Teach a Cat to Sit and to Come

My first post for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors met with some skepticism. I wrote about obedience training cats–something that not everyone feels is possible. At the time, I shared reasons to train and gave tips. This week, as part of introducing my cats to you, I’d like to follow up with some short articles about specific commands you can give your cat to learn obedience and perform tricks.

Teaching a Cat to SIT

SIT is perhaps the easiest command to teach. To date, I’ve tried the command with three cats with almost perfect success.

  • Sit or kneel in front of your cat.
  • When you have your cat’s attention, slowly lift a treat above his head so he has to crane his neck to see the treat. Tell him SIT.
  • As your cat’s head lifts up and back, his rear should lower.
  • Move the treat in towards your cat’s rear. Be sure not to hold the treat too high or he will try to jump to reach it instead of staying on all four paws. His nose should almost touch the treat.
  • As soon as your cat puts his rear on the floor, praise him and reward him the treat.

Lucy came to us as a stray. As such, she was more set in her ways and not overly motivated by food. I had to repeat the SIT command a few times. I also had to push Lucy’s rear to the ground a few times for her to figure out what I wanted. Once she got the idea, Lucy could sit when I asked. Not that she always choose to!

Cinder SitCinder came to us as a shelter cat, young and constantly hungry. During my earliest attempts to train her, she was so eager for food that she would wrap her paws around my hands trying to pry loose the measly crumble that I called a treat. When I finally pulled out my no-nonsense strict tone, down went her rear! Out came a treat! Cinder and I learned together. Now I can order SIT and Cinder will immediately do what she’s asked.

Bootsie came to us as a friendly feral cat, strongly motivated by attention. During my attempts to train her, Bootsie has been so anxious to get petted that she often ignores the food in my hand. When I once tried to gently push her rear to the ground, Bootsie did sit. I rewarded her with a treat, and she promptly batted me to show her displeasure with my methods. But she now knows how to sit!

Teaching a Cat to COME

COME is a more advanced command. To date, I’ve tried the command with three cats, and experienced inconsistent results. Yet because being able to recall my cats could one day make the difference between life and death for them, I’m keeping COME as part of our training routine. 

  • Choose a unique command. Don’t use COME if that’s what you yell when your cat runs off with your hot dog. Instead the command might be HERE.
  • Sit next to or near your cat.
  • When she becomes attentive to the treat, praise her.
  • Hold out the treat and give your recall command. As soon as your cat comes to you, immediately reward her. She’ll soon learn to pair the recall command with the action of moving towards the treat.
  • When your cat moves towards the treat and touches her nose to it, reward her.
  • Now move back a foot and present the treat again, first under her nose and then by drawing her closer to you by also drawing the treat closer to you.
  • As your cat moves toward the treat, praise her. When she actually touches the treat, reward her.

Like many cats, Lucy liked to hide on top of shelves, under beds, and in dark spaces. That wouldn’t have been an issue if I could have gotten her to consistently adhere to my recall command. Instead, Andy and I had to listen for the jangle of the bell on her collar—which was only of use when Lucy was moving. Fortunately, Lucy never resisted being picked up. As long as we could find her, keeping Lucy safe was an easy task.

Just like Lucy, our darling tortoiseshell, Cinder, seems to view the inside of our recliner and the recesses of our basement as adventure lands. When she isn’t tossing toy mice into the air or sleeping up a storm, Cinder likes to tuck herself away like Houdini. Just like Lucy once did. Except with one difference. The second I combine the rattle of a treat bag with the holler of COME, Cinder flashes to me like a lightning bolt. Her love of food is an asset when it comes to training.

The key to remember here is that whatever gets your cat to respond to your recall command, you must follow up with a reward. Also, never use the recall command for something negative. For example, if you use your recall command when you want to trim your cat’s nails or give her a bath, you’ll actually be training her not to come when called.

As for Bootsie, calling to her used to work when I visited her feral colony. Obviously she had learned to associate the sound of a human voice with food. Now that she’s inside our home, I’d love to say COME and see her to venture beyond the library that she views as her safe place. For now though it’s enough that she’s responding to the basics, and is learning to trust my husband and me. A good relationship is the foundation to training of any pet, including our more independent ones like cats.

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