Train my kitty, you say? That’s a laugh! Of course you don’t believe that your kitty could be trained. But if you think about it, your kitty is already trained. When you get home from work, who is sitting at the door waiting for you? Your kitty is trained to know that at a certain time of day, or perhaps a certain sound like the car pulling up or the elevator door opening, her favorite human is about to walk in the door. Every time you open the fridge, or lift up the tab on a tin of food, who comes running with an excited “meow?” It’s your kitty, already trained to associate those sounds with a delicious treat!
By using the same principals, you can even train your kitty to do things you want him to do. Cats are not as easy to train as dogs are, because dogs are pack animals and by instinct want to please their master, while cats are instinctually lone hunters and don’t have the instinct to please anyone other than themselves. However, using the principals of behavioral psychology, we can train our cats to perform simple commands by forming associations.
As you already know, your kitty is trained to come to the sound of a tin opening — she doesn’t know that the sound is a tin and the tin contains tuna; she merely has an association in her tiny pea brain between the sound and the tuna. You can also train your kitty to do things you might want a kitty to do on command, like come when you call, sit down (instead of run out the door when you get home), or get down off the counter. All you need is a noise-maker such as a clicker, a lot of treats, and a little bit of time and patience every day. First, you will train your cat to associate the sound of the clicker with getting a treat, and then you will be able to teach your cat to understand specific command words.
1. Schedule your training session for ten to fifteen minutes a day, before kitty dinner time.
2. Sit with your kitty, the clicker, and the treats. Feed your kitty a treat while clicking the clicker, or click the clicker and then give him a treat.
3. Continue with clicker training every day for about a week. Your kitty should soon learn to associate the click with the treat.
4. Test time! Test your cat by clicking the clicker outside of your regularly scheduled training time, and see if he comes running.
5. Once your cat comes running automatically to the sound of the clicker, you are ready to start teaching commands!
Teaching your Cat to Come
This takes a little longer than the clicker training. You should continue to do your daily training sessions, and do them just before dinner time. A hungry kitty is a trainable kitty!
Your cat should already know his name. Use his name and the command “come” along with the clicker and treat to get your kitty to come on command. Always use the same word and the kitty’s name, or he might get confused. Here’s a scenario involving Baker of Spot the Kitty fame:
Baker’s human clicks the clicker and says, “Baker, come!” Baker knows the clicker is a sure road to a treat, so he comes running. Baker’s human gives him a delicious piece of salmon (Baker’s favourite!)
Baker follows his human around for a while, but soon gets sleepy and forgets about the salmon. Baker’s human then clicks the clicker from another part of the house, saying, “Baker, come!” Yay, more food! Baker scampers to where the click sound came from and gets another glorious piece of salmon!
After doing this a few times a day for several days, Baker’s human tries calling “Baker, come!” without clicking. By this time, Baker associates the sound of the command with the salmon, so he comes running. Baker’s human gives him a chunk of salmon and voila, a trained kitty!
Note: you must always give a kitty a treat for performing a command. As mentioned before, unlike dogs who will do what you want just to make you happy, a kitty will always and forever do what you want if he knows he will get a treat.
Training your Cat to Sit
A cat who will sit on command is a great parlour trick and a fantastic ice-breaker at parties, but it could also save your cat’s life. If your cats are like Baker, Lance, and Marigold of Spot the Kitty fame, they are always lurking around the door when you come in or go out, and if your kitty is as bold as Lance, he has already snuck out a few times and had to be chased down (or called back, if you have already taught him the command “Come!”)
However, if you get in the door and tell your trained cats to sit, they will dutifully sit on their fuzzy little butts until you release them with a nommy chunk of tuna.
Here is a scenario involving Lance of Spot the Kitty fame learning to sit on command:
Lance’s human brings Lance to the sofa or sits beside Lance on the floor, holding a tin of delicious tuna. Lance is a big fan of tuna, so he sticks around in the hopes of getting a morsel or two (or three, or, heck, maybe the whole tin).
First, Lance’s human holds a piece of tuna over Lance’s head, saying the strange words, “Sit, Lance.” As Lance moves his head up towards the tuna, his butt should, by proxy, move down, until he is sitting.
As soon as Lance is sitting, Lance’s human repeats, “Sit, Lance,” while clicking the clicker, and then immediately gives Lance the food.
Lance’s human does this several times until Lance is full from tuna. If Lance’s butt does not meet the ground, Lance’s human corrects this by gently petting him and at the same time pressing his rump down, while still holding the food over his head. Then a click, the words “Sit, Lance,” and the treat.
After several training sessions, Lance’s human tries saying “Sit, Lance,” without holding the tuna over Lance’s head or clicking the clicker. If Lance’s brain has made the association between the command, the action, and the reward, he will sit down. Now we know that Lance has completed his training to sit. However, if he just stands there swishing his tail and saying “Mew?” we must continue with the training for a few more sessions.
Using the same principals — the clicker, the treats, and the cat — with variations on the above procedures, you should be able to train your cat to get down, stay, speak, and possibly do other tricks, depending on how much time and patience you have and how much your cat loves treats.