Teaching Your Cat Tricks
With patience and practice, you can train your cat to become a world-class performer.
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?
Maybe you’re one of the many people who have the mindset that cats can’t be trained. They don’t listen, and they just do what they want, right? Wrong. If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you’ll 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 learn how to teach your cat tricks!
Motivating Your Cat
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. Cats can be trickier than dogs to motivate, so if you want to do a training session, they may respond to learning tricks better if they are a little hungry. This isn’t to say that you should withhold food, but you may find that training an hour or so before their regular mealtime is more productive.
Cats can also be a little more finicky than dogs when it comes to food. Where your dog may perform on cue for just about anything, your cat probably has a favorite, preferred treat. It might be a taste of canned food, a Delectables™ Squeeze Up treat, or even a small bite of “people” food. Keep the size of each reward small. After all, you don’t want to end up with an obese kitty that can perform tricks!
Some cats, especially kittens and younger cats, may be more motivated to learn tricks if their motivator is play time rather than food. Instead of giving a treat for the right behavior, bring out their favorite toy for 15-20 seconds, then put it away while you ask for the next behavior.
Using a Marker
Once you’ve determined a reward or motivator for your cat, the next thing to do is to choose a marker. You may decide to use a clicker, but a whistle, bell, or word such as “good” or “yes” will work too. Clickers, however, facilitate the fastest learning if you want to teach your cat tricks. This is because the click is a novel sound that your cat doesn’t hear in any other context, so they more quickly begin to associate it with training. Although verbal markers like “yes” are okay, cats may not catch on to what they mean as quickly.
Why do you need a marker to teach your cat tricks, anyway? The marker is just a “yes,” “good job,” or “thumbs up.” Rather than your cat trying to figure out what they did to earn the treat, you mark exactly what they did with the sound of the click. If every time they hear a click, a treat happens, they will repeat what they did during the click to earn the treat. Think of the clicker like a camera – you’re snapping a shot of the exact perfect moment that you want to happen again.
Tricks to Teach
One of the most important tricks your cat can learn is to come when called. This is not only fun, but it can be an important cue when it comes to keeping your pet safe. In case of an emergency, if your cat has a solid recall, you can get him to come to you quickly. Training your cat with this trick is simple. Say his name, followed by a click, then a treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Once you’ve practiced this many times over several days, make it a little harder. Say your cat’s name from a few feet away, or from across the room. If he comes to you, click when he gets to you and give him a treat. Next time, try calling him from a different room or even from a different floor in your home. If he is rewarded with a highly valuable treat every time he hears his name and comes to you, he will be more than willing to perform this trick!
One of the easiest tricks your cat can learn is how to give you a high five. If you use the target stick method in this article, once your cat has targeting down, you can teach your cat tons of other tricks! You can have your cat follow the target through an agility course, spin in a circle, and even jump through a hoop.
With patience and practice, you can teach your cat tricks and train them to become a world-class performer. Get your video camera ready!