There is a common perception that cats aren’t trainable like dogs. That simply isn’t true. Cats are highly intelligent and can be trained to perform tricks and even to use a toilet instead of a litterbox as well as dogs can. And if you want to learn how to train a cat at home, the process is fairly simple.
Did you know that one of the first scientific studies examining positive reinforcement with animals was actually successfully done with cats?
The key to training a cat is reinforcing the cat’s natural behavioral patterns. Cats respond very well to positive reinforcement.
Like many animals cats are motivated by reward, which is usually food – cat food or cat treats – so using your pet’s favorite cat treats, especially those made using catnip, is the best and easiest way to train a cat fast and effectively.
Before we begin, I highly recommend this article from NPR called “Who Says You Can’t Train a Cat?” where they have a professional trainer talk about the intricacies of how to train a cat. You can glean a ton of quick tips and advice from the author.
Cats are not really interested in praise from humans like dogs are so they are unlikely to perform tricks just for a simple pat on the head. They will perform tricks for treats, however. Before you begin training your cat you need to find out what kind of treats your cat really likes.
For most cats, dry kibble isn’t really much of a treat. They respond the strongest to treats that have a strong odor and are relatively soft. Pieces of cut-up fish or chicken can be great treats to use when training a cat. Baby food that is just pureed meat is also a good option. Canned tuna fish packed in water is also a treat that most cats will willingly perform tricks to get.
To start training a cat you need to give the cat a treat whenever it performs an action that you want it to perform on demand. When you give the cat a treat after performing the action it will learn that if it does that action it gets a really delicious treat.
Positive reinforcement is key if you want to learn how to train a cat effectively and fast. Humane Society has more tips and explanations regarding this subject in this article.
You may be sorely tempted to yell at your cat if you catch them sitting next to a broken vase or clawing the furniture, but punishing your cat after the fact is ineffective. She won’t connect the punishment with something they’re already done and forgotten about.
Sitting And Laying Down
Sitting and laying down on command are easy tricks to start your cat training with when you want to train your cat. Grab a treat and when the cat starts milling about your legs to beg for the treat wait until the cat sits down. When the cat is sitting nicely give the cat the treat.
Repeat the rewarding process a few times so that that cat understands it is getting a treat when it sits down.
Teaching your cat to lay down on command can be done in a similar way. The important thing to remember is that the cat needs to get rewarded every time it does the action. That is how the cat will learn that if it wants a treat it needs to perform the action.
Clicker Training a Cat
Another method for training a cat is to use cat clicker training. Clicker training tells the cat that when it hears the clicker it needs to perform an action. If it performs the action it gets a treat. To start clicker training a cat you should click the clicker once, then give the cat a treat. Repeat that a few times.
Here’s a great video that briefly demonstrates this:
Now, let’s break down what the video shows and how to apply this in your own cat training techniques when you’re trying to learn how to train a cat at home.
At first, don’t ask the cat to perform an action. Just click the clicker and give it a treat. After you repeat that cycle over the course of a few days the cat will learn to associate the clicker with a tasty treat. When you click the clicker you will instantly get the cat’s attention.
After the cat understands that hearing a click means getting a treat you can start to introduce commands. When the cat performs the action give it a treat. Over time the cat will start to perform the action as soon as it hears the clicker because it will know that a treat is coming.
Keep clicker training sessions short at first. If you spend too much time trying to get your cat used to the clicker the cat will become bored and will stop paying attention to you. The best time to have clicker training sessions is before the cat is fed. That is when the cat will be paying the most attention.
Cats have a natural cycle that revolves around eating. Cats will hunt and feed, groom themselves, and sleep. So if you work on clicker training your cat during the time when the cat is in the hunt and feed time in the cycle the cat will pick up the clicker training faster. After the cat has eaten it will just want to sleep and won’t be paying much attention to you.
Training a Cat To Use a Litter Box
There are plenty of great cat litter box choices out there, but nevertheless, this is something that many pet owners struggle with. Most cats who end up at animal shelters wind up there because of litterbox problems. But litterbox issues don’t have to be a problem. Most cats learn how to use a litterbox from their mother when they are young.
But a cat that was raised outdoors, or a cat that grew up alone without a mother may never have learned to use a litterbox. Kittens who were taken away from their mother very young also may not know how to use a litterbox.
In order to teach a cat to use a litterbox, you will need a new clean litterbox and litter. If you are litter training a kitten choose a small shallow litter pan. If you are litter training an older cat use a deeper and larger little box. Fill the box with 1-2 inches of clean litter.
And veterinarians and professionals agree with this approach. Here’s a good article explaining more about litter training a cat and how to do it safely and right:
Have your litter box set up and ready for your cat’s use before introducing your cat to his new home.
Choosing A Litter
Because there are many cat litter brands out there, choosing a type of litter can be a challenge. Many people opt for scoopable litters because they are easy and convenient.
But, make sure that you are using litter that is dust-free. Scoopable litters can release small particles into the air that form hard clumps inside the cat’s lungs when the cat breathes them in.
Clay litter is cheap and easy to maintain, but it can be very dusty. If you choose to use clay litter you cannot scoop clay litter like you can scoop other litters. Instead, the entire litter box needs to be changed and fresh litter put in once a week or so.
There are dozens of different kinds of litters that are made from all different types of materials. There are litters made from wheat, corn, old newspapers, silica pearls, and everything in between. To start with just choose a simple litter with fine grains that won’t hurt your cat’s paws. Later on, you can experiment with different kinds of litter if you need to.
The Best Training Litter
According to vets and cat behaviorists, the best training litter to use when you’re teaching a cat or a kitten to use a litter box is Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Attract litter.
It has special ingredients in it that will get the attention of the cat or kitten and encourage them to use the box. This works well with both regular cat litter boxes and even now popular automatic self-cleaning cat litter boxes.
If you have a cat that used to use the litter box without any problems but suddenly is not using the litterbox anymore try adding some Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter to your cat’s litter boxes. Your cat will probably start using the box again.
Getting Started with Litter Box Training
So once you have the right kind of litter box and the right litter you can start training your cat or kitten to use the litterbox. Cats are territorial. This means that they urinate and defecate in certain places to mark their territory.
So when you want to train your cat to use a litterbox instead of going on the floor start by putting the litterbox with fresh clean litter in it near the spot where they are currently urinating or defecating.
Chances are good the cat will start using the box that you have provided. Once the cat is regularly using the box in the spot that the cat prefers you can gradually move the box to another location. This method works best with adult cats who have learned to use the litter box.
Litter Training Kittens
Litter training kittens can be a little more complicated. Essentially you need to be the mother cat and show the kittens the proper way to use the litter box. No, that doesn’t mean you need to use the litterbox yourself.
What it does mean is that when you notice the kitten starting to urinate or defecate you should pick the kitten up gently and place it in the box. When it has urinated or defecated in the box praise the kitten or give it a small treat. Over time it will learn to always use the litterbox.
When you are litter training a kitten it’s very important to never yell at the kitten or punish it. If you are too harsh with the kitten it may end up avoiding the litterbox because it’s afraid of being punished. Be gentle with the kitten and be patient. It takes time for the kitten to learn but once it does it will use the litter box without any problems.
Toilet Training A Cat
This is something that a lot of cat owners are interested in. Scooping the litter box constantly can be time-consuming and unpleasant. But can a cat really be trained to use the toilet? Yes, cats can be taught to use a toilet. Here’s how you can train your cat to use the toilet.
Here’s another great video on toilet training a cat:
To start with it’s a good idea to use a toilet in a secondary bathroom or spare bathroom. That will be the bathroom that the cat will use the most often. Begin by lifting the toilet seat and covering the toilet bowl with heavy plastic or plastic wrap. Make sure that it fits securely and is stretched taut across the bowl.
Then put the toilet seat down. Put some of your cat’s usual littler on the plastic spread over the toilet bowl. Show the cat that the litter is there and place the cat on the toilet seat but let the cat get down immediately if it wants to.
The cat will start to use the toilet covered in plastic that has a familiar litter on it. Overtime starts taking away the litter covering the toilet bowl in little amounts. Eventually, you can remove the plastic covering the bowl and not use any litter at all. By then the cat will be so used to jumping up onto the toilet seat to urinate or defecate that it will continue to do so right into the toilet bowl. The cat isn’t going to be able to flush though, you’ll still have to do that.
Cats Are Not Difficult To Train
So don’t believe the people who say that cats can’t be trained. Cats are highly intelligent and can easily learn tricks and other behaviors if you take the time to instruct them properly. Patience, repetition, and using treats as rewards are the keys to training a cat.
Never punish a cat or yell at a cat for not performing a trick or behaving in a certain way. Cats respond best to positive reinforcement. If you are patient and consistent you can train your cat to use a litter box, use the toilet, perform tricks, and do many other things.