BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Teach a Cat Tricks: Proper Kitty Training

A person learning a cat tricks
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

If you are a cat owner, you may have wondered about the proper ways on how to teach a cat tricks. There is a strong belief that cats are not suitable for training, but firsthand experience has shown that they, like dogs, can learn to react to specific commands and comply with your requirements. You just need to know how to make them do it.

Since cats operate at their own pace, to train them, you will mainly have to figure out what makes them tick and how to push the right buttons. A dog is always eager to please, and will most likely follow your instructions no questions asked.

cat following target stick

However, with a cat, understanding that you’ll need to let them know what’s in it for them will not only make your everyday life with them much more pleasant and easier, but it will also be more fun and exciting. Cats are capable of some truly outstanding tricks that dogs aren’t due to their jumping prowess and the flexibility of their body after all.

Cat owners are faced with different situations when it comes to training cats. Before you start the training, consider what it is that you want your cat to learn and how you will make them follow your command. Also, think about how you will reward your pet when they positively respond to training. We will explain all that and more in this article.

Simple Tricks to Start Kitty Off

Unlike the general belief, cats can actually be taught to do as many tricks as a dog could–lie down, sit down, stay still, and many more. From the earliest age, kittens learn to interpret the meaning of different sounds and words. Since cats are highly articulated, with just a little effort, they are able to understand certain words that we are saying to them.

Their being able to understand us does make training a lot less difficult, but the problem is that they are not usually inclined to comply. You are going to need a lot of patience and some treats because cats are nothing like dogs and have a mind of their own. It is also important that you do not try to push them to follow your commands because you might incur their rebellious streak.

A Siamese Cat looking at his owner

Thus, cat training is a bit more time-consuming than dog training. So what trick you choose to teach your cat will depend on how much time you are willing to invest and what your cat’s natural tendencies are. If you think you have got what it takes, let’s go forward with the tricks and how to train your kitty to do them.

Trick #1: Come

Cats are smart, and they know when you’re calling out to them, but whether they get up and catwalk towards you or not depends on their mood at the time. Here’s a way to teach your cat to come when you call every time:

  • Bring your cat a piece of his favorite food and let him sniff and touch it, then slowly start to move it away while saying “come.”
  • Almost every cat will follow a piece of food in your hand, but do not be too ambitious. Keep it at a short distance in the beginning.
  • If your kitty takes a few steps towards you, it’s already a good start. Give him the treat and praise him.
  • Increase the distance each time you are trying to teach him this command. With a little incentive, your cat will learn it before you even realize.

Trick #2: Sit Down

To teach your cat to sit, start as with any other command—by taking a piece of food between your fingers and making sure you get your cat’s attention.

  • Bring a bit of the treat up to his nose, then lift it above his head. Do it gradually. Otherwise, your cat might stop looking at it.
  • As he raises his head to bring his nose closer to your hand, the cat is forced to sit down. When he sits, say “sit down” and give him a bite of the food.
  • If he tries to stand on the hind legs to catch your hand, hold your hand a bit higher, and then slowly move it forward and backward, gradually reducing the height, until the cat is forced to sit down. Then say “sit down” and give your kitty a treat.

You can try practicing this command for about ten minutes every day, and it will not be long before your kitty reacts to it and sits down when you tell him to.

Trick #3: Lay Down

You’ll need to teach your cat to respond both to your hand and your voice command when it comes to “lay down” and “roll over.”

Close-up of a cat-lying-down

Let’s start with “lay down.”

  • Try gently pushing your cat into a sitting position by pushing his upper shoulders with one hand and making a fist with the other hand. Don’t worry; it’s not a threatening kind of fist.
  • Move your fisted hand down as you gently push him so that your cat and your fisted hand simultaneously move towards the floor together. You also have to keep saying “down” while doing this so the cat can associate these commands with one another. Make sure that the cat follows your hand during this process.
  • When you’re working on teaching your cat to lay down, be sure to have lots of treats handy and generously reward him with both treats and petting and praise when he goes down.
  • After a few days of practice, your cat should start responding only to your voice without needing to be pushed down into a laying position.

Do this five to ten times in a row each day, spending a good amount of time on it. Your cat will soon start to associate the hand command and the word “down” with getting treats and praise.

Trick #4: Roll Over

Once your cat has accepted laying down on his own, it’s time to teach him to roll over once he is laying down.

  • Tell your cat to lie down, then take a treat and hold it over his head and move it slowly from side to side as far away from you as you can.
  • The cat should follow the treat with his eyes and body intently and will eventually perform a roll to keep following it. Say “roll over” as you’re moving the treat.
  • Once your cat rolls over, give him the treat. Pet him and praise him.
  • Practice this several times daily until you can get the cat to go down and roll over all in one fluid motion.

It might take some time for your cat to learn this trick but he will eventually learn it if you’re consistent.

Trick #5: Stay

The command “stay” naturally builds on the already memorized commands like “sit” and “lie down.”

  • You can start directly from the “sit” command, but instead of giving the cat a reward immediately, say “stay” and then move a little from the cat. If he remains there, give him a bit of the food as a reward.
  • Then bring another piece of food right to your cat’s nose and say “stay still,” and move away, but now wait two seconds before you reward him.
  • Gradually extend the interval between requests and rewards, and also between the distance you move and the reward.
  • If the cat does not stay in place, return to the “sit” command. When he listens to you, finish training and try again when you feel your cat is in a better mood.

Provided that everything unfolds properly, you may be able to keep the cat in a sitting or lying position for more than one minute at a time once he has learned this command.

bengal-cat-sitting-on-weathered-deck

The five aforementioned tricks are the most basic ones you can teach a cat. Cats are actually capable of learning a lot more commands, such as “jump,” “bang,” “fetch,” or maybe even “somersault!”

Still, do not force them or try to teach them difficult exercises right off the bat. Gradually increase your requirements and tailor the training according to how the cat responds to it.

Tips to Enhance the Training’s Effectiveness

Each cat is an individual, and they all differ in personality. Some cats are easy to train while others will take a bit more time and effort. Below are some tips that will help you to easily and correctly train even the most wilful felines.

Rewarding Your Cat is Important

Everybody likes to be praised when they do something right, and so does your cat. For some cats, some petting and snuggling will be enough, but for others, you will need to include food and treats.

If you have promised to give them a treat after they have finished the task successfully, don’t forget to give it to them. Otherwise, they may lose their trust in you, and you may not be able to train them.

Giving your cat a treat is a great way to train him!

However, remember to always give the cat only a small amount of food at a time and try using treats that have a low-calorie count.

If you notice that your cat has become addicted to treats and will not perform any trick without it, still reward the cat, but pet him as he eats the food. Slowly stop giving him snacks and just reward him with petting and attention.

Go Slow and Take Your Time

Although you are maybe hoping your cat will immediately understand what you want him to do and perform amazingly from the get-go, this is not how things usually work out. Start slow and go step by step. Keep encouraging your kitty to follow the treat while you are speaking the command.

A shorthair cat lying on a mat

Your cat might execute the command perfectly one day but completely fail the next. Sometimes they may try a trick once, then get bored and not want to do it anymore.

Always give your cat time and do not force him to learn, because cats usually have a very independent spirit and this type of approach will not get you anywhere. Patience is the key. Reward him for every step well-done and remember to be patient because it will pay off in the end.

Tailor Your Method of Teaching

Not every cat will respond the same to training. It is important to notice what your cat responds to well and continue your teaching that way. If there is something that you notice is not working, try adjusting it to suit your cat. Focus on what you want to achieve and avoid teaching him a bad habit by making sure you are matching the training up to his needs.

A man trying to teach his cat

Also, make sure to pick the right timing. Cats are simply very different from dogs, and it is hard to make them do anything they do not want to do at that moment. If your cat is sleepy when you want to train him, it is very likely the cat will not respond well.

Try to sense when your cat is in a good mood. This way he can focus on what you are explaining to him better, and this will definitely make training a lot easier for the both of you.

Punishing Your Cat Will Get You Nowhere

Teaching a cat tricks is nothing new or “revolutionary.” A cat can learn everything if he can understand what is being asked of him and, of course, if he’s properly motivated (with treats, words of praise, etc.).

Cat hiding under a pillow

However, when training your cat, there are some things you should NOT do. Never punish your cat if he doesn’t obey your command. This will be counterproductive, not to mention harmful. Instead, be patient with your kitty and spend time on training him properly.

You have to use other methods and outsmart him to achieve what you want. That is when the food and treats come into play. Try to be gentle and rewarding, and we do not doubt that you will succeed in having things your way.

Wrap Up

Tricks and training are usually linked to dogs, but cats can also master certain skills. You can teach the cat to respond to different commands, such as “come,” “sit,” “stand still,” “lie,” “roll” or “jump”! All training of this type requires good motivation for your kitty, and treats can go a long way if you want to keep their attention.

When it comes to training cats or any other pet, consistency is essential, but also that you do not give up. Keep in mind that you cannot train your cat in ten minutes. What is advised is to be patient and full of understanding. The results will come naturally. And finally, never punish your cat if they don’t succeed and never betray their trust!

White and orange cat sitting at the window

What are your thoughts on teaching a cat tricks? Do you think it can be done? Have you taught your cat any tricks and how did it go? We’d appreciate it if you would share your story with us in the comments!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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