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A Guide to Cat Training

Stephanie Glover
Sept. 9, 2015

Yes, cat training is possible. Just arm yourself with some knowledge -- and lots of cat treats!

"Cats can be trained," says Susan Willett, author of the award-winning blog Life with Dogs and Cats. "Anyone who doubts that may want to consider what happens when they open a can of cat food and kitty comes running." But, when considering cat training, there are a few things to keep in mind.

No. 1 is to make it fun -- for both you and your cat! "It is important for the owner to be active in the cat training," says Shawn Simons, founder of Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats. "It helps create a deeper bond and long-lasting good habits."

Train with Rewards
"Most cats don't respond to the same kinds of rewards as dogs do," explains Willett, referring to dogs' love of playtime and extra petting. But there's one exception -- food. Reward the behavior you want with a treat, Willett advises. Figure out the most desirable treat (such as diced chicken or low-sodium tuna) and use that for training. But, Willett warns: "if you give your kitty a lot of treats, you'll want to offer less at mealtimes so you don't wind up with a fat cat."



What Not to Do
When training your cat, don't expect instant results or perfection even after the cat has learned the behavior. A cat might forget, become distracted or get too excited about treats. But that's okay, according to Willett. "Instead of punishing your cat, try going back a few steps in the process and reward the behavior in stages," she suggests. Don't stop rewarding completely once the behavior is learned. Otherwise she may give up after a while, if there's no more rewards.

Avoid marathon training sessions. "A few minutes at a time is fine," says Willett. "After training, let your cat go about her business, play with her, pet her. Have fun, so it's not all work and training." Don't plan your training either. When you see your cat is alert and looking for attention, that's a great time to train.



Clicker Training
You can purchase a training clicker for a dollar or two at a pet store. First, train your cat to realize that a click means a treat. Click the clicker and immediately give a treat. Do this several times and soon your cat will anticipate that the treat comes right after the click. This can sometimes happen in only a few training sessions. "Eventually, your cat will realize what behavior results in a treat," says Willett. "They'll realize that any time they hear a click, it's a good thing." This way the cat is likely to repeat the desired behavior."

Gradually require more from your cat to earn the click and treat. Have your cat perform two or three behaviors before giving the reward. Praise your cat for correct responses, but delay the treat until the second, third or even fourth response. Keep in mind that punishment doesn't work with cats! Cat should only be taught with reward-based training.

Teach Your Cat to Come When Called
Just like with dogs, you can train your cat to come when called. Take a handful of treats, and put one in front of your cat, speaking his name loudly. Do this several times until you think you cat gets it. Continue saying his name as you put the treats in front of him. Increase the distance until you can call your cat from out of the room or across the house.

Cat Tricks
Now it's time to try some cat tricks.
 

  • Target training, as in this tutorial with Dr. Sophia Yin, is a great way to start training your cat with techniques that can be built upon.
     
  • Canidae shows how giving high fives and handshakes is a natural behavior for cats and an easy trick to teach.
     
  • Teaching your cat to sit, as demonstrated in another tutorial with Dr. Sophia Yin, shows a cat how to be calm and polite instead of jumping or clawing.
     
  • If your cat is playful, active and likes to jump, you can train him to jump through hoops, as noted by Knoji.
     
  • The ASPCA demonstrates that having your cat wear a harness and walk on a leash enables you both to enjoy the outdoors without worry about traffic or other animals.


Stephanie Glover is the writer and photographer behind A Grande Life. When she doesn't have her camera in her hands, you'll find her with a cup of coffee.

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