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How to Train a Cat to Do Tricks

Anne-Marie has successfully clicker-trained cats and likes to help others learn to do the same.

Learn how to teach a cat to do tricks.

Learn how to teach a cat to do tricks.

Can I Train My Cat to Do Tricks?

When you say "sit" to your dog, he sits. When you say "down" to your dog, he lays down. Could you do the same with your cat? Absolutely! So, how does it work? The same way you train a dog.

The brain of a cat works the same way as a dog. When you want to train an animal (any animal that has a brain), you want to find something that motivates the animal. Luckily, cats, like dogs, are motivated by food. There are other motivators that could work like toys, caresses, but food is the most convenient and usually the most effective.

Cat Sitting

Cat Sitting

How to Teach "Sit"

Prepare lots of tasty treats, or you can also train your cat with his meals instead, so feeding time will become the stimulating moment of the day!

No Distractions

Get in a place where there are no distractions so it makes it easier for your cat to concentrate. Show your cat you have tasty treats and . . . wait. Wait for your cat to sit! Cats usually sit a lot, so it shouldn't take too much time before your cat naturally sits down. As soon as your cat sits, praise and reward! He won't understand the first time, so you have to repeat until it becomes more natural. Try to avoid moving or talking during this time, or it could confuse your cat. Just wait for him to do what you want.

Introduce the "Command"

You want to reward your cat a little further away so he gets up, and then he can sit again. Each time he sits, praise and reward! You only need to do it a few minutes per day until he knows it well.

When you see that your cat sits frequently, that you feel he knows that he has to sit to get his treat, you will want to introduce the "command." It can be verbal or visual. It is usually clearer when it is a visual cue, but you can also add a voice command by simply saying "sit." A visual cue would be a hand movement, maybe pointing the ground or showing a fist. Choose the cue you want to add and then stick to it.

Note: Don't try to make him sit by touching him. When you touch the animal you are training, he loses 80% of his concentration and doesn't learn much. Plus, you want him to do the work so he can really learn by himself what it does when he sits. He will know that it is his action that will reward him.

Timing Is Everything

The timing here is important. You want to say or show the cue right before he sits or while he is sitting. Not after. Repeat the command each time so he can associate the word or the visual cue with his action. After a while, when you feel the association is made, try using the cue and wait for him to sit. If he doesn't sit right away, wait. Let him think! Wait a few seconds before saying it again. You don't want to bombard him with cues; it will only get him confused.

How to Teach "Lay Down"

You will teach "lay down" similarly to how you taught "sit." It helps to teach "sit" before so you can make your cat sit, and then try to make him go into a laying position.

Guide the Movement

Laying down is a bit more tricky. If you only wait for him to lay down as you did with "sit," it could take forever. He will need a little guidance. What you can do is make your cat sit and then try to lure your cat lower and lower, putting the treat on the ground (always holding it with your fingers, though). Only let him get the treat when you are satisfied with his level of "down."

Keep Him Motivated

You don't want him to lose motivation, so you might want to go by steps. At first, treat him as he goes lower, but not totally on the ground as it is easier. Then treat him lower, and lower, and lower. Do it by steps, and if he fails, it might be too hard for him, so go back to an easier step and reward him a bit higher. When you reach the ground, try to lure him a little more in your direction so he lays down. That is if you want your cat to lay on his belly. My cat does lay down on her side, though. So when I ask her to lay down, she does so on her side.

When you are satisfied and feel he has learned it, add the cue the same way you did with "sit."

You could also wait for your cat to lay down on his own and reward then. It worked for me, but my cat likes to lay down a lot when she's bored, so it makes it easier! It depends on your cat.

How to Teach "High Five"

Cats like to use their paw to reach for food or move objects, so we can use this to teach a "high five."

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Reward a Paw-Touch

You can try to lure a little bit with a treat in your hand and approach your cat's paw on a low level at first. If your cat reaches your hand with his paw, praise him and give him the treat! Repeat and treat each time your cat touches your hand with his paw, no matter where on the hand at first.

Raise Your Hand

When he's good at it, try without a treat and your hand wide open. When he touches your hand without the lure, praise, and reward.

When you know your cat will touch your hand almost every time, you can now begin to put your hand a little higher. Present the palm of your hand so your cat touches the inside so it looks more like a high five.

Go on like this until you get your hand high enough for a great high five! Once your cat is pretty good at it, you can insert your verbal cue if you want. It is optional since presenting your hand to your cat became the visual cue already.

Here is a video of my cat doing high fives! :)

High Five With My Cat!

The Clicker: A Great Training Tool

You probably noticed in the video that I was using a little clicking device. This is a clicker. It is a training tool that is used to indicate to the animal that he did the right thing and he will receive a reward. It is like the whistle used to train dolphins.

This tool is really inexpensive and will fasten your training! What is great about a clicker is:

  • That it always has the same sound, unlike our voice that will change depending on our mood or can be unclear.
  • It is precise! It is great when you need perfect timing—when you need to reward the precise moment when the animal does his action.
  • You can click from a distance; the sound is loud enough.
  • The association made with the clicking sound makes it a really strong motivator. The sound is distinct, and the animal knows exactly what it means if introduced properly.

You can search the internet for videos or articles on how to use a clicker, or you can also buy books that will teach you.

Other Tricks

Now that you know how to train the basics, you can play around and try different tricks like "spin": lure your cat walking in a round and then reward, or standing on back feet, etc.

Once your cat knows the tricks very well, you can start reducing the number of rewards he receives. Start by rewarding only half of the time. Then, reduce to one reward for three "sits." Then one of four, and then you can reward him randomly. Even when your cat is an expert at sitting, you'll still need to randomly reward him from time to time so the behavior doesn't extinguish.

The cat needs to expect a treat so he performs the behavior just in case he would get a reward. Also, when the behavior is associated with great foods, the behavior itself becomes really fun and is plenty rewarding.

I believe you are now ready to teach your cat tricks! Enjoy your training sessions!


Lisa on April 12, 2020:

my cat is an outside cat so i can not let my cat sniff my food.

bobtyndall on September 10, 2014:

That cat in the picture at the top is saying "what, train me, your a freaking idiot" :)

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