Many people think that cats can’t be taught tricks the way that dogs can be and while it is true that there are some differences in the way they learn tricks, cats can, in fact, learn to do certain tricks. In fact, some cats have been taught to even take part in an agility tournament when trained by a professional pet trainer from a young age. But understanding how a cat learns tricks is the best way to see what tricks you can teach your cat.
To start teaching cat tricks, you have to understand a few fundamentals about their psychology. Firstly, they don’t respond to praise in the same way that dogs do so they won’t be motivated to learn a trick just because you heap praise on them. Secondly, they haven’t evolved being brainwashed to work with humans the way that dogs have so this partnership is learned, not automatic.
Cats should only be taught with positive, reward-based training, never with negative punishment and dominance behaviors. This will learn them to want to do the trick for the reward they receive not because they are scared of what will happen if they don’t – this negativity can lead to a host of behavioral problems.
The best reward is a treat and this needs to be a treat that they love – so you need to learn what they will come running for before you begin training. It need not be a special cat food treat either but could be a little amount of human food such as turkey, chicken or a bit of fish.
Sitting on command is one of the easiest tricks to start with once you have found that favorite treats to work with. Hold the treat in your right fingers just near their nose and when they sniff it, move it slowly in an upwards arc from their nose to just above their heads. Most cats will follow this movement with their eyes and nose and as their chin goes up, the butt will go down. When their butt is on the floor, praise them and give them the treat. It may take a few repetitions to learn this behavior but they will catch on that when they are sitting, they get the treat.
Walking on a leash is another useful trick if you want to be able to take your house cat outside without fear of them running off. A leash suitable for a cat is more of a harness that goes around their whole body and has a lead connecting at the back of the neck. When you buy one, leave it near their food or sleeping place for a few days and when they sniff it, offer them a treat. Slowly hold the leash on their neck, again offering a treat for not running away. Once they are comfortable with this, drape the harness over their shoulders and put it between their front legs, introducing a treat at each stage. Finally, put the harness on fully but don’t add the leash at this stage. Let them walk around the house with the harness on a few times.
Once they are comfortable with it, add the leash and let them walk around the house with you holding it but them dictating the direction. You take them outside once they can wear the harness and are used to you occasionally pulling it but allow them to go outside at their own speed and remember, some cats may never take to going outside at all.