are very smart and independent and love their own time which means you need to be consistent and always provide proper motivation.