How To (Maybe) Train A Cat

Cats learn naturally and, like humans, they learn differently. But can you train a cat like you would train a dog? Well, yes and no. Like with dogs, the sooner you start the training, the better but, unlike dogs who often can't help themselves, the degree of success when trying to train a feline can vary significantly from breed - and cat - to breed.

Nonetheless, here are a few answers to the more common questions for budding lion tamers out there.

Can You Really Train Cats To Do Tricks?

Lions and tigers are just big cats - and they can certainly be trained.  There are even cat agility courses (hamster ones as well - they are really cute!).  And all the cats on TV adverts have been trained - those are not random activities.  If you look at YouTube videos, you will see cats can teach themselves much the same tricks as they use on TV, but it is a skillful person who can get the cat to do, essentially, what the CAT wants to do, but when the TRAINER wants it to do it.  Check out  Didja.  Because our pet cats are very good at manipulating us, and in general owners do not have the observational skills or timing to be clear to the cat what they want it to do, owners find it hard to train their cat.

Are Certain Breeds Easier To Train Than Others?

All cats can be trained.  However, kittens are very easy to train (they are looking to learn things).  Some of the oriental types like burmese and siamese, and the very human-oriented ones like rexes, are easier to train. Really, it is about finding what motivates the individual cat.

Do You Use Food Rewards When Training Like You Would For A Dog?

Several studies have shown only 1/3 of cats are motivated by food … kittens are motivated as above.  If the cat IS motivated by food you can train some pretty complex things.

Does Trick Training Provide Much-Needed Mental Stimulation For Cats?

Interaction with another living being is the main stimulation for the cat.  Some go nuts for the various mechanical toys, but unless there is an interactive component, the cats either get obsessed (because there is no ‘final kill’ for the hunt) or get bored.  We have bred cats to want to be with us (which is the core of ‘domestiCATion’) so trick training - if you are clear on the outcome and don’t frustrate the cat - is excellent.  Even just teaching them how to ‘hunt’ one of the many toys-on-rods is stimulation and interaction - with YOU!

Would You Be Able To Describe Three Fairly Common/Easy Cat Tricks And How Owners Can Start Training Their Pet To Perform Them?

Most cats will ‘come’ when you shake the dried food box. Cats think their name is ‘xcchhh xchhh xchhh’ … if you say their name before shaking the box, and give them a bit of the food when they run to you, pretty soon you can stop shaking the box and call them by name. Remember to call their name BEFORE shaking the box though! 

Teach the cat how to chase one of the wand toys - move it at 25 cm / sec with halting movements (that is how a mouse runs). Let it catch the toy or ribbon on the end.  Once the cat is chasing reliably, ‘run’ the wand over some little jumps etc.  Technically this is ‘target’ training but most people find it difficult to get the reward or the clicker going at just the right time for the cat to understand what they want.  Cats understand chasing and CATching instinctively.

Purr - sit still, let the cat come to you, rub around face (don’t pat on head)

Finally, Do You Have Any Other Training Tips Or Advice For Cat owners?

Ignore what you don’t want the cat to do, hiss rather than spray if the cat is attacking you (in young cats it is excess hunting energy so redirect to a wand toy). Remember indoor cats need at least 2 x 20 minutes of games (TIME it - it is a long time). Train your cat to have its nails clipped and take a pill - easiest when cat is young.

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