How to Train Your Cat

The complicated answer is: it depends. As any experienced cat owner will tell you, a cat will do what he wants when he wants. That said, there are ways to motivate cats to get them to, somewhat consistently, do what you ask.

We have two very different cats. Sebastian is a very large, one-year old flame point Siamese who is very loving but very lazy. However, we recently discovered his affinity for Feline Greenies and have been using it to teach him new things. Valentino, on the other hand, is a very active one-year old Russian Blue who rarely settles down long enough to pay any attention. He is toy driven, with toys he will really focus as he waits for you to throw it.

So that’s the first part: find out what motivates your cats, it may be a specific treat, toy or affection. Once you have that, let them have it! Build that behavior momentum by giving them treats/toys/affection for things they already do (“Aww, how sweet of you to rub noses, here’s a treat!”) You want them to pair doing things you want with the treats/toys/affection.

Secondlyfind a trick that comes naturally to them. For lazy Sebastian, that’s sitting. For active Valentino, that’s spinning in a circle. I would really struggle if I tried to reverse both the commands and the teaching style. It’s important, with cats, to play into their natural abilities. You can’t have your own agenda here for all of the marvelous tricks you’ll teach them. You have to be intuitive enough to listen to their natural abilities.

Third, reinforce consistently. Remember to keep your lessons short (3-5 minutes, and always end on a high-note). However, I always keep my reinforcers nearby in case I find an opportunity to teach throughout the day.

Fourth , and lastly, generalize. If you see your cat can sit every time while practicing on the couch, move to the rug, then the dining room, then the kitchen, and so on. Increasing the settings (and people too) will also increase the likelihood that your pet will perform the task more consistently.

The key thing to remember is to play to your cat’s strengths. He will be more likely to perform if…he feels like it. Cats, I tell you.

See the video below for one of the tricks we use most with our cats:

 

 

 

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