How to Train a Cat: Training Tips & Tricks
If there’s one thing cats don’t get enough credit for, it’s that they’re trainable. Sure, dogs get a lot of credit—and they should—for the amazing things they can learn from dog training.
Preconceived notions about cats, like they aren’t social or aren’t trainable, are untrue, however.
The truth is, cats love activity, and training can provide them with much needed mental stimulation and physical exercise. All you need is a little patience and to give your cat positive reinforcement through praise and cat treats. Soon enough, you will learn that you can, in fact, train your cat.
Things You Can Train Your Cat to Do
- Be comfortable traveling in a crate
- Coming to you when you call them
- Being cooperative during grooming
- Sitting on command
- Walking on a leash
- Jumping through hoops
Cat Training Tips
Cat Training Methods
Most cats will respond to positive reinforcement in the form of food rewards. If you use soft, moist cat food or dry cat food as a treat, you will lessen the chance of disturbing a properly balanced diet.
If your cat has performed a particular task you have asked of them, make sure you not only reward them with a food treat but with verbal praise as well.
You will have more success if you work with one command at a time. As with any kind of training, you must be consistent and let your cat work at their own speed.
When you see even the slightest glimmer that your cat understands the behavior you are trying to teach, reward them enthusiastically.
Cat Clicker Training
Some veterinarians and behaviorists recommend clicker training for cats. With the aid of a small “clicker” device, which you click audibly when the cat performs the desired task, a cat can learn quite a few commands. The first step is to help the cat associate the clicker with something positive.
Get your cat’s attention, click the device, and then reward them with a small piece of food or a treat. (Make sure to account for those treats and food in your cat’s normal nutritional allowance for the day.)
When your cat associates the sound of the clicker with something positive, they’re ready to start clicker training to learn commands.
Any time your cat shows the desired behavior, click the clicker while the behavior is occurring. Only click once for each time the cat is successful.
Too much clicking is confusing. In the beginning, you will have to use the clicker and the food rewards. Eventually, you can use verbal praise or a game your cat enjoys as different types of rewards.
Cat Training Exercises
Teaching Your Cat to Sit
If you’ve never tried training your cat before, teaching them to sit is a simple starting point. Get your cat’s attention by showing them you have some of their favorite food. Hold it a few inches above their head, which will prompt them to sit so they can get a better look at what you have in your hand.
Remove the food if your cat wants to get up on two paws. Try again once they’re back on all fours and they should eventually sit. This is the moment to shower them with praise and food rewards.
Give them the treat while praising them and clicking the clicker. Repeat several times until your cat will sit in response to you holding your hand above their head, whether you have a treat or not.
Teaching Your Cat to Come When Called
Use your cat’s name followed by the command “come.” When your cat comes to you, praise them lavishly and give them a treat and/or use your clicker. Eventually, your cat will associate the action with the command and readily come when called.
Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
Training a cat to walk on a leash is not only possible, but it can open a window to a whole new world for your cat. Leash walking can strengthen the bond between you and your cat and allow them to explore the outdoors safely.
- The first step when training a cat to walk on a leash is to get them used to the harness they’ll need to wear. First, put the harness somewhere your cat can see and examine it. Leave it there for a few days, so it becomes familiar to them.
- Next, put the harness on your cat just before feeding time so they associate the harness with something positive. You can also use a treat, rather than regular mealtimes, for this step.
- When your cat is comfortable with the harness, attach the leash, but don’t use it for anything yet. Just allow the cat to see and experience the feeling of the leash while you walk behind them, holding it loosely for short periods.
- When your cat is comfortable with the leash, set them down and walk to the end of the leash. If they follow you, praise and reward them using the clicker if desired. If your cat doesn’t follow, pull gently on the leash (but don’t jerk it), and wait until they take a few steps toward you. When they do, praise and reward them. Be patient—it may take a while for your cat to come toward you.
- Keep repeating this process. Reward your cat with a piece of food (and click, if you’re using a clicker) when they move forward with you.
- When they’re comfortable with the process and walk with you at a normal pace, try taking them outside. When you do go outdoors, they’ll be distracted by their new environment and could find it overwhelming. Start in a quiet, secluded area. Allow them to look around and explore before trying to go for a walk.
Be patient. It may take a lot of repetition of these slow steps before your cat understands what you want them to do. Your cat may never walk like a dog does, heeling and keeping pace, but rather may always want to explore, sniff and wander a little as you go along. Take things slowly, and your cat may discover that walking on a leash is their new favorite activity.
Teaching Your Cat to Jump Through Hoops
Cats are more agile than dogs, so it can be even easier to teach them to jump through hoops than it is for dogs. Get a cat treat and lure them by having them follow your hand.
Place the hoop between them and the treat so they understand they must jump through it to get the food. Once they jump through the hoop, give them the treat, plenty of praise and click the clicker. Repeat until your cat understands what you want them to do and jumps through the hoop every time.
There’s a lot more to learn about cats. Our Pet Expertise Page is a great resource featuring advice, tips and insights from our very own pet experts.