In order to occupy your cat, it’s important to give them a variety of tasks to complete. This article will outline 10 great tricks that you and your clever feline can practise together.
10 tricks for clever cats
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Cat training with treats.
How to teach cats tricks: On your marks, get set, go!
You should prepare cat trick training well. Routine is important at the beginning, i.e. always practice in the same place and in a totally calm environment. Your cat can best concentrate on its task without music and other background noises.
Keep a tasty reward to hand that you can use to positively reinforce individual training steps. This can also be a tasty dry food. In this way, your cat can acquire part of its daily portion of food.
Although you can teach cats of all ages tricks, very young cats sometimes aren’t able to concentrate on them. It’s usually easier from around one year of age.
Traditional conditioning forms the basis for the 10 cat tricks: The cat learns a certain mode of behaviour through positive reinforcement. Most cats already show conditioned routines in day-to-day life. Do they open the cupboard containing stocks of tasty snacks? Your smart feline hears the cupboard door and rushes over expecting a tasty titbit. You can make use of this basic principle for practising cat tricks.
Important for cat tricks: Introducing commands
Before getting started, here are a few points on introducing commands. You can do so when your cat has already mastered the trick in question. If you’re certain during training that your cat will show the desired behaviour in the next few seconds, give an appropriate command.
This can be verbal – always emphasise it in the same way – or always make the same hand gesture. Practise for as long as it takes for your cat to show the desired behaviour upon command. But bear in mind that fun should always be the priority.
Important: Once your cat has reliably learned a command, then only reward it when it performs the trick on command, not when doing so of its own accord.
10 great cat tricks
Whet your cat’s appetite!
This cat trick is the least spectacular upon first glance, but at the same time forms the basis for our training. It involves you associating a tasty treat with a sound, our positive reinforcer.
This can, for instance, be a clicker or a short “plop” with your lips. However, the sound should always be the same so that your cat recognises it.
How do we now condition our furry friend? Sit in front of your cat and throw a tasty treat in its direction. It will probably drop everything for that! Your little feline will be happy about the gourmet treat – give off the acoustic signal at the same time. Repeat this a few times until your cat has learnt that “this noise shows that I’ve earned a treat!”.
This conditioning always comes at the beginning and it’s important that your cat internalises it. You’re best off repeating the exercise on several consecutive days until it’s clear that your cat has understood the principle.
If you only make the acoustic signal during training and your cat then expectantly gives you its full attention, you know that it has been successfully conditioned – and on it goes!
When your cat is standing before you, hold a hoop in front of it near the ground and tempt it through the hoop with a treat. Be patient if your cat is initially somewhat sceptical towards this trick. When it does go through the hoop safely, hold it a little higher and slowly increase it until your cat has to jump to pass through it. If it runs through the bottom, go back a step.
Caution: Only hold the hoop as high as your little companion can jump without visibly exerting itself. And make sure the floor is non-slip.
Tip: As an alternative, you can let your cat jump over your outstretched arm. If the respective tricks sink in, you can stick with this gesture – raised hoop or arm – or introduce a command like “hop!”.
When it comes to slalom runs, both a close connection between owner and cat and some coordination from both sides is required. The objective is for the cat to run between its owner’s straddled legs.
Similar to jumping through the hoop, you can tempt your cat step by step in the desired direction through your wide-apart legs by tempting it with a tasty treat.
The cat should always start from the side of the rear leg. Slalom looks particularly elegant when both cat and owner move fluidly. Practise the movements slowly and be very patient. You should of course make sure not to accidentally stand on your cat’s paws, so proceed with great caution.
Most cats sit automatically to keep their prey in sight. Immediately reward this with something tasty and auditory reinforcement. Another option would be to always reward the cat with a treat and an acoustic signal whenever it happens to move into the sit position.
Bear in mind that this only makes sense if you reward your cat straight after it sits down, not if you have to dash into the kitchen and look for a treat first.
Either you always have the reward to hand or you use certain situations when you know that your cat will soon sit down. This method is called capturing and involves positive reinforcement of desired everyday behaviour. Sitting is a good starting point for other tricks!
There are different options to teach your cat to lie down. For instance, you can put a treat in your hand and slowly place it on the floor and hold on to it. Your cat will probably lie down facing it at some point. At the start, give the treat at the first sign of lying down and lure your cat further and further into a lying position.
Reinforce desired behaviour with the familiar acoustic signal. If your cat has understood what is expected from it, you can introduce a command – the gesture of a hand being brought down is particularly useful here. Alternatively, you can make use of capturing for down too (see sit). For example, if you know in advance that your feline companion will keep you company during a relaxing evening on the sofa.
Down is the starting point for this trick! If your cat is lying in front of you, slowly move a hand over it in such a way that it has to make a sideward turn onto its back in order to be able to follow your hand at a glimpse. The active hand doesn’t contain a treat, but you reward every movement in the right direction with a little bite and an acoustic signal – until your cat has performed a complete roll.
Always practise the roll from the same side! If you would like to perform this cat trick on both sides, you have to train both separately, which could confuse your cat at the beginning. Once your cat has memorised the trick, you can either introduce an acoustic command or leave it at your hand over your cat.
One of the most popular cat tricks is definitely giving paw! But how can we make this appeal to our cat? Ideally it can already sit, because it is then in the ideal position. Once your feline is sat before you, lay your hand flat on the ground and reward any sign of interest in your hand with an acoustic signal and a treat.
In the next stage, we reinforce your cat sniffing at your outstretched hand. If it does so reliably across several training sessions, we can go another step further.
Now your cat has to ‘paw’ with you before there’s a treat: As usual, place your outstretched hand before your cat. If it doesn’t get a treat as usual after sniffing your hand, it will experiment and sooner or later touch your hand with its paw. Now is the right time for positive reinforcement! Gradually increase the length by first rewarding giving paw after 2 or 3 seconds and finally slowly raising your hand a little. If your clever cat masters this, you can introduce a command.
Your cat should already master the commands sit and down for the famous “give me five!”. Then it’s just a few more steps to the longed-for high five: Simply lift your hand higher and higher when giving paw and turn it into the high five position.
Reward your four-legged training partner step by step with treats and acoustic signals. If your cat gets irritated, go back to the classic giving paw before proceeding slowly again. You can introduce a command once your cat masters the trick – or simply use your outstretched hand as such.
Standing on hind legs
Hold a treat slightly above your cat’s head for the trick of it standing on its hind legs. Many cats now automatically stand on their hind legs to enjoy small prey. Reinforce the cat’s behaviour with a clicker or familiar reinforcement signal when it moves in the right direction, i.e. upwards.
Important: Don’t reward your cat showing its claws, but only the attempts in which it shows you its paws. Otherwise, you will get scratches with this cat trick in the future. You can improve the finer details depending on your objective: For instance, your cat should remain standing on its hind legs for a short period.
Always reward your cat with an extra treat when it stays slightly longer. Finally you can associate a command with the desired behaviour, e.g. “up”.
As a cat owner, you probably know that our beloved felines come to us reliably when we call them. However, only if they feel like it or when they smell their bowl full with a delicious meal. You can drastically increase the success rate with some training – at least if your cat is in the mood for it.
If your cat is lying by the radiator asleep with a full stomach, this could reduce the chances of success. This is how you teach your cat ‘come here’: Sit before your cat on the floor and show it the treats in your hand.
If the cat comes to you, say “come here!”, for instance. It’s important that this is always the same instruction – and give it one of the tasty treats once it has come to you. Sit down and repeat this up to ten times. End of the first training session.
Tip: If your little feline follows you to reach the tempting titbits quicker, throw one two metres away and put some distance between you again.
In one of the next training sessions, you can then just say “come here!” and hide the treats. If the cat comes to you, give it the reward it craves. If nothing happens, you have to take a step back.
Tip: An acoustic signal like a clicker isn’t necessarily required for this cat trick. You can use it additionally though: Reward your cat for every step in the right direction with the reinforcing sound.
Conclusion on teaching cat tricks
Fun is always at the forefront of any training session with cats. You’re best off practising every day or every two days for a few minutes with your four-legged companion. You can also arrange a set number of treats per training session. Always bear in mind that timing is crucial. Reward desired behaviour immediately.
Always end exercises on a successful note for your cat, even if this means going back a step. If your training partner licks its fur during an exercise, you should also take a step back. Such behaviour is a sign of being overwhelmed and shows that your cat doesn’t know what is now expected of it. Repeat familiar cat tricks regularly so that your cat doesn’t forget them.
Fully learned tricks can also be integrated into day-to-day life: Is your cat waiting hungrily for a tasty meal? Then get it to do a little trick before giving it its food bowl.