Training your cat to do tricks

How Training Helps Bond with Your Cat and Reduce Their Boredom

Cats are completely trainable, and cats of any age can learn. Training to do tricks is especially helpful for energetic cats, those experiencing boredom, and fearful cats. Training is a part of providing a mentally and physically stimulating environment. It works their brain, is motivating, is fun, and helps you bond with your pet!

Training helps timid cats cope by teaching them that they can control an outcome since there are consistent rewards paired to their own actions.

Positive Reinforcement

Use positive reinforcement training, meaning desired behavior is rewarded and undesired behavior is ignored. Keep sessions short, around five minutes, and allow your cat to choose to participate or not. If you want to get right into training now, skip to the tricks section and start with teaching “sit” or “spin” using a treat as a lure – no need to read about training methods for those.

Rewards & Treats

Rewards to use during this process can be attention from you (talking, petting), play with a favorite toy, or most commonly, tasty treats. Make sure to reward immediately when you see your cat doing something you want. Within 1-3 seconds is best. Give only small amounts of food as a reward – you can break up treats into smaller bits, and for lickable treats, one or two licks off of a spoon will suffice.

Treats that cats seem to like best are Temptations, Friskies Party Mix, Feline Greenies, Pill Pockets, Pounce, fish flakes, freeze-dried fish or meat treats, wet food, Churu lickable treats, canned tuna, cooked chicken, chicken or turkey baby food (no onion or garlic ingredients), or cream cheese. For cats that are on hypoallergenic diets, the Royal Canin Hydrolyzed (hypoallergenic) treats are well liked.

Treats should never be used as more than 10% of the diet. If your cat is overweight, choose treats that are 1-2 calories per treat and limit the number of treats even more. The good news is that cats that are highly food motivated will often do tricks even for individual kibbles after the initial training period.

Recommended Method – Clicker Training

The following videos from a cat training organization called CLICK explaining how to train cats with clicker training. This is a positive training method, but it’s not the only one. You don’t need a clicker to train; you can use your voice by repeating a word (like “good!”) in its place.

  • What is clicker training – explanation of how clicker training works as positive reinforcement; why it differs from just using a treat to get a behavior; how you can use clicker training even if a cat doesn’t like the click sound.
  • Priming the clicker – teaching a cat to associate a click or other noise you choose with a reward.

Getting started with a few tricks

  • Targeting – teaching a cat to touch their nose to a target, which you can use to shape other behaviors/movements later.
  • Sit – teaching using a target stick, but you can also use just a treat.
  • Spin – teaching using a target stick; some cats need this broken down into smaller movements when training.
  • Use targeting to train high five, jumping through a hoop, going over a jump, weaving through poles, or sit pretty.
  • Using other methods (below), you can train a cat to go to a mat or bed, come, roll over, and more!

There are also general videos to help train other behaviors: shaping a behavior by successive approximations, capturing a behavior that happens spontaneously, and luring a cat to move into the position you want.

Tips, Techniques, and Troubleshooting

  • Go slowly – there’s no need to rush. If you find your cat gets stuck on one step of a trick, you will need to go back to the previous one and work up more slowly from there. You may need to create an intermediate step between the two.
  • Consistency is key. Make sure you are rewarding your cat predictably.
  • Evaluate your environment again. Cats need calm surroundings in order to focus. Keep sessions short and fun, and stop before your cat loses interest.
  • Use treats your cat really likes, especially to start with! It may help to train when your cat is a little hungry.

Kindly provided for Cat Care Clinic by:
Julia Pinckney, MSc.
Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare

Ilona Rodan, DVM, Feline Specialist and Behavior Consultant, Cat Behavior Solutions, CCBC

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COVID-19 Care Updates • Modified August 1, 2021