You know how the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to train your cat to do tricks? Well, to bust both myths—you can teach old dogs tricks and you can train cats to do tricks!
Before You Begin Cat Training
If you’re patient and work with your cat or kitten, they can be trained to do tricks. Cats are, however, instinctively driven to work with their human family members. So, being creative and patient will go a long way in getting your cat to do some rather amazing tricks.
Contrary to popular belief, some cats crave praise. One of my Devon Rexes will come on command and he likes to be stroked when he responds. My other cats, don’t care about stroking or petting, but they love the snack. Know your cat and what he likes and offer that for a job well done, whether it’s food, praise, or petting.
Janiss Garza, who blogs at Sparkle Cat and is cat mom to Summer (a therapy cat), shared her training methods. She points out she is not a formally-trained cat trainer, but she knows and understands Summer well enough to know how to work with her.
“The best way to train a cat is to focus on her strengths. Summer is a Somali and they tend to use their paws like hands,” Janiss says. “When I started teaching Summer to ‘sit up’ for a treat, she kept trying to grab for it.” Janiss figured it was best to play into Summer’s tendency and she turned the trick into a “high five.”
Four Cat Tricks to Teach
Come.Imagine if you need to quickly evacuate your home or if your kitty gets out of the house. If he knows and responds to the command for “come,” he can be quickly escorted to safety.
It is relatively easy to teach your cat to respond to a vocal cue of her name and the word, “come.” The best way to train is by calling her name before you open her food. Shake the bag, call her name: “Fluffy, come.” She will equate her name and the command with a delicious treat and a positive feeling. Over time, encourage your cat to come when you call away from the shaking of the cat food. Have a tiny treat in your hand and when your cat responds and comes when you call, offer praise and the treat.
Shake. Why should dogs be the only ones who offer up a paw for a shake? This is a trick for cats, as well. This is adorable and friends and family will love it!
Have a treat ready. Get down to your cat’s level so you’re face-to-face. Touch his paw lightly and say the word, “shake.” Repeat this until your kitty offers up his paw when you say, “shake.”
Janiss says she trained Summer to shake paws. “I held my hand out differently than when giving her a treat, and held it lower. It was easier to teach Summer to do a high five.”
Walk on a leash. There are some cats who are happiest being indoors and enjoying glimpses of nature behind the safety of a screen and an open window. There are still other cats, though who love to feel the grass beneath their feet and to lie on a warm sidewalk and chase butterflies.
Side Note: To get them accustomed to being on a leash, try getting them accustomed to wearing a harness.
Put the harness next to them when they sleep. Give them treats when they sniffed it or played with it. Draping the harness over them, while they were sleeping or lying down, was the next step. I gave them treats and praise every time I did anything with them and the harness.
Eventually, I was able to put the harness on them. They spent a couple of weeks walking around the house with the harness on, getting accustomed to it before I put a leash on them. Again, before the leash was attached to the harness, I put it where they slept to get them accustomed to it.
After they were comfortable with the harness and with having the leash attached while they were indoors, we ventured out onto a screened and gated porch. While they don’t walk on a leash as well as the dogs do, I can get them to follow me for brief stints. For the most part, they are in leashes and harnesses so they can be outside with us and the dogs during the summer days.
Jump through a hoop. This trick will take longer to train than some of the others. If you’d like your cat to jump through a hoop, you need to start out teaching him to jump through your encircled arms. This is easier if you have someone to hold the treats.
To begin training this trick, move into a corner and put your cat in the corner. Place one arm above your cat’s head and one below his feet (a few inches above the floor). Have your partner in trick training stand in front of you with a treat and say the word “jump” or “come.”
Offer treats and praise when your cat jumps through. Eventually move your arms higher and move out of the corner. Teach your cat to “jump” when you put your arms in a circle and say the word. This trick will likely take you more time and more patience, but your cat can learn it.
Keep in Mind...
When training a cat, trainers recommend doing two short training sessions a day – no longer than five minutes at a time. Work on the trick or behavior you’re working to train up to twenty times, if possible, during those training sessions.
Positive reinforcement and rewards-focused training is the way to get your cat to embrace new behaviors. If you “punish” your cat you will create stress and stress can lead to your cat not only learning a trick, but could lead to other problem behaviors – litter box avoidance, being one of them.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.