Can Cats Be Trained?

A cat is not a dog, but a cat can still be trained. A cat can learn obedience, tricks, manners, and even life-saving behaviors just as well as a dog can. Initially, dog owners can even draw on their canine training experiences to train their cats. That said, it’s also important to be aware that cats are different from dogs. This article will share how I started out as a dog person who happened to have a cat, then became a cat person who is passionate about enriching the lives of felines.

Two years ago, I wrote my first article sharing the benefits of cat training. Foremost of these was that training builds a bond between owner and pet. I’d seen my relationship strengthened with my dog when we enrolled in obedience classes, and felt the same could hold true for our cats. Of course, any activity (including simply playing with them) that I elect to do with our cats will have the potential to enhance their lives, and so the question of why train cats remains.

cinder_kissWell, I also quickly became a firm believer that training has the additional benefit of keeping cats’ minds stimulated, which ultimately makes cats happier and healthier. Indeed, I never cease to be amazed at how curious and inventive cats are, and so never want to neglect the intellectual growth of our own cat trio. To that end, I bought books that tells how to teach cats tricks. None of the tricks take more than a few minutes per day to practice and integrating them allows me to mix-up our training sessions. One of Cinder’s favorite tricks is “kiss”. She’s enjoys sniffing my face maybe because it lets her know what I’ve been up to, and “kiss” just builds on that behavior. I taught her to “kiss” simply by holding a treat up to my mouth for her to take. Some other tricks such as “jump” fall under the category of agility, which is a separate training topic that I’ll write about later this week.

lucy_outdoorsOver the past year, partly because of reading books specific to understanding cat behavior, I’ve come to recognize that there are other benefits to training cats too such as it keeps them safe. The most important obedience command is the recall command, which brings a pet to the caller from a distance. Why is this so important? Because one day it may save your pet’s life. If you can bring your cat running by calling ‘come’, you can avoid such crises as a cat getting off its leash, escaping through the front door, or running into traffic. We used this command with our first cat, who had come to us as a stray and never lost her love of being outside.

cattrio_leaveitOther obedience commands are more about teaching manners. For example, Rainy likes to get my attention by using my legs as a scratching post. She also often makes a nuisance of herself at meal times by sticking her face into our plates of food. We’ve been breaking her of those habits by teaching her instead to sit. “Leave it” is another command I’ve worked on with all three of our cats. To teach them to show respect for one another’s food, I’ll place treats in front of one cat and order the others to “leave it”. This command also doubles as another way to encourage cats who like to beg for food to act less obnoxious.

bootsie_crateThe newest concept to me is that training cats can teach them important routines. This is especially important for those shy and anxious cats. Several months into having adopted a former feral, we discovered that crating her was going to be a challenge, and yet crating her would be critical if we were to ever take her to the vet. Bootsie hates being picked, and picking her up to deposit her in a crate would add unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. If I managed to lure her into a crate with treats, having learned to be on high alert due to outdoor dangers, she popped out the instant I tried to close the crate door. The solution? Besides buying a more spacious and open crate, I also began to teach her the routine of using the crate. The first step was to put a soft cat bed in the bottom of the crate. The second step was to serve her meals in the crate. The third step was to gradually get her used to having the door closed while she was in the crate. After months of training, I can now close the crate doors and even leave Bootsie locked up while I perform a chore in another room, all without fazing her. When we took her to the vet a few month ago, luring her into the crate and locking her in was simple and completely stress free.

Cats in general don’t like change, and so routines can even benefit your most happy-go-lucky cat. For example, our three cats know when I’ll groom them. They also know that treats will accompany each session. If I’m even five minutes late, they’ll all gather in the kitchen to wait for me. This sure beats my having to seek them out and round them up!

Interested in training your cats? Experts will advise that the first step is to accept that cats aren’t dogs. They won’t work for praise and attention the way dogs will. Due to their independent nature, cats aren’t as easily motivated either. As a dog person who found herself with a cat I must confess that I based my cat training on what I knew from training dogs. Some of it worked. Like dogs, cats will work for treats, and patience and persistence is a must.

But the more I learn about cat behavior, the more respect I’ve developed for the differences between cats and dogs. An example can be drawn from agility. Jumps and tunnels are many dogs’ favorite obstacles. There are even entire courses built solely from those two obstacles. As for cats, while they do well enough bounding from chair to chair, they tend to view the bars on agility jumps as objects to push or crawl under. When it comes to tunnels, our cats love our small tunnel they view our bigger one mostly as a place to hide. Due to the aptitude of cats for climbing, their preferred obstacles are instead the A-Frame and dog walk.

Experts say that cats are easily bored, and their training sessions should be short. While this is a good general principle to follow, it’ll depend on your cat’s personality. The recommended five-minute guideline works well with our Cinder, who tends to get frustrated beyond that time. But our Rainy just seems to be warming up at five minutes, and can easily double or triple that time. A better guideline is to be prepared to keep training sessions short, but don’t be afraid to tailor them to your cat’s personality.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t provided any instructions for teaching specific skills. That information will be available in other articles. My main goal here has been to expose you to the idea that cats can be trained, the benefits to training them, and the different kinds of skills that can be taught.

I’d like to leave with you one final example of the benefits of cat training. Our youngest cat almost died last Fourth of July because we weren’t aware of her fear of loud noises. Since that time, there have been two other incidents related to this fear, one involved washing machines and the other involved staple guns being used on a roof. Now that we’re aware of Rainy’s fear, we can train her to be more comfortable around loud noises. I’ve come a long way in my attitude towards training. At first it was just a way to bond and have fun with my cats. Now I see it as a tool for improving their lives in every way possible. Such training takes time and effort, but I believe this is a gift well-worth giving to our cats.

PS Starting with the Spring Issue, please follow my articles on pet training at Lincoln Kids.

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39 thoughts on “Can Cats Be Trained?

  1. Your article is perfect timing. I really would like to train my cats a few things. Mine are examples of the different attention spans and learning ease that you wrote of. I look forward to more on cat training techniques.

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    1. Two years ago I started writing about cat obedience and agility, but then got sidetracked by other topic commitments. This year I’ve made it a priority by accepting the commitment to write on the topic of a local publication. Here are my original articles:
      https://lincolnanimalambassadors.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/teach-a-cat-to-sit-and-to-come/
      https://lincolnanimalambassadors.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/teach-a-cat-to-up-and-to-stay/
      https://lincolnanimalambassadors.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/teach-a-cat-to-jump-and-to-twirl/

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  2. I think its marvellous what you’ve accomplished training your cats. As with dogs, or any animal really, it’s all about positive reinforcement. Both my cats are comfortable with their crates because I’ve taught them-even though they may not see it that way- that a crate is not something to be afraid of. It makes taking them to the vet much easier for me and less stressful for them.

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    1. Where did you see cats doing agility? A friend of mine and I are wanting to see others doing cat agility, to help us with our own attempts. You might like my upcoming Thursday article, which will be all about cat agility. 🙂

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    1. The next step for me is to work on having our cats respond if there’s an emergency and we need to evacuate the house. Our cats tend to go into hiding when there’s too much commotion and that concerns me.

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  3. My great aunt had two siamese cats. They were trained to do everything from sit, to poop on command to walk on leash. They drove all over Europe together. As a kid I was obsessed.

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  4. I’ve never considered training a cat (for the record, I haven’t really trained my dog either). Most of my cats’ time have been spent training me and that seems exhausting enough for the both of us.
    But seriously, it would be great if either pet came back when I called them, especially near cars.

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  5. It is funny how you grow up hearing things and never question them. We didn’t have cats, but I always thought you couldn’t train them because they are so independent. I’m glad you are dispelling the myth, and also providing reasonable expectations.

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    1. Yes, times do change and opinions. When I was growing up, I accepted the humane society as the only option. Now we have no-kill shelters and rescues and so many more options. I also accepted the idea that cats weren’t good pets. Now I have three and am training them. Life can be funny. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  6. Great post! My daughter has trained our two adopted cats, one was a feral she has trained and rehabilitated that he is such a sweetheart. Although, I think he thinks he is actually a watchdog as he guards and patrols our property and even greets guests and jumps into the cars to say hello! Pinning this over on my Mews News board on Pinterest to share!

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    1. Thanks for the compliment! I also appreciate the share. 😉

      It’s great that your daughter has trained her two cats. I wish more people would!

      One of our cats is a former feral too. She’s too shy to be a watch cat, but is slowly showing all different sides to her personality.

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  7. It’s great to find your blog! I have three dogs + one cat (Rooster). I do try to work with them all and agree that cats can be trained. The Rooster is more interested in the reward than learning. With these extremely cold temperatures, I will have to try to include him again so he doesn’t get bored inside all day. Thanks for sharing these training suggestions!

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    1. Good for you in training all four of your pets! You might enjoy Cat Training in 10 Minutes, a book which taught me a lot of basics about training cats. Here’s my review of it: https://allisonsbookbag.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/cat-training-in-10-minutes-by-miriam-fields-babineau/

      My first cat didn’t really care about treats. If I had know about using toys at the time, they might have worked better. She mostly liked getting my attention.

      In contrast, our current cats are extremely food-motivated! Sometimes like Rooster, they’re more interested in the treat than the activity. One skill I’ve worked on with them is getting them to wait for food. I’ll put treats in a fist, tell them to wait when they sniff my hands, and only reward when they walk away. The skill has helped them calm down.

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  8. Loved this post, so interesting!! Dogs or cats I’m big on schedules and routines, so my cats always knew what was going to happen, when. I had never thought of actually training them formally but I guess in a way I did with their routines.

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    1. Yes, if you’re organized person, you’ve probably trained your cats without realizing it. In fact, I had a lady once tell me that cats couldn’t be trained, only to find out she had taught them through her lifestyle to come to her at mealtimes and bedtime.

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  9. Most people don’t even think about really training their cats as well as their dogs, but it certainly can be done and has benefits. I’m so impressed that you crate trained a former feral cat – major kudos to you for accomplishing that!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. My husband and I are relieved to crate train our former feral. Otherwise, we were down to the choices of: forego vet treatment, pay the extra cost of a vet home visit, or risk stress and injury to everyone involved by forcing our feral into a crate.

      The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis opened my eyes to training being about more than manners and tricks. Here’s a review I wrote of it: https://allisonsbookbag.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/current-read-38-the-trainable-cat-by-john-bradshaw-and-sarah-ellis/

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    1. Same here! Well, my girls don’t mind having their hair brushed, but they dislike having their teeth cleaned. Also, my one sometimes needs to get sprayed because of a skin infection. She’ll hide or run away at the sight of grooming tools, but come running if I shake the treat container. Treats rock!

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    1. Good for your neighbor in training her cat! They undoubtedly have a strong relationship because of all the interactions that training requires. Walking on a leash is still something I’m working on with our cats. 🙂

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    1. Bless you for training Chaos! Before I got serious about training, I used to attend dog agility classes with my husband. I got to see all kinds of reactions from dogs. Some immediately loved the obstacles; others disliked certain ones. A few even simply weren’t cut out for agility. Observing dog sports helped me realize that training just takes time, the right incentives, and desirable obstacles.

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    1. Thank you! I’ve found that the days when I dedicate the most time to training are also the ones my cats get into the least amount of trouble. Is that true of husbands too? 😉

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  10. Cats can certainly be trained, you just need the double the amount of patience than when training dogs. My cats are all leash-trained, come when called and follow some other basic commands.

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    1. My husband and I often talk about why dog training is more recognized. He believes the same as you, that cats need more patience. On the whole that’s probably true, although I’ve seen dogs that have certainly tried the patience of their owners. 😉 It might also be partly that society as a whole is a lot more attuned to the idea of dog training and so it feels like more work to train a cat. Kudos to you on getting your cats to use the leash and follow some other basic commands.

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