They’re not nearly as needy for attention as dogs, and you don’t often catch them doing tricks just for the heck of it. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach them how. Here are some tips for teaching your cat a few fun moves.
It’s best to start out with the basics, so begin with a simple trick like getting your cat to shake your hand. Using positive reinforcements in the form of treats is the best method to use. Choose a trick that your cat already performs on her own. For instance, your cat already knows how to sit. Begin by using the “sit” command and, if your cat obliges, give her a treat. Repeat this process until she associates sitting when you say the word with getting a reward.
Choose Your Rewards Wisely
Too many treats can cause your cat to gain weight. Be sure to choose low-calorie snacks to use during her training, or simply reward her with snuggles and rubs if she’s the affectionate sort of feline. You can also use pieces of your cat’s regular food as a reward.
Use a Clicker
Sound is a great asset in teaching a cat new tricks. When your cat correctly performs the desired trick, use the clicker as a form of positive reinforcement. The sound will notify her that she did the right thing. Then slip her a treat! If you haven’t got a clicker a pen that makes a clicking sound when you pop it out will works just as well.
Keep It Short
Cats get bored easily. They’re unlikely to stay focused on you for long periods of time, so expecting them to work with you for hours on a trick is unrealistic. Keep your training sessions for each trick to a few minutes at a time. Cats, like humans and dogs, learn through repetition. Focus on teaching one trick at a time in short blocks, and don’t start on one another until they’ve mastered the first.
Do Not Punish Your Cat
Teaching your cat to do tricks should be an enjoyable experience for both parties involved and there’s no reason to get upset if your cat can’t master something. Punishing your cat by yelling or through physical contact will only cause it stress. Scared and stressed felines will often run from danger and fear their families. Just don’t do it.
Learn to Lure
Luring is one of the most effective ways of teaching your cat to do tricks. It’s how many of them are trained to run through agility courses and leap through hoops. In fact, you might be familiar with it already as something you use during playtime. Cats like to chase things, especially feathered toys and laser pointers. Luring involves taking one of theses lures, or a treat, and convincing your cat to follow it through obstacles. Keep the lure just far enough in front of her that she can reach it and use it to convince her to follow where you want her to go. Once your cat makes it over, under or through the obstacle give her a treat!
Just Have Fun
Remember, not all cats are going to be interested in learning tricks. Just have fun with it! While some cats can be taught things like how to walk on a leash or leap through hoops, others just might not want to. Don’t ever try to force the issue. If it’s not fun for everyone involved there’s no point in the cat needing to learn.
Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible.