Cats are smart creatures, but the long-standing myth is that you can’t train them. If you think about it, cats clearly “get” training — they’ve done a great job of training us to feed them and scoop their litter boxes. The good news is that it can work in reverse, too. Cats can be trained to do the things we want them to do. Training your cat will help you prevent unwanted behaviors, and it’s a great way to provide mental enrichment. It just takes a bit of time (and a lot of treats)!
Training a cat is not much different than training a dog. By using positive reinforcement training, you’re simply looking for what your cat finds motivating and what they’ll work for. For many cats, this will likely be treats in the form of food, but some cats find play or praise incredibly motivating. It all depends on the cat! Clicker training, commonly used in training a wide range of animals (from tigers to dogs to marine mammals), is highly effective when working with domestic cats too.
You can use your voice or a clicker combined with treats to reinforce good behavior. You’ll either click or say “yes” as soon as they do the behavior you want them to do. The sound is “marking” the exact moment they got the behavior and gives them a clear understanding of what you’re expecting them to do. (When choosing a marker word, pick one that you don’t use in other contexts, such as when you’re praising them.) Then follow up immediately with a treat. To make marker training more effective, the click or word must always be followed by a treat — your cat learns by association, so the marker needs to be consistent to build motivation and provide clear communication when they do something right.
You can also train your cat to come, shake, lay down, or go to a certain place.
Besides training your cat to do tricks, you can also use positive reinforcement training to get them to change certain naughty behaviors, like meowing at 4 am or using your new couch as a scratching post. The goal here is to teach your cat behaviors that they can do instead of the unwanted behavior, along with managing their environment so they aren’t able to practice the bad behavior. There are cat trainers, behavior consultants, and even YouTube videos that can help you teach your cat more appropriate behaviors using positive reinforcement.
Training is beneficial for your cat because it provides needed social and environmental enrichment and strengthens their bond with you. It also helps to prevent boredom so they can stay out of trouble and live happy, healthy lives.