Thursday, May 21, 2009
By Julia Williams
In yesterday’s post I explained that, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to train your cat to do tricks. Yes, you really can teach your cat to sit, shake, give you a "high five," and fetch on command. You can even train your cat to use a regular bathroom toilet, although I'm not sure this qualifies as a "trick."
I’m not saying it won’t take a lot of patience and determination to train your cat – it definitely will, and anyone who’s familiar with the independent nature of cats knows why. Then again, if it was too easy the thrill of victory wouldn’t be half as sweet! But let’s move on to the “how.”
One of the keys to success in training a cat to perform tricks is understanding what motivates them. Cats typically don’t possess a strong desire to please, unless there is something in it for them. For most felines, a food reward is highly motivating, so stock up on cat treats if you want to try teaching your cat to do tricks.
For the greatest chance of success, use the cat treats they find most enticing. My normally docile housecats turn into ferocious jungle beasts when given a piece of cooked chicken or turkey, but any cat treat your kitty loves will work. If you let them “free feed” dry food, consider switching to two feedings a day and remove the 24-hour kibble buffet. Then, you can try training your cat to do tricks before their scheduled meal time, which makes the food reward even more motivational.
Another important aspect of the trick training is that you have to coax the cat to do what you want it to do, such as “sit” or “shake.” When they do, say the command loudly and clearly, and immediately give them their food reward. You can also praise them lavishly and pet them, although this is not nearly as effective as the cat treat.
If you don’t succeed in training your cat to do tricks after a few days (and it’s almost a given that you won’t), don’t get discouraged. Remember the old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The same applies to teaching a cat to do tricks. Simply keep trying. Trust me, it can be done.
How to teach your cat to sit
Step One: call your cat over to you, luring them with the treats if needed.
Step Two: when your cat approaches and stands before you, say “Sit.”
Step Three: put light pressure on their rump to naturally induce the sit position.
Step Four: when the cat sits, give them the treat immediately.
Step Five: repeat steps one through four as often as necessary to get your cat to sit on command.
After you’ve mastered the “sit” command, you can move on to the next trick.
How to teach your cat to shake
Step One: get your cat to sit, and reward them with a treat
Step Two: put your hand behind their right front leg and touch their paw.
Step Three: say “Shake.” A cat will often lift its foot when you touch it. If they do, take their paw in your hand and give it a gentle shake.
Step Four: Immediately give them a treat and a pet.
Step Five: repeat as needed.
The process of training your cat to use a toilet is a bit more complicated. Difficult but not impossible, as evidenced by the photo of Panther above, photographed by Robert Ward. According to Robert, Panther has been using the toilet to do his business since he was six months old. If you’d like to train your cat to use the toilet, you might want to get a copy of Trisha Yeager Menke’s humorous book, Potty Talk by Toast, which is available on Amazon.com.
I hope you find these tips for training your cat useful. Let me know if you succeed!
Read more articles by Julia Williams