When you think about animals doing tricks, you think about dogs. While cats are far more independent, you can certainly teach your cat quite a few tricks if you have enough patience and perseverance. The teaching method is quite similar to that used for dogs, but there are some small differences that make it ideally suited for a cat’s personality.
How to Teach Cats to Do Tricks
To make sure your cat actually learns how to do the tricks you want it to, you have to get familiar with the teaching process. Here are the things you will need:
Your Cat’s Favorite Treats
A reward is a very important tool for the teaching process, which is why it is crucial that your cat absolutely loves the food you choose as a treat. This should be something small and preferably dry that you can easily hold in your hand or pocket. Here are some examples of food commonly used as treats:
If the food listed above is not among your cat’s top picks, you should keep trying with other food that it will enjoy. Your goal is to find something that will keep it interested and that it will respond to in any given situation.
A Cat Clicker
Teaching your cat to do tricks is essentially creating a reflex. A pet clicker will come in handy with this because it will an extra cue for it to associate with the trick you want it to do. A cat clicker makes a low clicking sound. It is a simple tool that will go a long way. After your cat does a trick, you will give it a treat and you can also make a short clicking sound. This will make it easier for it to remember the routine.
The Process of Teaching Your Cat to Do Tricks
After you have everything ready, you can start the training process. While it does require quite a bit of perseverance, it is extremely rewarding to see your cat doing the tricks that you have learned together. You end up bonding with your cat during the process.
Here are some very important guidelines for teaching your cat how to do tricks:
Keep it interesting at all times
Many cat owners expect their cats to participate in the teaching process to get the treats. However, this is not quite the case. You have to keep your cat interested throughout the entire process to ensure that it learns the trick. Here are some things you can do:
- Teaching must always be fun – turn the learning process into a game and your cat will want to take part in it.
- Start with the treat – if your cat is not a big fan of playing, give it the treat before you start to get it to participate.
- Start training process when a kitty is hungry – It wouldn’t be wise to try and train your cat on a full stomach, as the motivation for food wouldn’t be quite as high.
Keep it short and sweet
The training sessions should be short so that your cat stays interested. You will get far better results with short, but frequent sessions rather than long ones, which will become dull to your cat.
Repeat the tricks to make them stick
During a training session, you should repeat the routine 5-10 times to make sure that your cat remembers it. This should keep it short enough to not be a burden, but also long enough to provide the necessary info and to ensure learning.
Always teach one trick per session
While you may be tempted to teach your cat several tricks at once because you think that they are related, it is best to keep each session aimed at one specific trick. This will help your cat focus on each trick and it will also help it differentiate them one from the other.
Use cue words properly
Every trick must have its very own cue word and they have to be very different one from another. Cue words should also be short and powerful so that your cat remembers them quickly. Another aspect to remember is to use these cue words only after you have taught it the actual trick.
For instance, your cat will not know what to do if you tell it to sit and it will be much harder for it to associate the action of sitting down with the cue “Sit!” if you repeat it before you actually show it what to do. You should practice the routing and only at the end tell it to sit, along with the treats.
Always take feedback into consideration
The teaching process must never be a burden, so if your cat does not seem interested in playing, you should stop and try again later rather than insisting. This will ensure that your cat regards the learning process as a positive activity that it will want to do over and over again. Creating a negative experience will actually slow down your process.
Always use positive reinforcement
Cats are defensive and independent animals and they will not respond positively to activities that are imposed. Negative reinforcement such as spraying water will not get it to learn tricks. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, along with a sustained activity will make it come back for more.
The treats you give your cat are the main token of positive reinforcement. After it does a trick, it knows it is going to receive a bit of its favorite food, which makes it put in the effort. Aside from that, it is very important to praise your cat. Always do this before you feed it the treat. Verbal reinforcement is something that your cat will respond to in the long term.
In fact, your goal is to have it doing the tricks without offering it any treats. After the reflex has been formed properly, your cat will respond to the verbal cue and it will do the trick without expecting any physical reward for it. Your praises will be more than enough at that point.
The 10 Most Popular Tricks to Teach Your Cat
Cats are extremely curious and agile, so they can learn a lot of tricks. These are the most popular 10 tricks that you can start with and if your cat turns out to enjoy the process, you can expand to more of them.
1. Teach your cat to sit
Cue Word – Sit!
This is probably the most common cat trick out there and it is very easy to train your cat to do it. You will need treats and a clicker. Call your cat to you and when it gets there, hold the treat above its head. This will make it sit down on the floor naturally. When this happens, use the clicker.
This will make your cat associate the sitting position with the clicking sound. Remember to also give it the reward after you click. Repeat this about 10 times so that your cat can practice. Once it starts doing a good sitting position and it is used to the routine, add in the cue word “Sit!”.
Repeat it a few more times and then stop so that your cat is left wanting more rather than bored with the activity. Reprise the training process the following day and use the cue word from the very beginning. Don’t forget to keep the sessions short.
2. Teach your cat to come when you call it
Cue Word – Your cat’s name!/ Come!
Every cat knows its name, but this does not mean that it will come to you when you call it. Cats are infamous for showing up only when they feel like it, but this is something that can be changed with a bit of training.
To get your cat to come to you when call its name, you have to give it a reason to, at least at first. This is why a very good time to start is when feeding it. Call its name and while you do that, tap on its food bowl. This is guaranteed to have it come running. When your cat comes to you, call its name and give it the reward.
You can try this in many different ways and train your cat to come from various distances and even from outside. This is something you can also repeat several times around the house. After your cat come to you the first time and gets the reward, it will be curious to come to you the second time to get more treats. Do this 5-10 times and call its name every time it comes.
3. Train your cat to hi-five
Cue Word – Tap!/ Hi-Five!
Getting hi-fives from your cat on a regular basis may be easier than you think. You will need a big reward for this one, so make sure you use something that your cat simply cannot refuse, such as tuna bits. Call the cat to you and then hold the tuna above its nose. This will make it reach up for it and extend its paw.
When this happens, simply hi-five your cat, make sure you praise it. Then, give it the reward it was craving. Practice this a few times, and then add in the cue word, which can be hi-five or tap. Tap is easier shorter and you may get better results with it.
4. Teach your cat to sit up on two legs
Cue Word – Up!
The teaching process for this trick follows a similar pattern to the hi-five. You will have to hold the reward much higher to get your cat to sit up on two legs. Remember to use a high-value reward for this one to get the cat to put in the effort.
Praise it once it sits on two legs and give it the treat only after that. This may require you to practice a few times. Make sure to offer extended praise when the cat sits up properly on two legs. Then you can introduce the cue word “Up!”.
5. Teach your cat to wave
Cue word – Wave!/ Bye-bye!
This is yet another trick that follows the pattern described above. If you want to get your cat to wave, hold the reward above its nose, as for the hi-five, but do not bring your hand close to its paw. This will leave it waving. When this happens, you can use your clicker, praise it, and give it the treat.
As for the others, repeat the routine a few times before you start using the cue word “Wave!”. Another thing to keep in mind is to keep this trick as the only subject of the training sessions. Mixing this one with Hi-five!, and /or Up! could make your cat extremely confused.
6. Teach your cat to fetch
Cue Word – Fetch!
This is one of the more difficult tricks to teach your cat. You should know that it will take you quite a bit to get this one to stick. For fetch, you will need a toy that your cat loves to play with. Some trainers recommend putting some of the water in a can of tuna on the toy to stimulate the cat’s natural hunting instinct.
Throw the toy only a bit further from you. When your cat goes to pick up the toy, use your clicker to make it attentive to the routine. The difficult part is getting your cat to bring the toy back to you. When it does that, make sure to use your clicker, praise it, and then give it the treat.
If your cat does not want to let go of the toy, you should retrieve it gently from its mouth, give it a treat, and then return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise to make it remember and insert the cue word “Fetch!”.
7. Teach your cat to meow on command
Cue Word – Meow!/ Speak!
This is one of the most rewarding cat tricks out there. While it is very simple to do, it requires a lot of perseverance and patience. You should keep some treats within reach and when you hear your cat meowing, chirping, trilling, or making any of the sounds that you want it to produce on cue, simply give it praises, and offer it a reward.
After a while, it will associate meowing with receiving a reward. This is when you should introduce your preferred cue word, which can be anything from Meow!, Speak!, or Chirp!. In time, the cue alone will be enough to turn your cat into a chatterbox.
8. Teach your cat to shake
Cue Word – Shake!
This is one of the most beloved cat tricks out there and it is quite simple to do. Get close to your cat and grab its paw gently. As it grabs your hand back, use your clicker and then give it the treat. You should repeat this a few times and then you can use the cue “Shake!” before you grab its paw. You will be shaking your cat’s paw in no time!
9. Teach your cat to give kisses
Cue Word – Kiss!
For this one, you will need treats, a clicker, and some liquid food that your cat enjoys, such as the water from a tuna can, yogurt, or cream cheese. Put the food on your finger or, preferably, on your cheek. Call your cat and when it comes and starts licking your finger or cheek, use your clicker, and praise it.
Then give it the reward it deserves. Repeat the exercise as many times as you are up to, and start saying “Kiss!” once your cat gets used to the process. Getting kisses from your cat will also happen naturally, so remember to praise your cat when it does. If possible, add in a reward as well.
10. Teach your cat to lie down
Cue Word – Lie down!/ Down!
For this simple trick, you have to call your cat next to you and have a treat ready for it. Keep the treat in your hands and put it on the floor. This will make your cat lie down to get it. When it does, use your clicker, praise it, and then give it the treat.
After you do that a few times, it will remember the connection. This is when you can introduce the cue word “Lie Down!”. Bear in mind that it might take your cat longer to learn this one compared to other tricks.
As you can see, teaching your cat to do tricks can be quite fun. As long as you’re prepared to spend a bit of time in the beginning, you can have your cat doing some amazing tricks. As an added benefit of the process, the communication between you and your cat will be improved tremendously and you will be able to connect with it better.
Further reading on Cat Training:
- Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats Kit by Karen Pryor
- Clicker Training for Clever Cats: Learning Can Be Fun! by Martina Braun
- The Trainable Cat A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis