‘Sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘fetch’ aren’t just for dogs! Our feline friends might be more trainable than you think – try our step-by-step training guide, and get some ideas for tricks to teach your cat.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly possible to teach our cats to master simple instructions or carry out tricks. You can give it a try at any age, although younger animals may be more receptive than older pets.
Unlike dogs, cats aren’t likely to be motivated to learn by praise and approval from the leader of their pack (you). So, teaching your cat requires patience, practice and plenty of rewards! But, with the right methods, your feline companion might just amaze you with the things they can learn.
Why train your cat?
Teaching your cat some clever tricks provides them with mental stimulation, which is essential for their overall health and wellbeing, as well as strengthening the bond between you and your pet.
It will also develop your inter-species communication skills – and after all, better communication benefits any relationship. Plus, training makes a great at-home activity for rainy days (or indoor cats). Here’s how to get started…
How to teach your cat new tricks
Training should always be a fun and happy experience for you and your cat. So, if you’d like to teach them something new, it’s important to use positive, reward-based training. Focus on being patient, especially with older cats, who may need a little longer to learn new things.
You’ll need to use treats to keep your cat interested and motivated to learn, whether that’s a packet of pre-made treats or small scraps of their favourite food. But be careful this doesn’t lead to overfeeding your cat. If you’ve been generous with treats during the day, adjust the portion size of their next meal accordingly.
Pick your moment
You’ll need to time your training sessions for when your cat is in the mood for interaction. If they’re too sleepy, too full of food or dying to wander off for a prowl, you’ll struggle to engage them at all. Start by giving your cat a treat to get their attention. If they’re simply not in the mood, be patient and try again later.
Try a clicker
A pet clicker is a little device that’s used to make a clicking sound every time your pet does something right. The sound, coupled with the positive reinforcement of the treat, conditions your cat to repeat the good behaviour in future. You’ll need to introduce and use a clicker properly for this to be effective – read our guide to clicker-training your cat.
Keep sessions short and sweet (and frequent)
Cats learn through repetition, so regular training sessions will help them pick up a trick. Repeat the training several times a day. But remember that their attention span is likely to be short, so you’ll need to keep each session brief – just five to 10 minutes at a time will do!
One trick at a time
Keep each training session focused on one trick. If your clever cat successfully completes it, reward them with a treat to let them know how well they’ve done. Try repeating the same trick 10 times in a row, as this will encourage the behaviour to stick. Only move on to a new trick when your cat has mastered the current one, to avoid confusing them.
Keep it upbeat
Keep your tone of voice encouraging and positive, and stop the session before you or your cat get bored or frustrated. Cats learn from rewards and positive reinforcement, not from being nagged or shouted at. As soon as your cat becomes stressed or disinterested, they’ll be impossible to train, so take a break and try again later.
Tricks to teach your cat
You could try teaching your cat all kinds of fun interactions, but it’s best to begin with something relatively simple. Why not start by training them to come to you on command? You could also try other commands like ‘fetch’, ‘sit’ or ‘high five’; teach them to tap your nose or an object; ‘beg’ by reaching two paws into the air; or even jump through hoops. More useful skills include training them to use a cat flap or scratch a scratching post instead of your carpets! If your cat is the talkative kind, you could try teaching them to meow on demand, simply by rewarding them (and/or clicking) when they do this naturally.
Training your feline friend will not only give them something new to do and enjoy, but also boost the relationship between owner and pet. So, why not give it a go? Your cat might just surprise you!
Have you taught your cat a trick or two? We’d love to hear how you got on – share your story using the tag #PethoodStories.