How To Train A Cat

How To Train A Cat

Cats are intelligent animals, and many cats can be trained to do specific tasks and/or perform tricks with loving and patient support of their individual needs. Aspects of training can also enhance your cat's emotional and mental well-being by helping them with socialization, alleviating stress and anxiety, and providing opportunities for them to feel more safe. Learn more about how to train your cat with this guide full of tips and resources.

Knowing What You Want To Teach Your Cat

First ask yourself what you would like your kitty to learn. For example, do you hope to correct inappropriate behavior such as furniture scratching? Or do you want to teach your cat some cool new tricks like how to do a high five? Once you have decided what to work on, you can start to plan and implement a training process that is right for your unique companion. Some of the most common objectives of cat training include:

  • Helping a cat learn to use the litter box
  • Teaching to not scratch or jump on furniture
  • Training a cat to not bite
  • Encouraging a cat to follow commands such as to come, sit, stay, high five, roll over, jump etc.
  • Training a cat to walk on a leash
  • Teaching a cat new tricks

Training Methods And Tools

Clicker And Treat Training

Well-known cat enthusiast Jackson Galaxy has a multi-part video series on how Clicker Training Your Cat is Easy and Fun! This method is a form of positive reinforcement that helps your cat to understand desirable behavior because you are rewarding it every time during training. A small "clicker" tool creates a brief noise that your cat learns to recognize, and this noise is followed by you giving your cat a treat. Your cat quickly learns that the clicking sound equals a treat. The Cat School has a blog titled, Clicker Training Cats: All Your Questions Answered that you may also want to check out to learn more about this method.

Keeping Training Sessions Short

The time and duration of a lesson has to be adapted to your cat’s mood and interest. Cats have a shorter attention span than us and they like to do things how and when they want to do it. This means that you will have to train with your pet when they’re interested in it and for as long as this interest lasts. The most effective training sessions are usually short, but frequent and natural. It is important to remain calm, patient and, before all, persistent. Don’t give up if your cat doesn’t progress as quickly as you had hoped. They are independent and strong-willed, which requires a lot of patience on your end.

How to train a cat?

Focusing On One Thing At A Time

While it is possible for cats to learn a few things simultaneously, it is thought to be most effective to teach them one thing at the time. To be utmost successful, allow your cat to master the respective objective before moving on to a new one.

Rewarding Good Behavior

Cats respond very well to the system of positive reinforcement. Our favorite pets love doing things they get something good out of. Therefore, whenever your feline does something well, reward her with an encouraging praise, scratch or a treat. You can also use the "clicker" every time you reward them so that they make a connection between the objective, the reward, and the clicker sound. Every time they hear the clicker, they will know they did their job well.

Not Punishing Bad Behavior

Cats typically do not respond well to punishment. This type of disciplinary methods is not found to be helpful and it often triggers stress and anxiety. Instead, whenever you spot an inappropriate behavior, try to distract your cat. For example, if you’re teaching them not to scratch the furniture – every time you see them do it – make a quick, sharp sound (i.e. "whoa!"). The cat will be distracted and stop the action. Be consistent with the sound choice and avoid using common words like "hey" or "no". This is to avoid the confusion when they hear these sounds in different contexts.

Involving Others

It is recommended for other family members and frequent visitors to be involved in your training too. Everyone should know what the ultimate goal is and which method you’re employing. For example, every person who spots the cat scratching the sofa needs to react and apply the same corrective measurement like you.

Starting Early

If you’re bringing home a kitten, you may want to start teaching them certain behaviors early on. For example, socializing the kittens and getting them used to being handled and groomed is all easier done early in the kitten-hood. Raising kittens in this way will make it easier for us to take care of them when they grow up.

Two kittens in a white pot

Correcting Inappropriate Behavior

Before getting into the fancy tricks, many of us would prefer to start with the basics. We would like our cats to use their litter boxes and stop it with the mischief such as biting, furniture scratching or counter climbing.

Training Your Cat To Use The Litterbox

The first step on this journey is to find the right spot for the litter box. It should be easily accessible and placed in a quiet and private area that isn’t too far out of the way. Most importantly, always keep the litter box clean and fresh.

Once the litter box has been placed, you can start training your cat. A neat trick is to place the cat in the litter box shortly after they've eaten and gently scratch the sand with their front paw until they urinate. Repeat this several times. Your cat should shortly realize what the purpose of the litter box is.

Cat in litterbox

In the beginning you will want to praise and reward your kitty immediately after they’ve finished up. Do not punish them for out-of-the-litter-box accidents though. They won’t learn from it and you may make them nervous or scared.

Training Your Cat Not To Bite

In this task it is important to recognize when and why your cat bites in the first place. Is it a rough player or does it bite you when you disrespect their privacy? If your cat starts biting and scratching you during a play activity, it is important to stop the game as soon as they become too aggressive. Disengage from the activity, stand or sit still and ignore your pet. If you are consistent with this method, they will soon realize you won’t play with them if they’re too rough. If they’re attacking you when you’re handling them to much for their taste, then just try to respect their boundaries.

Fluffy cat biting finger

A cat could also be aggressive if they’re not getting enough exercise. You can fix this by providing them with more outlets for their predatory instincts. Give them plenty of toys they can flick, chase and catch. Some toys such at "fishing" toys will enable you to join in the hunting game with your pet too.

Training Your Cat To Not Scratch Furniture

If your cat is scratching the furniture, maybe they just need to scratch. Provide them with a scratching post where they can sharpen their claws. Also, whenever you spot the inappropriate behavior, distract your kitty with a sharp, uncommon sound. It will alert them, but it won’t create panic. Try to use the same sound every time. Please do not ever declaw your cat. This is not a humane practice, and it will NOT solve the problem (it can often only make it worse).

Training Your Cat Around Houseplants

Our curious kitties love to explore, and discovering how the plants around the house taste is but one of many things you may find them doing. However, many plants are toxic to our kitties, such as the snake plant, while other plants like the spider plant are OK for your cat (though all cats may experience some upset when eating even non-toxic plants). A good rule of thumb is to keep only non-toxic plants in your house and garden, and to ensure that your kitty has acceptable chewing plants such as cat grass at a reachable level. You may also consider a method such as clicker training if you want to teach your cats to not eat plants at all in your home.

Addressing Cat Behavior Problems

Sometimes, we need more support to address common cat behavior issues that we can't seem to manage at home or with training alone. In addition to regular wellness visits, it's always good practice to keep in touch with your cat's veterinarian when struggling with behavior problems. They are there to help you figure out what's going on and how to implement solutions that will meet your kitty's specific emotional, mental, and physical needs. 

Veterinarian examining a cat

For example, if your cat's behavior has changed and/or their negative isn't improving, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Biting and aggression can be an indicator that your feline friend isn't feeling well, and your veterinarian can examine them closely to diagnose the issue and suggest proper treatment.

Your veterinarian may also recommend the support of a cat behavior therapist. There are also many resources available, such as the What Your Cat Wants blog by Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado. 

Training Your Cat To Do Tricks 

There are many tricks you can teach your cat! Here are just a few: 

Playing Fetch

The Zoetis Petcare blog has a great article on How to Teach a Cat to Fetch. They recommend starting by rolling a toy a foot or two away from you, and the second that your cat picks the toy up, say "Yes!" (or use the clicker) and give them a reward. You'll want to do this until your kitty understands that they earn a reward of some kind every time they pick the toy up.

Black cat fetching a toy

Coming When Called

Youtube user Howcast provided an excellent video on How to Train a Cat to Come When Called. They advise attracting your cat with a bag of their favorite treats as you're calling their name. Then you should reward them when they come to you. Soon they will make the connection between their name and the tasty reward. Once they've progressed, you can start replacing the treats with praises and encouraging head scratches.

Sitting Down On Command

When teaching the cat to sit, you may want to include a hand signal as you give the verbal command. Stand in front of your cat with your treat and clicker, say "sit" in a calm and steady voice and hold your hand vertically in a stop sign. Every time your cat sits down when you do this, reward them with the treat and click the clicker.

Doing A "High Five"

Teaching your cat to give you a high five is a lot simpler than it seems. Start encouraging their paw movements but treating them every time their paw moves off the ground. Then, wrap the treat in your fist and wait for them to try and grab it with their paw. When they do this, reward them. Gradually start lifting your hand higher and higher. Every time they touch your hand with their paw, reward them. Don't forget to use the verbal command and say "hive five" or "shake paw" as you train them. Your kitty will soon learn that they should give you a high five whenever you extend your hand and say the magic word!

Tabby cat doing a high five with a person's hand

Kitties Doing Pawsome Tricks

The list of amazing tricks your furry friend can learn is endless. You could teach them to ring a bell, lay down, roll over, swim, dance or jump. All you need is a cat, an idea, lots of patience, consistency and love! For some inspiration we dug out a few of Internet's favorite cat sensations:

a) Catmantoo is a dog and cat trainer winning the internet over with his two amazing furry balls – Didga and Boomer. "Who say's cats can't learn... Didga, adopted from the shelter (and Boomer) are going to help me show that cats are smart and teachable as long as you use a specific positive 'methodology' (similar to the way marine animals are taught.)" - explains Robert aka Catmantoo. And his channel truly proves the point. The things Didga and Boomer can do are mind-blowing! They skateboard, swim, do trust falls, jump, kiss and, of course, like all cats, reward their hooman with some fursome mischief.

b) Kaiser the Amazing Bengal. We absolutely loved the YouTube video posted by NanaBorderCollie where Kaiser gives an outstanding performance competing against a Border Collie dog in a trick contest. This cat has mastered some really advanced tricks!

c) Kitty the cat. This cat can do numerous very advanced tricks. YouTuber Jacob Hollingsworth posted this amazing video of Kitty doing 20+ tricks.

d) The Savitsky cats are a Ukrainian group of cats who recently competed at the America's Got Talent competition. They blew the judges away with their fursome tricks in this performance!

Training For Other Tasks

Ever thought of leash training your kitty or teaching them how to go in a toilet instead of a litter box? 

Bengal cat on a leash, sitting on railing with mountains in the background.

Some cat breeds, such as the Bengal or Abyssinian, are known as easier to leash train than others. However, every cat is an individual and their personality, specific needs, and above all their safety should all be taken into account so that you can decide if leash training is a task that is right for your fabulous feline. You can learn more in our blog titled, How To Walk A Cat.

When it comes to tasks such as toilet training instead of litter box training, there are important factors to consider. Toilet training is controversial and it isn't right for all cats, especially seniors and other cats affected by mobility issues. It could also contribute to health and behavioral problems, and many experts believe that it's a forced and unnatural  behavior that humans shouldn't impose on cats. Toilet training can actually result in unintended health and behavioral problems, and expose your cat to unnecessary stress. For example, a cat that falls into the toilet can be significantly traumatized, and most cats are not fans of getting wet.

Another issue with toilet training is that it makes it much harder to properly track your cat's elimination of urine and poop, which serve as important indicators of your cat's current state of health. Learn more in our blog titled, Cat Poop: Health Insights, Cat Poop Chart, Problems, and More.

Conclusion

Proper training will go a long way toward supporting your cat's emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Correcting inappropriate behavior helps maintain harmony in the home and can even protect your cat from potentially harmful situations. These tips and tricks are meant to help you teach your kitty to be social, friendly, and accepting of handling and grooming in ways that make them feel safe and loved. And if you decide to work on fun tricks with your cat, you are in for a treat! You and your kitty will have a tremendous amount of fun and you will be bonding and making memories for many years to come.

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