How to train your cat to do tricks

Can I train my cat like a dog?

When you say "sit" to your dog, he sits. When you say "down" to your dog, he lays down. Could you do the same with your cat? Absolutely! So, how does it work? The same way you train a dog.

The brain of a cat works the same way as a dog. When you want to train an animal (any animal that has a brain), you want to find something that motivates the animal. Luckily, cats, like dogs, are motivated by food. There are other motivators that could work like toys, caresses, but food is the most convenient and usually the most effective.


How to teach "sit"

Prepare lots of tasty treats, or you can also train your cat with his meals instead, so feeding time will become the stimulating moment of the day!

Get in a place where there are no distractions so it makes it easier for your cat to concentrate. Show your cat you have tasty treats and... wait. Wait for your cat to sit! Cats usually sits a lot so it shouldn't take too much time before your cat naturally sits down. As soon as your cat sits, praise and reward! He won't understand the first time, so you have to repeat until it becomes more natural. Try to avoid moving or talking during this time or it could confuse your cat. Just wait for him to do what you want.

You want to reward your cat a little further away so he gets up and then he can sit again. Each time he sits, praise and reward! You only need to do it a few minutes per day until he knows it well.

Don't try to make him sit by touching him, by pressing on his butt or anything like that. When you touch the animal you are training, he loses 80% of his concentration and doesn't learn much. Plus, you want him to do the work so he can really learn by himself what it does when he sits. He will know that it is his action that will reward him.

When you see that your cat sits frequently, that you feel he knows that he has to sit to get his treat, you will want to introduce the "command". It can be verbal or visual. It is usually clearer when it is a visual cue, but you can also add a voice command by simply saying "sit". A visual cue would be a hand movement, maybe pointing the ground or showing a fist. Choose the cue you want to add and then stick to it.

The timing here is important. You want to say or show the cue right before he sits, or while he is sitting. Not after. Repeat the command each time so he can associate the word or the visual cue with his action. After a while, when you feel the association is made, try using the cue and wait for him to sit. If he doesn't sit right away, wait. Let him think! Wait a few seconds before saying it again. You don't want to bombard him with cues, it will only get him confused.


How to teach "lay down"

You will mainly teach a "lay down" as you teach a "sit". It helps to teach "sit" before so you can make your cat sit, and then try to make him go into a laying position.

Laying down is a bit more tricky. If you only wait for him to lay down like you did with "sit", it could take forever. He will need a little guidance. What you can do is make your cat sit and then try to lure your cat lower and lower, putting the treat on the ground (always holding it with your fingers though). Only let him get the treat when you are satisfied with his level of "down".

You don't want to lose his motivation, so you might want to go by steps. At first, treat him as he goes lower, but not totally on the ground as it is easier. Then treat him lower, and lower, and lower. Do it by steps, and if he fails, it might be too hard for him so go back to an easier step and reward him a bit higher. When you reach the ground, try to lure him a little more in your direction so he lays down. That is, if you want your cat to lay on his belly and four legs. My cat does lay down on her side though, so when I ask her to lay down, she does on her side.

When you are satisfied and feel he has learned it, add the cue the same way you did with "sit".

You could also wait for your cat to lay down on his own and reward then. It worked for me, but my cat likes to lay down a lot when she's bored so it makes it easier! It depends on your cat.

How to teach "high five!"

Cats like to use there paw to reach for food or move objects, so we can use this to teach a "high five".

You can try to lure a little bit with a treat in your hand and approaching the paw of your cat, on a low level at first. If your cat reaches your hand with his paw, praise and give him the treat! Repeat and treat each time your cat touches your hand with his paw, no matter where on the hand at first.

When he's good at it, try without a treat and your hand wide open. When he touches your hand without the lure, praise and reward.

When you know your cat will touch your hand almost each time, you can now begin to put your hand a little higher. Present the palm of your hand so your cat touches the inside so it looks more like a high five.

Go on like this until you get your hand high enough for a great high five! Once your cat is pretty good a it, you can insert your verbal cue if you want. It is optional since presenting your hand to your cat became the visual cue already.

Here is a video of my cat doing high fives! :)

High five with my cat!

Clicker : a great training tool!

You probably noticed in the video that I was using a little clicking device. This is a clicker. It is a training tool that is used to indicate to the animal that he did the right thing and he will receive a reward. It is like the whistle used to train dolphins.

This tool is really inexpensive and will fasten your training! What is great about a clicker is:

  • That it has always the same sound, unlike our voice that will change depending on our mood or can be unclear.
  • It is precise! It is great when you need a perfect timing, when you need to reward the precise moment when the animal does his action.
  • You can click from a distance, the sound is loud enough.
  • The association made with the clicking sound makes it a really strong motivator. The sound is distinct and the animal knows exactly what it means, if introduced properly.

You can search the internet for videos or articles on how to use a clicker, or you can also buy books that will teach you.

Other tricks

Now that you know how to train the basics, you can play around and try different tricks like "spin"; lure your cat walking in a round and then reward, or standing on back feet, etc.

Once your cat knows the tricks very well, you can start reducing the amount of rewards he receives. Start by rewarding only half of the time. Then, reduce at 1 reward for 3 "sit". Then 1 on 4, and then you can reward more randomly. Even when your cat is an expert at sitting and really likes it, you still need to randomly reward from time to time so the behavior doesn't extinguish. The cat needs to expect a treat so he performs the behavior just in case he would get a reward. Also, when the behavior is associated with great foods, the behavior itself become really fun to do and rewarding.

I believe you are now ready to teach your cat tricks!

Enjoy your training sessions!

Does your cat already know some tricks?

  • Yes, several!
  • No, I've never thought about it!
  • Only one or two
  • No, I am not interested
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1 comment

bobtyndall 2 years ago

That cat in the picture at the top is saying "what, train me, your a freaking idiot" :)

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