How to Train Your Cat—it certainly sounds like the next film being released by DreamWorks Animation and, although we wouldn't mind our cut of royalties, it's not. The truth is, this is something you can do, and, as veterinarians, we're here to tell you that it's probably not even as challenging as you'd imagined. While you might think it sounds crazy, many cat owners have successfully trained their feline friends to do things like using the toilet and coming on command. We've rounded up some approaches and helpful tips for training your cat and shared them below.
Stay Positive When Training Your Cat
We know that cats often seem more, ahem, independent than their canine counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not sensitive. In fact, something that might not seem like a big deal to you (like rearranging your living room or punishing/disciplining your cat for scratching your furniture) could lead to increased stress, behavior changes, and health problems. Like dogs, cat training needs to involve plenty of positive reinforcement and patience— never punishment.
Use a Clicker and The Good Treats
Yes, you read that right. A clicker trainer, the same tool often used during dog training exercises, along with high-reward treats. Put down the Temptations, as this needs to be something that really motivates your cat—think diced chicken or turkey, tuna, or meat-flavored baby food. All of these can go a long way when training your cat. When your cat exhibits the behavior you’re looking for, click the clicker and immediately follow with a favorite treat and plenty of praise.
Start Training Cats When They're Young
Just like with any species, cats do their best learning while they’re young. While it is possible to “teach an old cat new tricks,” it can be more difficult than teaching those same tricks to a younger cat.
Don’t Overdo It
Start by teaching one command at a time, one day at a time. Limit training sessions to about 15 minutes per day, repeating the training session the next day and subsequent days after that, slowly reducing the treats given with each click. Eventually, the click and your praise will be the rewards your cat will respond to. Once he’s mastered the first command, move on to the next command you want him to learn, re-introducing treats with each click.
What Can Cats Be Trained to Do?
We know some of you probably have grand visions of your cat getting the paper for you or a beer out of the fridge. Let's be realistic here. There are plenty of things your cat can be trained to do, however.
Cats can be trained to:
- Lay down
- Use the toilet
- Walk on a leash
- High five or shake
- Jump through hoops, twirl, walk into a carrier, stay on target, and other agility tricks
Getting your cat to walk on a leash is probably the most practical thing you can teach them, and it's perfect for owners who feel guilty about having indoor cats. The truth is, though, indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats, so teaching your cat to walk on a leash gives you and your kitty the best of both worlds.