Cat Tricks

Why Train Cat Tricks:

Are you sick of your friends bragging about how smart their dogs are? Now you can show them that your cat's just as cool. Whether your cat is 7 weeks or 17 years old she can learn entertaining tricks that are fun too. As an added bonus tricks can be used to help solve some behavioral issues.

Background and Basics

The Basic Steps for Training Cat Tricks

Tips for Training Cat Tricks

  1. Only train when kitty is hungry and stop before he's tired or full.
  2. Decide what you want to reward and get the treat to kitty immediately when he performs the right behavior. Repeat 5-10 times in a row before going on to the next step.
  3. Shape the behavior. Start by training a baby-version of what you want and gradually train behavior closer and closer to your goal. (e.g. targeting by just stretching the neck to touch the target and eventually running across the room to touch the target).
  4. Use a verbal cue ONLY when you know kitty will perform the behavior otherwise he'll learn to ignore the cue

Free-shaping Cat Tricks

For even more fun and to hone your training skills, you may want to try your hand at free-shaping, where you just mark an interesting behavior using a click or verbal marker followed by a treat. Mark the same interesting behavior as the pet performs it, repeatedly. Once he seems to know it well, then start marking (and rewarding) a behavior closer to your goal behavior. This type of training requires the best skill of all. To see video of free-shaping check these videos out:

  • Use bite-sized treats, the cat's regular kibble, canned cat food or baby food (on a spoon, tongue depressor, or in a syringe with the tip cut off) or bits of tuna. My favorite method is to just train the cat to enjoy working for her regular food. That way I can train as much as I want without worrying I'll make her fat.
  • It's important to use bite-sized, small treats so that you can reward the right behaviors frequently in a short period of time (10, 20, 30 + times in the course of just minutes) That way your cat will learn the trick quickly. If you use large treats that take a long time to eat, it will take a while before you get to practice the same step again and you'll also need to stop the session sooner since your cat will get satiated quickly.
  • Start by rewarding or sometimes luring a behavior that's somewhat close to what you want. It may look very different from your goal behavior at first. Then when the cat's good at that step, you'll start rewarding behaviors that are closer and closer to your goal behavior. In other words, you'll be shaping behaviors through little steps called successive approximations. By training in mini-steps you and your cat will always experience success. Even the most wayward cat will be able to learn the steps.
  • Once the final step is learned train the cue word so that it becomes reliable. Avoid putting a word to the behavior until the behavior is actually learned. Otherwise, to your cat, the word will just sound like random babbling. Our goal is that you'll be able to say a cue word or give a visual signal just once and your cat will perform the behavior immediately.

More Complex Cat Tricks: Clicker

  • For more complex tricks where communicating the exact right behavior can be difficult, and even for simple tricks, we may first train the cat that a sound such as a click from a toy clicker means that a treat is coming. As a result the cat will know that when she hears that "marker sound or word," it means she's done something right and will get a food reward within a second or two.
  • When using the marker word or sound the goal is that when the cat hears it, she stops what she's doing and turns to wherever the treat is being dispensed. That's how you know the click or word is having an effect.

See Cat Trick Training Videos

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