It’s the back-to-school time of year, but what about your feline friend? Well, there’s educational opportunities for them, too! Many cats can learn tricks, and learning tricks can be both fun and rewarding. It gives your cat mental stimulation, and it can be good bonding time. Plus, it’s pretty cool when you can show off your super smart cat to your friends! Cats can learn to sit, stay, come when called, wave, hi-five, and fetch, among many other things. Another useful “trick” is to teach your cat to walk into a carrier on command.
Unfortunately, cats have the stigma of being considered “untrainable.” This is because cats don’t respond to many of the same training methods used for dogs, but they are quite trainable. In fact, cats were central to one of the first scientific studies highlighting the importance of reinforcement in animal behavior.
The first step to training your cat is to understand them. It’s obvious that cats aren’t as social as dogs. Dogs have been bred specifically to work together with people and are inclined to work for praise and attention as a reward. The primary reason cats were domesticated was to kill vermin on their own. This makes them independent and not as easy to motivate. Cats are highly food-motivated, and the trick is to find a small treat that can be eaten quickly for motivation and patience. With that in mind, here are some helpful hints for training:
- Work on one trick/behavior at a time. Only move on to another trick when the current one has been mastered. Trying to teach multiple tricks at once can become confusing and frustrating for your cat.
- Keep training sessions short. Your cat will have a much shorter attention span than you, and they can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes–about the same amount of time it takes to notice prey, stalk it, and eat it.
- Find a favorite “special” treat that is small and can be consumed quickly. This way, your cat can finish the treat speedily and return their attention back to you for their next treat. Some cats can learn by “clicker training.” For this method, a clicker is used to signal when the cat has done a trick correctly. Initially, a treat and the clicker are used at the same time, and eventually, the treat can be phased out and just the clicker is used. A bit of petting, affection, or playtime can be a good reward at the end of a training session, too.
- Never punish your cat; a cat’s brain is not wired to understand punishment. All they will learn is to become fearful and avoidant of you. It is much easier to train your cat by rewarding positive behaviors.
Truly, teaching your cat tricks can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. Just remember to be patient and positive! If you’re interested, here’s an easy trick that any cat can learn in a short time…
Teaching your cat to “sit” on command:
- First, make sure you have your cat’s attention. Hold a treat in your fingers, right at your cat’s nose. When your cat begins to sniff the treat, slowly move it in an arc from their nose up just over their head, between their ears. (Don’t raise it straight up, or you’ll be teaching your cat to stand on their rear legs rather than sit.) Many cats will follow this arc motion with their eyes and nose, and as their chin raises up and back, their butt will go down.
- Second, the instant your cat’s bottom hits the floor, praise them, and offer them the treat. If their rear doesn’t go all the way down on the first try, give them the treat anyway. Over several practices, give them a treat each time their rear gets slightly closer, until they get into a complete sit with their rear all the way on the floor.
- Third, add the verbal command “sit” just before moving the treat over your cat. Gradually decrease the distance you move the treat to get them to sit until you no longer need to guide them to a sitting position. Once your cat has mastered this trick, you can move on to other tricks such as “stay” and many others.
As a helpful hint, just remember that cats don’t see things well that aren’t moving near their face. So, if your cat has difficulty taking the treat from your fingers, try offering it to them in your flat palm. This movement will help them know where the treat is.
If you decide to give cat training a try, please share your success stories with us! =^_^=