Trick training isn’t just for dogs! Although cats are thought of as stubborn and independent, they are highly intelligent and are able to have a lot of fun learning tricks. Trick training isn’t about telling your cat what to do; it’s an opportunity to bond and develop a stronger relationship with your cat.
For Arden Moore, an author, pet behavior consultant, radio-show host and pet first-aid/CPR instructor, teaching tricks to her cats isn’t just a hobby, it’s part of her business “My two confident orange tabbies, Casey and Rusty, team up with my Terrier mix, Kona, and me to conduct in-person and Zoom interactive classes all over the country,” she says. “We conduct pet behavior and pet first-aid classes. We also visit animal shelter critter camps for kids and nursing homes to visit residents.”
Training can not only be fun for your cat, it can actually improve your cat’s quality of life. Trick training can give your cat an outlet for getting more physical exercise, and it can provide important mental stimulation as well. “Schooled cats are less apt to display unwanted behaviors, such as furniture scratching, waking you up too early, yowling or attacking your ankles,” Arden explains. “These unwanted behaviors are often triggered by boredom or the inability to unleash pent-up energy.”
Is your cat trainable?
When you start talking about teaching tricks to your cat, people might laugh. They mistakenly think cats are stubborn and untrainable, but in reality, cats are not only intelligent, they love learning new things.
“The most trainable cats tend to be those who have good attention spans, outgoing personalities and who are highly motivated by food, praise or grooming sessions,” Arden says. The key, like teaching any species, is finding your cat’s currency: what kind of treat or toy she finds most rewarding. “Before you launch into teaching tricks, devote a few days to look at your cat in a whole new way,” she says. “Focus your attention more on your cat’s actions and habits. By understanding cat chat and feline body cues, you will strengthen your communication skills with your cat.”
None of us want to work for free. Learning tricks is fun but also hard work, and your cat deserves to be compensated with what she likes most — treats and toys.
Arden says that with her own cats, “Casey and Rusty are very food motivated, and I use that to my advantage when teaching them — and getting them — to perform tricks at home, in classes and at pet conferences.”
Try small bits of cat-safe people food like cooked, unseasoned meat or commercially available cat treats. What is most rewarding to one cat may not be as rewarding to another, so there may be some trial and error finding what is most motivating to your cat. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different treats to figure out what is the highest value.
Train where your cat is comfortable. For some catsthat will be elevated up on the couch or your bed, while others will prefer you getting down on the floor with them to train. When first getting started, try different areas and see where your cat is most comfortable.
For some cats, training solo with quiet time is important, so they don’t get distracted. Other cats, like my youngest cat, Thing, prefers and is most skilled at learning and most interested when he is training with my dogs, who he is very closely bonded to.
Here’s what you’ll need to trick train your cat
1. Treats that are high value to your cat. Don’t forget to try different things to find out what she likes best. Don’t overfeed, so feed her a little less dinner if you are going to give her a lot of treats to trick train.
2. Toys that your cat enjoys playing with.
3. Clicker (optional) if you want to use one as part of your training; you can find one at most pet supply shops or order online.
Tricks to teach your cat
When it comes to trick-training sessions, a little goes a long way. Short training sessions multiple times a day are much more effective than one long training session where you and your cat are likely to get frustrated or tired. Always keep your training sessions fun and upbeat, and stop a session while your cat is engaged and successful.
Sit is a fun introductory trick that is easy for most cats to master.
1. Get your cat’s attention with a treat.
2. Bring the treat down to your cat’s nose and slowly pull the treat up and slightly back.
3. As your cat’s nose follows the treat up and back, her bottom will go down.
4. As soon as your cat gets into the sitting position, click or verbally mark with a “Yes” or “Good” and give kitty the treat.
5. Repeat several times.
6. When your cat is consistently following the treat into the sitting position, start to introduce your verbal cue “Sit.”
7. Slowly phase out the treat lure the more experienced your cat becomes.
8. Treat your cat while she is still in the sitting position. You want to reinforce that sitting is what gets the treat
Come On Clue
Teaching your cat to come is not only impressive but it also can be really useful when you need your cat to come to you in the house when you need to find her.
1. For this trick, start with a bag of cat treats.
2. Get a foot or two away from your cat, and crinkle the bag to get her attention. When she moves toward you, praise her and give her treats from the bag.
3. As you practice, introduce a verbal cue like “Come” or “Close” as your cat is actively moving toward you and you are confident your cat will come to you.
4. Start to move farther away from your cat before crinkling the bag and calling.
5. As your cat consistently comes to you, start to phase out/limit crinkling the bag so your cat is just responding to the verbal cue to come.
For this trick, kitty will be sitting and then go up on her haunches with her front paws in the air. Sit Pretty requires coordination and core strength, so work slowly and recognize your cat might have to build up the muscle and coordination to do this trick.
1. When your kitty is sitting, bring a treat to her nose and slowly raise the treat up above her head.
2. Kitty will follow the treat and raise her body up onto her hips. When she gets into that position, praise and give her the treat.
3. Add the verbal cue like “Pretty” or “Beg” when your cat is comfortable being lured into the position each time.
4. If your cat goes up onto her hind legs instead of staying sitting while going up, your positioning is probably a little too high. Try slightly lowering your hand/treat to help your cat stay in the right position
Training is fun! Give your kitty a high five for all the smart learning she is doing with this trick.
1. Using a treat your cat is excited about, put some of it in one of your hands and close your fist around it.
2. Hold your hand up to your cat and wait.
3. Your cat will explore your hand trying to figure out how to get at the treat, possibly even nuzzling or licking your hand. The key is to be patient until your cat offers her paw to try to get at the treat.
4. The moment your cat’s paw touches your hand, praise and open
your hand to give her the treat.
5. After a few repetitions, start introducing your verbal cue “Shake” or “Five.” By now your cat will start to understand that pawing at your hand is what releases the treat.
6. Next, hold up your open-palmed hand without at treat in it. When
your cat reaches up with her paw, praise and treat.
7. Just like people are right or left-handed, cats also have a right and left side and may more naturally be inclined to offer up one paw or another.
About clicker training: Clickers are positive training aids that help you better communicate with your cat. A clicker is a box with a button or metal lever that when pressed delivers a distinct “clicking” sound. Clicker training is effective because it provides a clear and consistent signal to your cat to mark that the desired behavior has occurred and that a treat is coming. Clicker training is successful because it allows for people to precisely mark/let your cat know exactly what she did right. This helps your cat understand trick training faster and get less frustrated.
To start clicker training, you’ll need a clicker and lots of small-sized treats your cat likes. Start by creating value and positive associations between the clicking sound for your cat by repeatedly clicking and giving a treat. We want our cats to understand that hearing the click means a treat is coming. Once your cat associates the click with treats, start using the clicker in your trick training.
For this trick, your cat will spin in circles either left or right depending on your cue. Similar to being right or left pawed, your cat may be more likely to spin one way versus the other.
1. Show your cat the treat, and with her nose on the treat lure her in a wide circle. When she comes all the way back around, praise and treat.
2. As you practice, start adding in your verbal cue “Spin” or “Around.”
3. Practice luring your cat to spin both left and right.
4. When your cat is consistently spinning, start to phase out the wide-circle lure as your cat understands that the verbal cue and a small physical cue means you are asking her to spin in a circle.
We’ve all seen the viral videos of skateboarding cats on social media. Most cats are probably not going to get excited about learning how to ride a skateboard, but if you have a young, energetic and treat-motivated cat, she just might be interested in giving it a try!
- Skateboard — purchase a lightweight mini skateboard, which will be easier for cats to maneuver
- High-value treats that your cat likes
- Open area of your home with carpeting
- A blanket
Start skateboarding inside for your cat’s safety. Also start on carpeting so that the board doesn’t roll too quickly from under your cat and scare her. This will allow kitty to keep better control over the board.
1. Use a treat to bring your cat next to the back of the board.
2. With the treat on your cat’s nose, lift the treat up and forward. Your cat’s head and front feet will follow. As soon as your cat’s front feet are on the board — praise and treat.
3. After a few repetitions, add a verbal cue like “Paws up.”
4. Keep feeding your cat treats in position with her paws on the board as it starts to slightly move.
5. As your cat gains confidence putting paws on the skateboard and the small amount of movement, move the skateboard from the carpet to a towel or blanket, which still provides a bit of resistance but allows the board to move more as your cat puts his front paws onto it.
6. When your cat is comfortable at that level of movement, put the board onto hardwood or other smooth floors.
7. Cats that tend to excel at skateboarding will naturally begin to find their own stride with pushing and riding the board at this stage.
If at any step your cat seems nervous, or uncomfortable, move the skateboard back to a surface where the board will move less, and keep those treats going!
For a cat riding the skateboard with all four paws, start slow to make sure your cat doesn’t get stressed or fearful.
1. With treats your cat is excited about, lure your cat onto the skateboard, which is inside your home on carpet. When your cat has all four feet on the skateboard — reward and treat.
2. After several repetitions with the board staying still while the skateboard is still on carpet, gently begin to rock it forward with one hand while treating your cat with the other.
3. If your cat jumps off or is uncomfortable for the next repetition, just treat your cat for being four paws onto the board.
4. When your cat is comfortable with a small amount of movement of the skateboard, move the skateboard first to a blanket and then to hardwood floors. Keep treating your cat anytime the skateboard is in motion. The goal is for your cat to make positive associations (treats!) with being on the skateboard as it is moving.
5. As your cat gains confidence with riding a moving skateboard, begin to decrease the number of treats you are giving, so instead of feeding your cat the entire time he is riding the board, decrease the rate of treats to a small push and then treat.
Give your cats trick titles: If you and your cat are having fun with trick training, your cat can actually earn trick titles from the comfort of your own home.
The organization DMWYD (Do More With Your Dog) is the oldest trick titling organization and is very welcoming to feline participants! DMWYD trick titles can be earned by kitties anywhere in the world.
The structure of the program is that titles are earned via video submission. CTDI (Certified Trick Dog Instructors) review these videos and, once approved, cat guardians can submit the titles directly to DMWYD and they will be mailed an official title certificate and ribbon.
For Novice (the first level), cats must perform 15 different tricks. After that cats can earn Intermediate, Advanced, Expert and Championship titles. You can find the breakdown of tricks for each level of titling at domorewithyourdog.com (despite the name cats are welcome and encouraged to participate!)
Tricks in everyday life
Trick training is great for cats’ physical and mental health, but it also makes your cat more confident and comfortable in otherwise stressful situations like grooming and going to the vet. Trick training fosters a deeper relationship between the two of you. With more advanced tricks, your cat will learn “cooperative-care” style tricks, where she learns tricks that allow her to be an active participant in vet care or grooming by learning to offer her feet, ears and mouth for examination. These skills are similar to those used with our cats’ giant relatives in conservation/zoo environments where big cats like lions and tigers are taught to be active participants in vet care instead of being forced.
Featured photo: ablokhin | Getty Images
Read Next: How to Pick the Purrfect Cat Treats