How To Train A Cat

By Sarah Jeanne Terry

We all know that an essential part of owning a dog includes training them to behave the way we want, but did you ever think about how that might apply to cats?

While felines tend to prefer to fend for themselves and do as they please, cats can also be trained. In fact, as a cat owner, it's important to teach them certain behaviors so you can live in harmony. But there are a few things you need to know about training your cat before you begin.

Cats aren't dogs.

naughty kitten
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Cats can definitely learn from training, but their personalities keep them from performing "tricks" on demand. Because we all know cats only do things when they want to. According to a recent study, cats are smart, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to listen. In fact, cats' independence inhibits scientists' abilities to track just how smart they are. However, when researchers could get cats to play along, they appeared to be similarly as smart as dogs. So cats are trainable, but they might not do things on command like dogs do.

However, like dogs, cats respond well to positive reinforcement.

When you want to get a cat to do what you want, reward them for good behavior, rather than scolding them. Pet expert Dr. Eloise Bright explains that most cat behaviors have a reason. For example, cats scratching the furniture are expressing their need to scratch. So it will work better if you reward the cat for scratching the right place, like a cat-specific scratching post, rather than punishing them for scratching the wrong place. Plus, punishment can cause stress and lead to health problems. Always go positive with your kitty!

And even though cats might not be able to show off a host of adorable tricks, there are plenty of practical reasons to train your cat. You don't want your cat destroying furniture or carpets, so it's important to teach them behaviors to keep everyone happy. Also, having a cat that listens to you can save their life if they ever escape or wander into danger. So even if you don't want to get too complicated, there are a few basic behaviors that you'll be glad you taught.

Cat in litter box
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Training cats to use the litter box.

This might be the most important training technique you'll need to master. According to Dr. Bright, using the litter box should come naturally, because cats are very clean animals. She recommends keeping your cat confined within one room of the house with a clean litter box. If your cat poos outside the box, move the mess into the box, so your cat learns where the poo goes. Icky, we know, but hey, animals can be gross.

It should take only a few days confined to its box for your cat to learn to use the litter box like a pro. And you'll be saved from future messes and issues.

Cat waiting for food to be put in the bowl
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Training cats to come when called.

Another useful behavior to teach a cat is to come when they're called, and it's pretty simple. Decide on a word or noise that you'll use to call your cat, then make that sound right before feeding them. Don't rustle the food bag or open the can until you make the noise. Then, your cat will learn to associate that noise with food. After they start to get used to it, try just making the sound at different times and reward your cat with a treat. Eventually, you'll have a cat that will come when called.

Training cats to do other "tricks."

Cats can learn to do other tricks, like shaking hands, with a little help. Clicker training, which is very popular for dogs, also works on cats. When you "click" the exact moment you get the behavior that you want, it helps solidify the good behavior in the cat's memory.

How long will it take to train my cat?

Training times will, of course, vary by cat, but the overwhelming advice is that shorter sessions a few times per day work best because cats have a short attention span. You won't have your feline's attention for long, so it's best to maximize your time. Five minutes or less in one session for about 20 sessions should solidify the behavior, according to the ASPCA. But don't be surprised if your cat takes a bit longer because we all know cats do what they want.

Additionally, training works best right before meal times because that's when your feline friend is most motivated by food.

Don't worry, even your trained cat will still maintain their aloof air.

You probably won't get the reliable response you get with a dog when you want a cat to do tricks, but hey, isn't that one of the things you love about your cat? They make you work for their attention AND their tricks. It can be a little frustrating, but when your cat does what you ask, you'll feel all the more warm fuzzies because you worked hard to make it happen.

Are you interested in learning more about what you're reading? Then scroll through this article about what it means when your pet doesn't remember you. Also, like us on Facebook and join our newsletter to learn more about your pet's behavior.