So, you’d like to train your cat to do more than use the litter pan. Good news—training your cat is possible! You don’t need any fancy equipment, just some patience, encouragement, and tasty treats as incentive.
Before we get to the training tips, it’s important to understand a little about cats. Unlike dogs, cats live in loosely structured groups without a clear hierarchy. There are, for example, no “alpha cats.” Cats are more inclined to see us as equals, rather than as superiors, and are less incentivized to please us.
Yet despite their innately aloof and indifferent nature, cats do respond to pleasing stimuli and are highly trainable. Let’s review some of the most common training methods.
Common Types of Feline Training
Positive Reinforcement: The most common form of training that has proven successful with both dogs and cats is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement creates a link between a desired behavior and a pleasing reward. Each time that behavior is repeated, your pet earns a reward. “Do a trick, get a treat” might be an easier way to think of it.
Two musts for the success of positive reinforcement are patience and consistency. If you see your pet performing a desired behavior, reward and praise it. Reward your cat promptly each time it correctly performs the desired behavior. It will soon begin to associate treats and praise with the behavior.
Clicker Training: Adding a hand-held clicker to the training routine will help your cat associate the desired behavior with rewards, praise, and the sound of the clicker. Repeated reinforcement for good behaviors will eventually allow you to use simply the clicker to cue your cat. Clicker training is helpful because it creates an association between a specific sound (other than your voice) and the desired behavior. You can also click your tongue, whistle, or make another easily repeated sound if you don’t have a clicker.
Auditory Reinforcement: It is important to praise your cat and to use vocal cues when training. For example, if you want to teach your pet to sit on command, you may wait until the animal sits, then say “sit” and reward your pet. Each time your cat sits, it hears “sit” and receives a reward, helping to build an association between the word, the behavior, and the reward. In time, your cat will make the connection.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Training Your Cat
Now you’ve got your clicker and are ready to begin the training process:
1. Time. Choose a time for training when your pet is calm and approachable. This will help assure that your cat is relaxed and receptive.
2. Scheduling. Schedule training sessions before mealtime, so your treats will have the greatest effect.
3. Keep it Simple. Work on one behavior at a time. By focusing on a single task, your cat is less likely to become confused.
4. Patience and Consistency. Be patient and consistent. Repeat your commands and cues as consistently as possible to reinforce the connection in your cat’s mind.
5. Reward. Offer reward and praise promptly for each correct response. This will help your cat associate these things with the desired behavior.
A Quick Example: Training Your Cat to High Five
One of the easier behaviors to reinforce in cats is the high five. Here’s how to do it:
- Place your hand, palm down, a few inches above your cat’s head.
- When your curious feline touches your hand with its paw, reward it with a treat and say “high five!”
- Do this consistently, praising and rewarding your cat each time it touches your hand with its paw.
- Soon you’ll be able to reach out and say “high five” and get a happy slap from your cat.
Benefits of Training for Cats
Cats are natural hunters and problem solvers. Their brains, senses, and bodies have evolved to master these tasks because their survival depended on it. As house pets, most cats have their basic needs met, leaving their hunting and thinking skills idle. Cats that are understimulated can become lethargic, which can lead to other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, joint problems, and more.
Training your cat helps it exercise its body and mind, while keeping its prey-seeking and problem-solving skills sharp. It’s also a great way to reinforce the emotional bond between you and your pet. And your cat will feel purposeful and rewarded as it masters new tasks or tricks.
As animal lovers, we understand that pet ownership is a responsibility. We hope you find the above tips helpful in training your cat. If you have health concerns about your pet’s health or behavior, contact your veterinarian. They can answer your questions, provide further resources, and offer practical solutions.