Can Cats Do Tricks?

Cats seem to do a great job at training their owners, but can the roles be reversed? The first thing to consider is this general rule; cats do not respond well to punishment. Cats are incapable, or perhaps just unwilling, to see a link between bad behavior and punishment. On the flip-side, cats also lack motivation to receive praise. 

 Despite popular opinion, most cats are trainable if you have a bit of patience. To be successful, you should only teach cats new behaviors with positive reinforcement and treats. If you were to write a job assessment for your feline, it might read: 

 “Doesn’t take criticism very well. Considers himself/herself to be perfect. This cool cat knows the world belongs to them and understands the rest of us are just living in it. 'I am perfect. Hear me MEOW,' is their daily mantra.” 

 It will be nothing short of futility on your part if you attempt to train your cat to stop meowing (or any other unwanted behaviors), by punishing them. 

 When I was a child, we had a cat that would run to the kitchen with excitement, and meow like crazy, every single time it heard the electric can-opener. We may have been opening a can of peaches, but that didn't matter. The cat knew each time we fed her, that bowl of deliciousness appeared in the kitchen corner following that distinction. Even though we didn't purposely set out to train our cat in this manner, it is evidence that cats are trainable. The real trick is to find some food or treats which are especially desirable! What is it that your cat cannot resist?

 Cats have short attention spans. You will want to use consistent words and/or gestures for commands and reward them in three to five seconds.

 Pick only one trick to teach them, and limit sessions to 10 or 15 minutes at most. Begin with something simple like; down, stay or come.

 If kitty is within the realm of completing the command, still provide the praise/treat, as they can still benefit from learning the association.

 If kitty is simply over the session at any point, then stop. You don’t want them becoming so bored with the interaction that they refuse to engage in future sessions. 

 Progress consistently until your cat understands why it is being rewarded. Keep the sessions fairly regular and try not to skip days until they have mastered the trick. If your first trick works out and you both enjoyed it, then move on to the next trick on your list. 

 You can also use a clicker or verbal praise to accompany the treats, and eventually rely less and less on treats which might be difficult to get quickly, as your cat needs an instant reward for their performance.

 A good tip is to introduce the clicker/praise on its own before anything else, without the command, so that the cat associates the verbal noise with something good. Once they understand this, you can bring everything together by progressing to commands, then upon completion, reward them with the clicker/praise and treat. The click/verbal praise signals a successful completion of a command, and that there is a treat on its way. 


Teaching a cat how to sit is similar to teaching a dog to sit. Show the cat a treat in your hand, then slowly move your clenched hand back over their head. If successful, your cat should take a natural sitting position. 


Similar to sit, move your clenched hand slowly towards the cat’s chest, so that the cat’s head will follow to a bowed head position, then move your fist slowly away from the cat so they slide forward and (hopefully) down. 


Given the short attention span, this may prove more challenging. To shape their behavior into a stay, continue to prolong the time between the proper action and your clicker/praise, and the cat will learn if they sit long enough, they will get a treat. 


Sit or crouch down while calling your cat to you: be enthusiastic and pat or scratch the floor/carpet in front of you. Once they complete the task, reward and move to a new location and try again. You might have to do this many times before eliciting the proper behavior.

 It can take a lot of work, persistence, and consistency with a possibility of a minimal payoff when training a cat, so just try to have fun and enjoy your time with your pet, regardless of outcome.

Comments are closed.