Cat Training 101: Basic Tips & Tricks

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This blog was co authored by Deva Content & Jennifer Sorensen

Jennifer’s friend just decided to adopt a puppy. When she went to meet the new dog, her friend lamented, “I just can’t decide which doggy kindergarten to send him to. Do you know of any of these?” and then splayed out three different brochures, all given to her by the adoption counselor.

That made us wonder, why didn’t we receive any information on “kitty-garten” when adopting our cats? The short answer, of course, is that there are very few people who make their living by training adult cats and kittens, and those who do are generally sought-after feline behaviorists, not the doggy daycare owner you meet at your local dog park.

The fact is, responsible pet owners are expected to train their dog, but the cat owner is given a hall pass on this duty, even though cats are intelligent companions capable of learning almost anything as long as you have the time and treats to teach them. So in the flavor of Back to School season, we have put together a few guidelines on how to best teach your cat a thing or two. And we’re not just telling you what works, we took some of our own favorite felines and put them to the test!

 CAT TRAINING 101: Basic Tips and Tricks

Any age of cat can learn basic tricks, but if possible, it’s best to start training cats when they’re young. Kittens are very clever, have lots of energy, and haven’t yet committed to lounging on the couch all day like some cats we know. Ready to teach your cat some basic tricks? Here’s how to start your feline schooling today:

1.       Pick Your Trick

Believe it or not, cats can be trained to do many of the same tricks as their canine counterparts: sit, jump, shake hands, come when called, play dead, fetch – you name it. What to teach will depend on your time and the natural tendencies of your kitten. Encouraging existing behaviors is the fastest and easiest way to get results, so try picking something your cat already does: if she sometimes sits on her hind legs to examine a toy, try saying “sit” or “up” and rewarding her each time; if he likes to paw your arm, make it a high five and say “gimme five.” It may take time, but with enough repetition the cat will associate your words and gestures with the trick you chose. Garbanzo liked to jump and pounce, so we decided his trick would be to jump through a hoop.

2.       Sweeten the Deal

Remember the gold stars you earned in grade school? Your kitty needs recognition too! Cats work harder with a little motivation, so before you start building training courses in your living room, make sure you know what rewards will inspire your pet to perform. For some, treats are the ultimate prize – for others, a good snuggle or verbal praise will do the trick. If you’re using treats, make sure to feed only a small amount at a time, and use low-calorie snacks like Lean Treats, if possible. It’s no use teaching a cat to hoop-jump when he can’t even fit through the hoop. If your kitty is hooked on treats, try petting him while he snacks to slowly wean him off the treat itself. As any adoptable cat can attest, a loving family is the best treat of all.

3.       Start Small, Work Your Way Up

Don’t expect your kitten to instantly know what you want her to do. Unless your cat can read minds, you’ll need to communicate the desired trick a little at a time by rewarding each step toward the final goal. For the hoop trick, we started by placing the hoop on the ground and rewarding Garbanzo for going anywhere near it. Next, we would hold a treat on the far side of the hoop until he peeked his head through. Once he realized there might be a treat on the other side of the hoop, he began to independently walk through it (sniffing for treats), and we began to slowly raise the hoop higher and higher. As his confidence – and the hoop – went up, he started to run and hop to get his treats. Soon he’ll be jumping right through.

4.       Personalize Your Lessons

Every cat or kitten is different, so be sure you’re in tune with your feline student. You may find that she would prefer a visual cue to a verbal one, or vice versa. There may even be things you’ll need to change in your training method – for example, when we first started training Garbanzo, we would hold his hoop in our hands…and our hands smelled like treats. Instead of walking through the hoop, he started following our hands and biting them. We definitely didn’t want him learning that trick! By adding a stand to the hoop and giving him a bit more space, we avoided teaching him a bad habit and helped him focus on the behavior we wanted to reward.

5.       Be Patient!

Training cats is not a quick process – it can be like…well, herding cats. Patience is a mandatory prerequisite for Cat Tricks 101. Cats and kittens are very independent spirits, and may decide after one try that they’re done practicing for the day. Once the cat has lost interest, that’s pretty much it. You can’t force a kitten to focus when he wants to eat/drink/nap/wrestle/climb/poop. Since most training sessions will be relatively short, it is essential to give your kitty plenty of time to practice and make mistakes. Be mindful that your cat may ace a trick one day and flunk out the next. Over time, all the hard work and patience will pay off.

Next course in this series: CAT TRAINING 102: The Cat Harness Is Your Friend”

tabby cat walking on a leash

The first course is complete. Now for the test: is your cat smart enough to post high C.A.T. (Cat Aptitude Test) scores? With these basic tips and tricks, you can take your honor roll kitty back to school.

Don’t forget to let us know how it goes & share your cat trick stories below in the comments section!

15 Responses

  1. Cybelle says:

    That video is really cute. I love Garbanzo!

  2. odettemayers says:

    I have 2 cats and honestly, I am having a hard time to train them because they are quite big now and I guess it will be difficult for them to adopt this tricks but still I would love to try this to them and see if it will work.

  3. Hairless Cat says:

    Hi Deva,

    I liked some of the tips in your article.

    I agree that encouraging existing behaviors is the best starting point. Using positive reinforcements such as food and praise are good ways to encourage repeat behavior. It’s also a good way to establish communication.

    Combining verbal and visual cues make communication more effective.

    I think that training should be reserved for practical purposes.

    I think that basic commands such as come, stay, or get down are valuable in that sense.

    Training also comes in handy if you take your cat out on walks. The purpose is to get the cat used to listening to commands in order to protect the cat.

    My stance is that the idea is to protect the cat and to better communicate.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

  4. Lisa researching cat training says:

    Garbanzo is adorable! I want him!

  5. mia age 10 says:


  6. paije says:

    Previously when training My kitten show to so a high 5, I was saying “high 5″ and she didn’t respond ass well ass if hoped. But after reading this infornation, I asked her to “gimme 5″. She responded instantly to the new words and put her paw up to My hand..

  7. Cat Training says:

    Great post! Been reading a lot about training my new cat. Thanks for the info here!

  8. ali says:

    I started to train my kitten pritty early. The first few days we spent getting to know eachother with hugs,kisses and play. The first thing I started with was saying words with actions sutch as when I took him to the litter tray I said poop and gave him a treat when he climbed out , when I put his food down I said foodage, and so on now he goes to the litter tray when I say go poop and now we do several tricks like parrot cat where he sits on my shoulder, we play fetch human where he will hide his toy come get me and I will find is and he will give me a kiss when represented with the toy, we are currently working on fetch kitty. We also have bedtime hugs and on a morning he will sit on my chest with a paw on my nose while we take turns blinking slowly

    • csillver says:

      lol my cat has been “fetching human” for about a year. He comes and leers at me when he wants to play; if that doesn’t get it, he rubs my leg and goes to his favorite pouncing spot. He also comes and “spikes” (tags my leg, no claws) me when he wants to go outside. He prefers a door man to the kitty door…

  9. stacie says:

    my 2 y.o. Bear has been playing fetch since he was a baby. he did it all on his own and we loved it so we encouraged it. w/o any treats. but he is smart. I think I will teach him some more

  10. Herman says:

    At a young age my cat started doing back flips randomly. I don’t know why, her name is Cowboy and she likes to do gymnastic activitiees. Sometimes she runs and jumps over large objects or forward rolls and stuff like that. She can do any trick a dog can

  11. Breanna says:

    I have a siamese,his name is Puddin’. Puddin’ is THE smartest cat I’ve ever owned! He does many things but one thing I taught was “wait”. I discovered that his favorite treat is ice cream, so I used this to my advantage. Everytime I ate ice cream, I would make Puddin’ wait longer and longer for his favorite frozen treat. We are currently up to several moments. He just lays there and waits.

  12. i just started training my cat with treats. surprisingly effective! maybe he can start doing some tricks haha

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