When we bring a new puppy home, training almost always comes to mind but the same can’t be said of kittens. Most people never consider training a cat because they assume cats are too independent and strong-willed to be trained. But this is not the case! While most cats can't be trained like dogs to do an array of tasks, basic training like getting kitty to sit or stay off the countertop is possible.
Get the necessary cat training tools
There are a few basic training pieces of equipment that you’ll need to begin your training sessions.
A clicker is inexpensive and it can be useful to make your positive reinforcement training more efficient. You can also use a regular pen with a “clicky” button. The idea is to use a piece of equipment that produces a distinct sound instantly. The clicker is a way to “mark” the moment when your cat did something right. Every time your cat did something right, you “click” to mark the moment, and reward her. Eventually, your cat will learn the desirable behaviour. She will understand that the behaviour is going to earn her a treat.
Cat training treats
You'll need treats that your cat is willing to work for. This will be different for every cat, and you may have to try out a few different options to find the right treats for your cat. Here’s a soft training reward treat that your cat may just love: Ciao Soft Bits Mix Tuna and Chicken Fillet with Dried Bonito Chicken Soup and Squid Flavour Cat Treats. Soft cat treats are great for training because, compared to crunchy ones, they're easier and faster for your cat to eat. Less disruption to the training session.
Cat toys (optional)
If your cat is not food motivated, try using toys or affection as a reward instead. A quick play session in between training can be a good thing. It helps to keep your cat focused and stave off boredom. Test different toys and find out what your cat responds best to. An interactive fishing pole cat toy is a good option. Get one with an adjustable pole like this Kong Fishing Pole Teaser Cat Toy. By shortening or lengthening the pole, you can create different play challenges to keep your cat interested. Some cats respond to pets or attention. A little chin or butt scratch can help tell them they are doing a good job. Find the best “treats” - food treats, toys or chin scratches – that your cat is willing to work for.
Cat Training Tips
1. Start with something easy
As with anything new, it's important to start with something simple. Start with the basics like getting your cat to sit. Leave the more advanced skills to the later part of training. Doing too much, in the beginning, can end in frustration for both of you.
2. Keep the sessions short
For beginners, stay with 3 to 5 mins per training session. Train twice daily. It can be hard to keep a cat focused when she is new to training. Shorter sessions will prevent your cat from losing interest or getting frustrated. So, short but frequent training sessions will be way more effective than longer ones. As your cat advances, you can increase the length of your training sessions.
3. Eliminate distractions
Pick a quiet area of your home, away from distractions. Other pets and noises can be quite distracting, and your cat may not be able to focus. If you have other pets in the house, it’s best to close them off in another room of the house. For an experienced cat trainer, it is possible to train multiple cats at once, but it's best to start off working with just one cat at a time if this is your first cat training attempt.
4. Reward immediately
The clicker “marks” the correct behaviour and lets your cat know which behaviour earned the reward. For clicker training to work properly, it's important to click right at the precise moment your cat performs the desired behaviour. Because the click is a promise of a reward, always give your cat a treat after you click. Your cat will learn the desired behaviour that is going to earn her a treat and start offering more of that desired behaviour.
5. Redirect or distract bad behaviour
As a rule, most cats don't respond well to punishment. It can lead to stress, anxiety, and mistrust. Some cats will even view punishment as a reward - negative attention is attention, after all! When your cat engages in negative behaviour, redirect, or distract your cat with another activity rather than punish her.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to try and figure out why your cat is constantly engaging in bad behaviour. Remove the causative factor, the temptation that is driving your cat to repeat a bad behaviour, and teach them an alternative one.
With urine marking, it is necessary to permanently eliminate the urine odour and stain, to discourage future markings. Use a powerful but non-toxic cleaner like this Urine Off Hard Surface Sprayer For Cats to do the job. Otherwise, your cat will keep repeating this bad behaviour. The urine odour will encourage him to continuously mark the same spot.
Similarly, with destructive scratching, you’ll need to distract and redirect your cat’s attention elsewhere. Screaming at your cat is not going to stop her from scratching the sofa. Some pawrents will put plastic, double-sided sticky tape, or sandpaper on the furniture. Alternatively, use a repellent spray like this NaturVet No Scratch! Spray For Cats to discourage your cat from going back to the same scratching spot. Set up a cat scratching post or mat and divert her attention to the proper scratching spot. We would recommend this Zee.Cat Cat Scratcher as it comes in a replaceable scratcher board.
6. Be consistent
To avoid confusion, always use the same voice commands and hand signals during training sessions. Be sure that anyone else who trains with your cat also practices the same commands and signals.
7. Train at the right time
Training requires a lot of focus from your cat, so you will want to be strategic about when you do your training sessions. After a cat nap is usually a good time, as your cat will be rested and ready for some active mental and physical stimulation. Right before mealtimes are great too because your cat will be more willing to work for their treat rewards if they're a bit hungry. Every cat is different, so pay close attention to your cat’s behaviour and plan your training session accordingly.
Cat training: obedience skills
If you are wondering where to start, obedience skills are a natural place to start. These include basic commands such as "sit," coming when called, and "stay”. Many of the basic obedience skills are used as building blocks for more advanced skills.
Other basic skills to train include:
Make sure the litter box is clean and placed in a quiet location. After your kitten has eaten, move her to the litter box. Gently scratch the litter with one of her front paws. After she has done her business, reward her. Remove her from the litter box. Do the same after every meal and she will soon understand that the litter box is her elimination area.
Coming when called
Teaching your cat to come when called is not difficult and can be a useful skill. It can also come in handy if your cat were to ever slip out of your house. Prepare some cat treats and call your cat’s name. Each time she comes to you, reward her. Repeat and eventually, she will learn to come to you every time you call her name.
This will make travelling with your cat easier, especially when you are making trips to the vet clinic. First, leave the carrier door open and put a favourite toy or a treat inside it. When your cat enters the crate, give her a treat. Once your cat is comfortable entering the crate, try closing the door. Start with just a few seconds and slowly build up as your cat gets more comfortable with the door being closed.
After your cat adapts to the door being closed, get her used to the crate being carried. Slowly lift the carrier, take a few steps forward and place it back down. Repeat and slowly increase the number of steps.
Cats can be trained. The most common mistake pawrents make when training their cats are to ask for too much too soon. Take baby steps but be consistent. Train in very short sessions, and don’t try to progress too quickly. Remember that every cat is different. So, progress only when your cat is ready.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.