How to Train Your Cat to do Tricks

It is absolutely possible to train your cat. Through the use of your cat’s favorite treats, a clicker, and the application of behavioral science, you will notice your cat making connections and performing desired tricks. Continue reading to learn about one of the most entertaining and rewarding ways you can bond with your cat.

Why You Should Train Your Cat

Training provides mental stimulation. Your cat has to solve a mystery: What do I have to do in order to achieve the goal of getting a delicious treat? Providing cognitive activities for your cat increases neurological growth and levels of curiosity in your cat’s brain, which is particularly important for indoor-only cats who don’t have access to hunting and exploring in the wild.

Just like training a dog, training your cat strengthens the bond between the two of you. Training is a great activity to do when you want to spend some quality, one-on-one time with your feline friend. 

Some cat rescuers train older kittens and cats to do tricks to make them seem more adoptable. When a potential adopter sees an animal perform adorable tricks or gets a high-five from an adorably tiny paw, they’ll be hooked. If you’re a cat rescuer or foster like I am, training can be a great tool to create more interest in your adoptable cats and kittens. 

What You Need to Get Started with Cat Training

  1. Your cat’s favorite bite-sized snack. Find something that they’re absolutely obsessed with!
  2. A clicker, clicker app, or a clickable pen.
  3. A distraction-free environment. 
  4. Lots of patience and repetition. 

Training and Your Cat’s Brain

Understanding some of your cat’s cognitive processes is super beneficial to a successful training exercise. 

Positive reinforcement

Positively reinforcing a behavior means that you, the trainer, are rewarding your cat for doing a behavior that you liked. Rewards exist in the form of treats, physical affection, and praise. 

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning occurs when you help your cat build a mental association between a specific stimulus (a sight, sound, or behavior) and immediate access to their favorite reward. 

Cat training involves two forms of operant conditioning. First, your cat forms an association between the sound of the clicker and a reward. Next, your cat forms an association between a specific behavior and a reward. We’ll discuss this in detail below in Step 1 of cat training. 

Behavior shaping

You shape your cat’s behavior when you reward them for behavioral approximations. This means that rather than physically helping the cat carry out a certain behavior, you instead reward them for similar behaviors that they do on their own. 

For example, instead of picking up your cat and putting them on your shoulder, you would wait until your cat approaches you. Reward instances of this behavior repeatedly, and then begin to wait a bit longer until your cat puts their paws on your leg (by this point they probably know you have treats hidden on you somewhere). Raise the stakes by rewarding only this new behavior, because it’s one step closer to them jumping on your shoulder. The next behaviors you could reward include jumping up towards you, climbing your body, or jumping into your arms. The end goal is to reward your cat for jumping all the way onto your shoulder. 

Finch doesn’t know how to shake yet. He got a treat right after this behavior (lifting his paw when I touched it) because it’s a step in the right direction!
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Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

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7 Steps to Train Your Cat

  1. Pair the sound of the clicker with the action of getting a small bite of their favorite treat. Do this by pressing the clicker once and then giving your cat a treat immediately after. The goal is for the sound of the clicker to eventually signal to your cat that they did the behavior you wanted. They’ll know they did the correct behavior, because the sound of the clicker will eventually cause them to expect a bite of their favorite treat. 
  2. Repeat the click-then-treat process until you notice that your cat immediately looks around for a treat when they hear the click. 
  3. Pick a behavior, a hand signal, and a verbal command.
  4. Click when your cat does a behavior that’s close to the desired outcome.
  5. Give the reward.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to gradually shape the behavior.
  7. Repeat your training sessions several times a day until your cat consistently does the trick when you show them the hand signal.

Tips and “Tricks”

  • Use your cat’s favorite treat, and make sure that they only ever get this treat as a reward during training. Churus and canned salmon have worked well for my cats!
  • Provide only small bits of the treat at a time so your cat keeps wanting more.
  • Train in short sessions to avoid causing frustration. Start out with just a minute or two at a time.
  • Never punish your cat.
  • Don’t force your cat to do something they don’t want to do.
  • Watch Jackson Galaxy’s video on clicker training!

Finch’s Pro Tips

How to Train a Cat to Sit

  1. Help your cat learn that the sound of a clicker = a bite of a treat. It can take a day or two for your cat to learn this. 
  2. Decide on a hand signal or verbal command. For “sit,” I hold one finger above the cat’s head and point down. 
  3. Set up a distraction-free space to work with your cat for a few minutes.
  4. Whatever hand signal you pick, try slowly moving the signal up above the cat’s head. For a lot of cats, looking at something above them almost always puts them in a sitting posture. 
  5. If it works, immediately click and offer a treat. 
  6. If it doesn’t work, you’ll have to shape the behavior (see above). 
  7. End the session on a positive note, and repeat the sessions several times a day until your cat consistently responds to your hand signal or verbal command. 

Minnie’s Pro Tips

How to Train a Cat to Shake

  1. Help your cat learn that the sound of a clicker = a bite of a treat. Remember to give this process at least a day or two. 
  2. Decide on a hand signal or a verbal command. For “shake,” I hold my hand in front of the cat’s leg with my palm facing up. 
  3. Set up a distraction-free space to work with your cat for a few minutes. 
  4. Regardless of the hand signal you pick, it’s likely that you’ll need to gradually get your cat comfortable with you handling their paw in an odd way. 
  5. Stick with one paw for the duration of training.
  6. Start shaping the behavior. Here’s what Minnie’s progression of “shake” behaviors looked like:
    1. Allowing me to tap her paw.
    2. Quickly lifting her paw off the ground when I touched it.
    3. Lifting her paw off the ground for longer periods of time when I touched it.
    4. Quickly resting her paw on my hand or arm. 
    5. Resting her paw on my hand or arm for longer periods of time. 
    6. Noticing my open palm and putting her paw on it. 
  7. Always end on a positive note, and repeat the sessions several times a day until your cat consistently responds to your hand signal or verbal command. 

Good luck to you and your sweet feline family member! Don’t forget to enjoy the process and have plenty of patience. If you want to learn more about feline training, check out How to Harness Train Your Cat in 4 Steps.


References: Jackson Galaxy

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2 responses to “How to Train Your Cat to do Tricks”

  1. […] a great goal-oriented activity to give your cat another sense of accomplishment in their day. Click here to get started training your […]

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  2. […] the process of clicker training is a great way to set them up for success. Once you understand how to train your cat using a clicker, get the harness out and put it in your cat’s view. Without your clicker and treats in hand, […]

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