As you probably know, cats are highly intelligent. But you may not know that many of them are amenable to learning tricks.
Cats are smart and active, and training provides them with mental stimulation as well as a physical workout. It also helps you and your cat communicate more skillfully, adding a new dimension to your relationship. Besides, it’s just plain fun.
While kittens tend to pick up tricks more quickly because their brains are more elastic, cats of any age can learn new behaviors. All you need is a clicker, some aromatic treats, good timing and a little patience. Keep training sessions short, no more than two or three minutes at a time, since cats have short attention spans.
Here are three easy tricks to teach your feline Einstein:
This is a great trick to teach cats who have a habit of jumping on guests’ laps uninvited or chasing people and attacking their legs. It’s also the foundation for teaching stay, sit up and wave.
Start by holding a treat just above your cat’s head. As his nose goes up to sniff it, his rear automatically goes down into a sit position. The instant he sits, click your clicker and give the cat a treat. Click and treat any time you see your cat sitting, whether you’ve asked him to or not. As you do so, give a name to the action (“Sit”) and praise him for it (“Good sit!”).
Once he learns to sit on cue (not command), you can have your cat sit as an alternative to things he might do that annoy you. For instance, if your cat likes to sprawl across your desk while you’re working, make it rewarding instead for him to sit at your feet or on a chair next to you.
Believe it or not, this may be the easiest trick to teach. Every time you set down your cat’s food bowl, make an easily repeatable sound: ring a bell, jingle your keys or whistle a tune. (Don’t use the clicker for this trick.) Your cat will quickly associate that sound with mealtime and respond instantly to it.
Use that sound when you want to your cat to come. Always reward your cat when he comes to you, and never call him and then do something he doesn’t like, such as giving him a pill or taking him to the veterinarian.
Touching a target
Use a target such as a pencil with a large eraser on the end or a narrow bird perch. Put a small amount of wet food on the end of the target and show it to your cat, holding it just far enough away that he has to reach forward to get the food. As soon as he touches the target with his nose, click and give him a treat. Gradually extend the distance the cat must come before touching the target.
Once your cat will touch a target, you can use it to teach him to spin in a circle, jump through a hoop or go to a specific place.