If you thought training was only for dogs, then think again, because cats are trainable too.
The Secret to Training Cats
The secret to training cats isn’t really a secret at all, but about thinking like a cat. We love our feline friends for their independent spirit and how they do what they want. And there we have the key right there: You have to motivate your cat so that she does what you ask because she wants to.
This means finding something that motivates your cat enough to sit up and take notice. This is where training a feline is harder than a canine; because dogs are so food motivated they think a piece of cardboard is tasty. Whereas our feline friends are more discerning when it comes to rewards.
You have to work a little harder to uncover her must have treat…but every cat has their price. Tempt her with a variety of tasty morsels until you hit on the one that makes those whiskers bristle. Use your imagination and trial such scrumptious snacks as salmon, steak, prawns, ham or cheese. (If your cat has any health issues, check with your vet first.)
Training cats is all about rewarding the action you want – we’ll uncover how in a moment. Also, remember a cat has a short attention span so short, regular training sessions (a few minutes two or three times a day) works much better than a single long session.
“Come” when called
If calling your cat in at night is a hit and miss affair, then you need to teach her to “Come” when called.
To do this keep her must-have treats in a pouch on your belt or in your hip pocket. When she happens to stroll towards you, say “Come” and then offer a treat. The idea is for her to link walking towards you with the word “Come” and a tasty snack.
Other ideas include attracting her attention with the treat and taking a step away. As she steps towards you, say “Come” and then give the reward. Do this consistently and pretty soon she’ll associate “Come” with walking to you and getting a scrumptious snack, and she’ll do it by second nature.
Teaching a cat to sit is actually pretty easy.
Use her must-have treat to get her attention. Hold the treat at nose level and move it in an arc over and behind her head. Her nose naturally follows the treat and her bottom sinks to the ground. As soon as her butt hits the deck, say “Sit” and give the treat.
With repetition, pretty soon she’ll start to anticipate what you’re about, and when the treat appears near her nose, volunteer a sit. Be sure to team this with the opportunity to say “Sit” when you see her sitting naturally. Once again, associating word, action, and reward means she’ll soon have a rock solid sit.
Shake a Paw
This is a bit more of a party trick, since it serves no useful purpose, but your cat will love the mental stimulation of learning, so it does no harm.
This time tap your cat’s paw with a finger and when she lifts it give your cue words, such as “Shake paw”, and reward her. Any time you happen to see her lift that paw, say “Shake paw” and reward her. See where we’re heading with this one…?
Walk on a Harness
Taking a cat outdoors on a harness is a great way to get fresh air without the risk of her running off. Of course cats have a unique way of saying “No” on a harness, which usually involves them flopping to the ground and refusing to move. Bear in mind the object is not to have your cat walking to heel like a dog, but happily strolling and sniffing on a leash so she can safely enjoy the outdoors.
First get the cat used to the harness. Show the harness to the cat and leave it beside the food bowl so she gets used to it. Once the cat happily ignores it as an object, try putting the harness (with the straps loose) on the cat. Do this just before feeding, so she gets a meal as a reward. Leave it on for only a few seconds, or slightly longer if the cat is chilled, and be sure to praise her cleverness to the heavens.
Repeat this before every feed so she links the harness to good things. Then one time leave the harness on while she eats. Once she wanders around forgetting she’s got the harness on, you’re ready to attach the leash for a few seconds to let her get used to the weight. Again, before the meal is the ideal time so she has an instant reward.
Once she’s accepted the weight of the leash, lure her forward a step or two using her must-have treat. You can even use a cue word so she knows what you want her to do. Then slowly increase the distance she walks until she’s ready for the great outdoors.
Follow a Target
Our final training feat is to follow a target. The idea behind this is to teach your cat to follow a ‘target’ (such as a small ball on the end of a wand) which allows you to move her from place to place. This is more useful than it sounds because it enables you to move the cat from a work surface to a stool or from a table top to her bed.
Follow the basic principal which is that when your cat touches the target she gets a reward. You can help her to do this by rubbing the scent of her favourite treat onto the target. Then when she goes to sniff it, say “Follow” and give a reward.
Each time she shows interest in the target, give the cue word and a reward. Next, slowly move the target and reward her for following it.
And finally, training your cat isn’t just about tricks; it’s about keeping her safe. In addition, cats love the one-to-one attention that training with their cat guardian gives them, and it’s great mental stimulation that stops her getting bored.
Can your cat do any of these things — come, sit, shake a paw, walk on a harness, follow a target? What other things have you trained your cat to do?