With the arrival of the age of the internet, humans have caught on to the amazing tricks that cats are able to perform under human command. Few people may have attended a circus featuring tightrope-walking cats, but now everyone can experience it with just a few clicks. Training a cat to do tricks has been and is still regarded as difficult in a world where dogs readily heed our commands, but these highly clever felines are proving more and more willing to learn from us. The internet has offered much advice and insight from pet trainers and animal experts alike, making tasks we’d ordinarily never dream were possible seem highly feasible. Learn how to train a cat to do tricks and strengthen your bond to your pet while impressing your friends and family.
How to Train a Cat to do Tricks
Before learning to do tricks, your cat should have been trained in good behavior. What good is teaching your cat to ring the doorbell if they do not even know how to use a litter box properly? Similarly, an unsettled cat who scratches and sprays around the house should have those behaviors addressed before proceeding to the fun stuff.
Moving on, you will want to work out the best way to entice your cat into the inconvenience of training. Yes, many cats will see your efforts to dominate as annoying or boring, and they may ignore or manipulate you. While petting and verbal praise may be great reinforcements for training a dog to do tricks, most cats could not care less how pleased you are with them. Therefore, when training your cat, you want to entice them with a food that will really hold their attention. Try a small taste of something that does not regularly show up in their diet, like a piece of chicken or fish. Wet food from a can, presented on a spoon, can work as well.
‘Sit’ is always a great trick to teach to any cat starting out, since it is one of the simplest. Choose a time to train the cat when there are few distractions, and show them the treat, letting them really smell it and know it is for them. Suspend the treat in the air above their heads a few inches, so that they must rear back and rest in the sit position to see and smell it better. If the cat stands or reaches for the treat, remove it; you want to be very careful not to reward the wrong behaviors. Change positions, moving from in front of them to behind them when rehearsing the trick. Give the treat when they sit without standing or reaching. As this becomes familiar, start to introduce the verbal command ‘sit’. Repeat for several days until the cat readily sits for a treat. It may surprise you, but a cat’s intelligence makes them quite amenable to be trained to do a trick for a treat.
Another trick that cat owners find easiest to train is jumping through hoops. This is an especially good trick for overweight cats, because it invites a little bit of physical activity and does not always require a treat during training. To start, hold up a hoop, the bottom touching the ground. Hold this hoop between yourself and the cat. In your other hand, offer a favorite toy or a treat. If the cat tries to reach for the reward by going around the hoop, block them. They must step through the hoop to play with the toy. Do not deny the cat their prize after they have come through the hoop. Repeat this, and then elevate the hoop a few inches off of the ground, so the cat must hop through. Naturally, at some point during gradual elevation of the hoop, the cat will try to go under the hoop in order to get the toy. Deny the prize, and start over. Patience is especially important when training cats how to do tricks, because unlike most dogs, they don’t simply forget or ignore your desired results, they look for ways to get what they want without obeying you.
A trick that cats learn well after ‘sit’ is to shake, or offer their paw. Assuming your cat has mastered the ‘sit’ command, ‘shake’ can be trained merely as an extension of that. To do this, get your cat into the sit position. Instead of offering a treat or praise, put your hand behind one of their front legs and tap the paw. When they automatically lift that paw, shake it gently with your hand, and offer the reward. As with ‘sit’, practice shaking paws for a bit before actually introducing the verbal command. Once the verbal command has been introduced, practice even more. This is is because cats do not respond as well to our commands like dogs do during training. Once they know the trick you want them to do, and they’ve decided they’re willing to perform it, the verbal command is there as a confirmation.
Of course, despite what we know about cats, they are all individuals, and your techniques and results may vary. Some owners find the clicker- a small device that makes a clicking sound upon action and reward- effective when training their cats to do tricks. The key is patience, and you might find that you need quite a lot of it. Alternatively, it is sometimes best to just drop it if your cat outrightly refuses to learn a trick. Cease training, and try it again in a few weeks. Your feline might be in a more receptive mood at a later time.
Finally, always remember that you cannot punish a cat for refusing to do tricks. Cats do not regard humans as their masters, even if they really love you, and can suffer panic and increased aggression if punished or inappropriately disciplined. If your cat feels slighted or abused, they will hide, run away, hiss, or even bite and scratch. Trained tricks should be a fun bonding activity for you and your cat, so keep it light, entertaining, and enjoyable.