Tips to Train Your Cat
Dogs can be trained to do a variety of tricks, but what about cats? While they may be a little less inclined to learn, and some may be more inclined to do the opposite of everything you say, it is still possible to teach your feline friend a few things. You just need the right incentives, realistic expectations, and a patient cat. Here are some tips to try out.
Treats, Toys, Affection, and Encouragement
The key to any training is some positive reinforcement. When a cat successfully does a trick, or a portion of it, she’ll need to associate it with something good to keep doing it. Cat treats are a good place to start, as most kitties go a bit crazy for them. Just be sure you use small ones so she doesn’t eat too much. You can also reward her with a favorite toy, or if you have a certified snuggle buddy, some affection. Happy verbal reinforcement is a good way to encourage your cat, as well.
Don’t Force It
The flip side to positive encouragement is negative reactions. Much like training your cat away from undesirable behaviors, you don’t want to scold or become upset with your cat. If she’s not picking things up, don’t try to force her to learn. She won’t understand, and it may make her a bit uneasy around you. Teaching tricks should be a fun way to interact with your cat, so keep it light-hearted and try again another day if she’s not catching on.
Many people also try clickers to help their cats learn. Clickers are used when the cat performs the desired behavior. The sound it makes should be accompanied by her preferred reward to get her to understand that it’s a good thing. When she associates the noise with rewards, she’ll want to repeat the behavior for the positive reinforcement.
Start with Things They Already Do
Is there something trick-like that your cat already does? Does she like to play a toned-down game of fetch or do some fun jumping? Even basic behaviors like sitting and coming when calling are a good place to start because they already do these things, at least most of the time. Begin to introduce commands and rewards with these activities to get trick training started.
Keep it Short
Remember when you’d get a bit bored in class? Kitty is no different, and, in fact, could have an even shorter attention span. She does need to get back to her regularly scheduled sprint around the house for no reason. The ideal training session should last no more than 15 minutes and should include 5-10 repetitions. You should minimize distractions, too. This will provide a quick learning environment that doesn’t give your cat too much time to get bored.
Focus on One Trick
To improve the chances of your cat catching on, it’s best to focus on one trick at a time. She could get her wires crossed and be confused if you try a bunch at once. It may also overwhelm her and be a bit stressful if you add too many at once. Plus, by focusing on one trick at a time, you’re more apt to have success with at least one.
Have Reasonable Expectations
If you have experience training dogs or have lofty goals, you may need to temper them a bit. Cats can learn a few tricks, but expecting a lot may end with disappointment. Just enjoy the ride with your feline friend and remember how much you love her independent spirit.
Tricks Cats Can Learn
So which tricks are cats the most apt to master? There are a few basic ones that you and your cat may just be able to conquer together.
Your cat probably comes when she hears the can opener or a shaken treat bag. How can you get her to come even when tasty treats aren’t on the menu? Well, you’ll still need to start off with treats. These are cats after all. Pick a verbal cue like “here [pet’s name]” or “come” and stand near her. When your cat reaches you, give her a treat, paired with the clicker noise if you’re using one. Gradually increase the distance and reward her each time she comes to you. Finally, phase out the treats and try it with just the verbal command.
When your cat sits down in front of you, give her a treat, along with the clicker noise, if you’re using one. You can get her to do this again by holding a treat in front of her nose and moving your hand up, which should make her rear go down. When she gets into the sitting position, give her a treat along with a positive remark. Once she’s done this a few times, start saying “sit” as you pull the treat up. Then try phasing out the treat and just doing the verbal command.
Dogs tend to be masters of the shake command, but cats can be, too. To teach your cat, get close to her and tap her paw while saying “shake.” When she moves her paw, give her a treat. After a bit, hold her paw when she moves it and do the shaking motion. Then give her the treat afterward. Repeat the training until she offers her paw with just the verbal cue and not the paw tap.
No one ever wants to be left hanging, especially by their cat. Cats are plenty capable of learning to high five, as an encouraging gym cat recently showed. So how can you teach them to high five? Hold a treat in front of you and close your fist. Your cat will sniff around your hand and will likely tap it with her paw as she investigates. When she does this, open your hand and give her the treat and verbal encouragement. After she masters this, start using the verbal cue “high five.” Once she gets that, too, phase out the treats.
To get your cat to play fetch, you’ll first want her to focus on the item she’ll be fetching. Keep it near her face and when she starts investigating it, give her a treat. Throw the object to be fetched a little ways away, and reward your cat again when she goes over to it. If she gets around to picking it up with her mouth, time for another treat. Now to get her to bring it back, put the ball or toy a further distance from where you are and wait for her to bring it over to you in her mouth. Then, treats all around for fetching.
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