Everyone is familiar with the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But what about teaching a cat – one of any age – to do some of the tricks that we expect our canine companions to perform? If you’ve spent any time on YouTube or have joined the millions of I Can Has Cheezburger fans, you know that cat owners everywhere are teaching their pets to sit, shake, fetch….and more. Given a little patience on your part, and using the right motivation, you, too, can have your feline frolicking on command no time!
Cats differ from dogs in many ways, but they do share one common trait: when it comes to learning, they both perform best when rewarded with food. And just like humans, they’ll respond better to food if they’re hungry. So it makes sense that the best time to begin a training session with your cat is when his or her tummy is empty, probably right before a meal. And just like you, your cat probably has a favorite treat. It might be a taste of canned food, a morsel of dry food, or even a small bite of “people” food. Professional animal trainers use freeze-dried or dehydrated chicken, but you don’t need to buy special supplies to train your cat – whatever your pet’s favorite treat happens to be will work just fine. Keep the size of each reward small. After all, you don’t want to end up with an obese kitty that can perform tricks!
One of the most important tricks your cat can learn is to come when called. This is not only fun, it can be an important command when it comes to keeping your pet safe. Scent is also an important element in feline communication, so first let your cat smell the treat. Most cats already respond when called by name, so begin by saying, “Furry, come.” Hold the treat where your cat can see it, and repeat the command until your kitty ventures over to get it. As soon as that happens, reward the behavior by giving your cat the treat. Cats don’t respond as much to physical reinforcement as do their canine counterparts, but you can also pet and praise your cat for ‘obeying’ you if that’s something that you know will work as an additional incentive. Once your cat has come at your command, take a few steps away and repeat this simple process until Furry comes as soon as she hears the command.
Once your cat has learned to sit, she can also be taught to beg and to shake hands. With your cat in “sit “position, use the command “beg” or “please,” and hold the treat high enough over her head so that she must stretch to reach it.
Training Fluffy to shake hands also begins with her in “sit” position. Allow her to see or smell the treat, say either “shake” or “give paw” as you offer your other hand in front of her face, palm up at about eye level. In search of the treat, Fluffy will instinctively put her paw in your hand.
With patience and practice, you can train your cat to become a world-class performer. Get your video camera ready!