Training your kitten is a great way for the pair of you to bond while promoting good behaviours and discouraging undesirable ones. It can also be lots of fun – especially if you teach your kitten to do tricks!
There are several reasons why you should want to train your kitten. Firstly, training your kitten is a great way to discourage them from engaging in undesirable behaviours such as biting and scratching your furniture. It also strengthens the bond between you and your pet. What’s more, training can be very important to your kitten’s safety, since if you can train your kitten to come to a call, you will be able to bring them back inside at night.
When training a kitten, use positive reinforcement methods, such as rewarding your kitten with healthy cat treats and affection when they do as you ask. On the other hand, undesirable behaviours should be ignored.
How to train a kitten
A good place to start is by training your kitten to be held. You can get your kitten used to being touched by gently massaging their ears, lifting their paws up gently and raising their tail. These are all sensitive areas for your cat, so don’t forget to reward them when they tolerate you handling them. Remember, all cats are different and while some kittens will love a cuddle, other pets might prefer their own space. It’s important to understand your cat’s signals so that you know when they’ve had enough.
Once your kitten is comfortable with your touch, you can move on to other types of training. One of your priorities will probably be to train your kitten to use their litter tray. Fortunately, your kitten is likely to have some knowledge of litter trays, learned from their mother, but you will need to show them where it is.
When you see the signs that your kitten wants to go to the toilet – such as sniffing, scratching or crouching on the floor – pick them up and place them in the litter tray. Also put them there at certain times during the day, such as when they’ve eaten, after they’ve woken up or before they go to sleep at night.
Another important lesson is to train your kitten to respond to your call. To do this, begin by calling them from a metre away. Then, give them a treat when they come. Once they’ve successfully done that a few times, try calling them from two metres away, then another room, then upstairs. Before you know it, you will be a pro at getting their attention and you will have reinforced the relationship between the two of you.
You can also train your kitten to use the cat flap and a scratching post. It’s a good idea to get them used to a cat carrier, too. What’s more, you may like the idea of training your kitten to do tricks.
‘Clicker training’ is a method that uses positive reinforcement, which is a kind, scientifically valid way to train. It makes use of a ‘clicker’, which makes a click sound, to mark the exact behaviour that you are looking for and signal that a reward is coming. It’s best to learn about clicker training before attempting the tricks below. You can find out more about clicker training by reading The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis or Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor.
How to train a kitten to do tricks
Try these three fun tricks with your kitten:
To teach your cat to fetch, rub some of the water from a can of tuna onto their favourite toy and throw it just out of reach. This will engage their natural hunting skills.
If your cat walks to the toy or picks it up, ‘click’ and give a treat. Be patient – it may take a few sessions for your cat to get the idea.
If your cat brings the toy towards you, click and treat. Your cat will then release the toy to eat the treat. Once they are reliably retrieving the toy, you can add the cue word ‘fetch’ each time you throw it.
Sit on the floor with a clicker in one hand (out of your cat’s sight) and a treat in the other. Then call your cat to you.
Hold the treat slightly above your cat’s head. As your cat’s eyes follow the treat, they’ll automatically take a sitting position. Then ‘click’ and reward.
Once your cat becomes more proficient, reward them only for a very good sitting position. When your pet is reliably sitting nine times out of 10, start adding the cue word ‘sit’.
3. High five
It’s best to start with a low five and gradually work up towards a high five. Start by asking your cat to sit, using a high-value treat.
You can then start to engage your cat’s natural ‘paw’ action by getting them to reach for a treat in your hand. Then click and reward with the treat. When they do so consistently, add a cue word like ‘tap’ as you first present them with your hand, then praise and reward.
Practise this daily for a few minutes at a time, as a fun game with your cat, and you’ll soon be receiving high fives on command.
Have you trained your kitten to do any clever tricks? Tell us on social media using #PethoodStories.