As intelligent, sensitive and superbly responsive animals, it’s no wonder you might want to know more about how to train your cat. Despite what the old stereotypes might have us believe, it is possible to train a cat and for them to enjoy it too!
But beyond that, training your cat can be useful in lots of practical ways, as well as improving the wellbeing of your feline friend tenfold. Training provides all-important mental and physical stimulation, as well as positive social contact.
These experiences can be invaluable for cats that are fearful or shy, or those exhibiting behavioral issues, as well as increasing the bond between you and your fluffy kitty.
So how do you properly train a cat? When should I start training my kitten? And what easy, funny & cool tricks can you work on with your feline friend? We cover all of these questions and more in this cat training guide, including:
- Why training a cat is so beneficial
- The most effective way to train a cat
- Useful practical skills you can teach a cat
- A comprehensive list of cat tricks to try
- The tools you’ll need to succeed
Let’s dive into these cat training tips and tricks, with a little appreciation for why training is such a worthwhile endeavor with your cat.
How & Why Train Your Cat?
Basic cat training, as we mentioned above, can have a hugely beneficial impact on your cat’s health and wellbeing. You’ll be improving all aspects of their life by incorporating training into your daily routine, specifically:
- Increased bonding – Having a little daily training time gives you the opportunity to interact with your cat in a positive, productive way to strengthen your bond.
- Reduced boredom or stress – Sessions will stimulate your cat and work their mind and body. This could help reduce any destructive, anxious or repetitive behaviors and leave them feeling happily worn out.
- Reduced stress for routine activities – The anxiety over visiting the vets, traveling in the car or seasonal grooming sessions could be hugely reduced by teaching your fur friend to enjoy these outings, handlings and experiences.
- Improved Safety – Having some basic control over your cat and being able to have them return to you when needed could be invaluable in an emergency situation.
- Better Health – Having a cat who is happy to be examined and handled could result in more thorough health checks and a better chance of catching early signs of any health issues.
When most people think about training they think about teaching specific tricks or asking our cats to ‘perform’. Of course ‘sit’ ‘stay’, ‘roll over’ or ‘paw’ are super cute and fun, but you can also teach your cat important life skills through training that make both your lives easier, more exciting and less stressful.
Especially if you plan on raising an adventure cat, early training can help them to feel confident, secure & adventurous in their surroundings, able to adapt to changing environments and new horizons.
And even if you have never actively tried your cat, our cats are always learning! Any time they are around us they may be picking up cues to do more or less of something based on our behavior, so being aware of correct training principles can be invaluable to any owner.
How to Properly Train a Cat?
Any training regime has a foundation on which it is built, so that all your communication with your fur friend is consistent, productive & effective. But most of all, all training should be rooted in kindness.
Here’s how to form the foundations of your training routine:
At a basic level, all animals learn through association. For example, if a cat does something that leads to a positive outcome, they’re likely to repeat the behavior. Therefore, you can train a cat effectively by partnering behaviors with positive outcomes, before adding in signifiers that ask for that behavior.
Can you train a cat with a clicker? Absolutely! In fact, to build accurate and strong associations many behaviorists suggest starting with a clicker. These can help you to pinpoint the exact moment your cat does the behavior, leading to more accurate communication. You can begin to phase out the clicker with a marker word like ‘good’ or ‘yes’ over time too.
Keep It Positive
The best way to train your cat is by using what is known as ‘positive reinforcement’, matching desired behaviors with rewards. You want your cat to be motivated to learn and feel happy and comfortable doing so, and introducing punishments or negative methods of training are likely to both stress your fur friend and make them resistant to future sessions.
While dogs are likened to toddlers with their enthusiastic approach to training, cats are more like teenagers! So whilst dogs might cooperate for a few kind words, or a toy, most cats are much more food motivated. You could try using play as a reward, but most likely you’ll need to find a tasty treat they can’t resist to fire up their excitement to work with you.
Ensure delivery happens quickly so those associations become strong, but don’t necessarily feed straight from your hand. If your cat is very food motivated you might find they bite or scratch in an attempt to get to the goods. So either place the treats on the floor, on a spoon, or throw them towards your cat as a reward.
Take It Slow
Focus on one trick at a time to keep things simple for your kitty, especially to start with. But don’t be afraid to jump into a quick training session if you see behaviors you would like to reward, or behaviors you would like to redirect (see below for more on this!).
Keep training sessions short, starting with a few minutes and building up to longer sessions. But bear in mind that the most effective training sessions are usually short and sweet, occurring when your cat seems naturally interested in interacting. Progress takes time, and the right frame of mind, so work at your cat’s pace to succeed.
When Should I Start Training My Kitten?
As soon as your kitten enters your life, you can start gently guiding their behavior. Your first priority is gentle handling, which should start ideally from 2 weeks of age, and further socialization to help them acclimatize to the world.
Then you can start with super quick trick training sessions daily and see how they respond. Young kittens are like sponges – ready to soak up knowledge and learning, so you could see amazing results by starting from a young age.
Cat Training Behavior & Practicalities
There are a number of behavioral training concepts that could help to improve your kitty’s behavior around the home, as well as enrich their life with you while reducing their stress levels.
The key concept with these training sessions will center on ‘reinforcing’, ‘shaping’ and ‘redirecting’.
Refers to rewarding actions that you see as desirable in your cat. The idea here is to encourage these behaviors, so that your cat is likely to repeat them and embed them into their daily life and character.
- For example, you could reinforce a cat for being calm and relaxed around the home by rewarding them for settling and relaxing naturally, or for accepting handling and petting.
Refers to breaking down a desired behavior into smaller steps, so that you can slowly teach your cat what it is you want from them.
- For example, you could teach your cat to enjoy being in a carrier by rewarding them for initially investigating the carrier, then stepping in, then being contained. Gradually, you increase the criteria and build really positive associations with activities and experiences you want your cat to accept (or even enjoy!)
We have a number of tutorials for training your kitty to enjoy an adventure lifestyle using shaping, such as:
Refers to discouraging undesirable behavior by giving your cat an alternative, more desirable option. The best way to approach redirection is to try and identify the cause, so you can offer an appealing alternative.
- For example, if your cat tries to play with or stalk your hands, provide them with engaging and exciting toys whenever they attempt this behavior, to engage their natural instincts in a desirable way.
Putting Them Together
For example, if your kitty is a serial counter surfer, do not give them extra attention (eye contact or vocal attention is a potential reinforcer) when they do this.
Simply calmly place them on another elevated surface that is allowed as a redirection.
You could then devote some training sessions to shaping their use of this elevated surface. Finally, you can then reinforce any time they naturally choose to use this elevated surface, rather than the counter.
You can apply these methods to all aspects of your cat’s life with you – from grooming and clipping nails, to adventures outside and traveling to new places together. But the fun doesn’t stop there!
Can You Teach Your Cat Tricks?
While the practical training will be incredibly useful for day to day life with your feline pal, teaching tricks can be incredibly stimulating for your kitty and build a fantastic bond between you both.
Be sure to apply the cat training tips and tricks mentioned above for the best results. That means using shaping and positive reinforcement to guide your kitty towards the behaviors you want them to learn, breaking them down into smaller steps if needed.
Here’s a comprehensive list of cat tricks to try with your furry pal, with tutorials attached.
Easy Cat Tricks
Cool Cat Tricks
Funny Cat Tricks
Cat Training Accessories
Here are some of the tools you might need to help boost your training sessions, as well as to help redirect your kitty to behaviors you want them to engage in.
- Clicker – A clicker can help with accuracy, and these ones have a handy wrist strap. Having two means you can keep one in your purse or bag for outings, and one ready around the house.
- Treats – If your cat loves their feed enough, you can use this as a training tool. However, if they need something more exciting, read our guide to The Best All Round Cat Treats for some specific brands that will benefit your cat and boost your training.
- Toys – To redirect that playful energy away from your hands, you’ll need some exciting toys. Read our guide to The Best Toys For Indoor Cats to get some inspiration.
- Target stick – If you want to take your training to the next level, a target stick is an incredible training tool, as you’ll see in some of the tutorials listed above.
The Wrap Up: How to Train Your Cat
We hope you enjoyed this cat training guide and our top cat training tips.
We’ve seen first hand just how much this kind of training can benefit our feline friends, and the way it has allowed us to take Yoda along on our travels in a safe, enjoyable and stress-free way.
By associating these experiences with positive outcomes, Yoda has become as much of a travel bug as us!
What are you excited to work on with your fur friend? And what areas of life are you hoping training can enhance for your fluffy kitty?