A Super Simple Method for Training Cat Tricks

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blue eyed kitten in grassBy Sophia Yin, DVM, MS July 3, 2009

1968-2014 R.I.P.

Have you ever wondered why lions and tigers and other wild cats on T.V. can learn so many tricks while all your domesticated house cat can do is sit and meow at you for her meals? Well, not surprisingly, our domesticated felines can learn cat tricks as quickly as their flashier television counterparts, once their humans learn a few basic training secrets. In fact, once you know the secrets, you’ll be able to train cat tricks like a pro. Here is the basic approach followed by a simple cat trick you can train.

General Tips and Approach to Training Cat Tricks

First, use bite-sized treats or the cat’s regular kibble or canned food. That is, instead of feeding Kitty her meal in a bowl, use the food for training sessions to reward the individual training steps. That way you can reward the right behaviors a lot in a short period of time (10, 20, 30 + times in the course of just minutes). As a result your favorite feline will learn the steps quickly and feeding times will double as quality play-time too.

What? You say your feline is finicky? Well, that’s no surprise. If you leave her kibble out all day so that she can help herself whenever she wants and then provide her with even tastier canned food and treats when she demands dining service, of course she’ll hold out until she gets what she wants. Some can even hold out for over a day. So, if you want to use her kibble instead of treats or her regular canned food, then you’ll first want to get her onto meal feedings. That means to place a measured amount of her meal out in the morning, and whatever she fails to eat within five minutes gets tossed or is used as her next meal. That way if she decides she’s only hungry enough to pick at her meal, she’ll actually get less food that day. Don’t worry. Your cat won’t starve. Out in the wild feral cats quickly learn that they should eat when they have the opportunity. Believe me, they don’t turn food away if they’re hungry and it’s safe to eat. So even your home-raised cat can learn that she should eat when a meal’s available.

Next, reward a behavior your cat offers or even lure her into position with a treat. You’ll reward her for performing the cat trick many times to be sure she gets it. Then you’ll practice in different rooms and at different times of day so that she can perform the trick in many different situations.

Once the cat trick is learned, train the cue word if you want, so that Kitty can perform the trick on cue. Avoid putting a word to the trick until the trick is actually learned. Otherwise, to Kitty, the word, which may sound like “Sit” or “Rollover” to you, will sound like “Blah, Blah, Blah,” to her.

As an added step you can switch to other rewards besides food and you can train Kitty to repeat the trick multiple times in succession without needing a reward of any kind each time.

For more tips, and to see the video, click here or here.

Here’s an Example of One Cat Trick You can Train- Sit

Get Kitty’s attention by showing her that you have a treat. Some cats will sit if you wait a bit. If Kitty sits, hurry and get the treat to her before she stands. If she starts to paw at your hand, quickly pull your hand and treat away so you don’t accidentally reward the pawing behavior. Once she puts her paw down, get the treat to her before she lifts the paw again. If instead of sitting, Kitty stares at you with a blank look on her face, hold the treat up to her nose. When Kitty sniffs the treat, move the treat up and back so that her weight shifts to her hind end. In this position Kitty will naturally want to sit. As soon as she sits, give her the treat followed by a few more to reward continued sitting. Then walk a few steps away so that she has to get up to follow if she wants more treats and repeat the exercise. Pretty soon Kitty should sit as you move your treat hand into position and soon thereafter she’ll be offering to sit even before you move your hand. Once Kitty predictably sits within 1-2 seconds whenever she walks up to you even without your showing her the treat, you can train the cue word “sit” if you want. Or you can just have her perform sit automatically when she wants a treat from you. Say the cue word right before Kitty starts to sit. After several dozen trials she’ll understand that “sit” means sit.

How Cats Might Manipulate You

Frequently humans try training cat tricks and give up because their Kitty seems to be lacking in attention span. That is, the very cat that meows at them for 30 minutes straight can’t seem to focus for 5 minutes to learn a new trick. If that seems odd to you, it should. What Kitty has is not a lack of attention span, rather, it’s a case of Kitty manipulating you. She wants the food but she wants you to do the tricks—like running after her and trying to put the treat up to her face as she walks away from you around the room.

What should you do? Well, if she’s hungry, you should make it clear that the food goes away rather than coming closer, when she starts to look bored. When she starts to walk away or stares at you with a blank look from several feet away, you can walk the other way or out of the room. If she follows you, she’s still hungry and motivated to learn. If she’s doesn’t, then it means you should take a break and try later in the day.

Many cats also look bored when they can’t figure out what you want or when they’re not hungry for the food reward you’re using. You can try using something tastier and see how they respond. If they suddenly seem more attentive, then the food value was the key. The other big factor is your technique. Are you getting the treat to Kitty fast enough when she does the right thing? If you’re using a treat as a lure, are you positioning it close enough to her face to keep her attention and moving it in a way that her weight is pushed back onto her rear? You may need to give her several treats just for leaning her weight back a little at first. In all cases, don’t give up. Remember, if a tiger or lion learn a cat trick, then surely your housecat can too.

Now that you know the general approach, you have all the tools you need to train many fun behaviors. To see video of this “trick”, click here

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3 responses to “A Super Simple Method for Training Cat Tricks

  1. Here is good training too, but for who? My baby loves to watch Judge Judy, seriously, so I have my tv automatically turn on, the same time every day, when Judge Judy comes on, she has also learned now, that when that show comes on, mama is due home from work shortly thereafter. On the other hand, if I am working late and come home after the show is over and the tv automatically shuts off, then I get a real talking to when I get home. Meow, Meow, Meow…. she will do that for about 5 minutes, I know she is telling me off and letting me know that she is not happy about me being late… WHO IS TRAINED HERE? I love my baby and brings me so much joy!!!

  2. It’s not that hard, while saying “give me” tap the paw you want your cat to shake 🙂 https://youtu.be/pQe6XWn8GOs

  3. I trained my girlfriends f4 Bengal at a year old to sit, lie down, stand, give either paw, High five, kiss, and jump about 4.5 ft straight up. He also learned to walk in circles and roll over , meow on command is very difficult and only occasionally works even though he knows the command. At some point he stopped doi g the jump command and it appeared that he was scared to jump. The same thing happened with playing, he used to do backflips with a toy as a guide but no longer does it. I wonder if he hurt himself while jumping and we never realized it.

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