Just like dogs, cats can be trained to do fun tricks and behave politely. In fact, while cats can be a little harder to train, they may well enjoy the process of training more as they often need intellectual stimulation to be happy. One of the cutest tricks you can do is the cat handshake. This is where your cat reaches up to meet your hand and you shake it. You can also teach them a fun variation – the cat high five!
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The best way to teach a cat new tricks is to learn about clicker training. This technique allows for more immediate positive reinforcement to help your cat better understand exactly what behavior is worth rewarding. Just using words can confuse your cat when they hear them in other contexts. You will need to buy a clicker to make the clicking noise, but some people find that a loud pen can also be used.
To get your cat to respond to clicker training, you must first get them to associate the clicking sound with rewards and praise. You should use positive reinforcement to do this. This means using their favorite treat to create the association. This process is fairly simple:
- Wait for the ideal training time.
This is when your cat is calm, relaxed and interested, but not sleepy. A good way to ensure they are in the right mood is to sit in the middle of the room that they are in, and wait for them to come up to investigate what you are doing. You can try gently calling them over, but make sure you are not implying that they are in trouble.
If they do not want to come to spend time with you, they are not in the mood for training. You cannot force a cat to train when they don’t want to. You will just be negatively reinforcing the experience, which will make it even harder later on.
- Treat them after clicking the clicker
When they are in the right mood and are alert and paying attention. Click the clicker, and instantly give them a cat treat. Repeat this several times. Cats get bored easily, so don’t expect to be able to do this for longer than 5 minutes at a time. It is better to do 5 minutes of training once or twice a day, than to force them to train when they don’t want to.
On average your cat will learn to associate the clicker with reward in about three sessions, but every cat learns at a different pace. You will know that your cat has learned the association when they appear to be waiting for the treat, and perhaps licking their lips. Remember not to give them too many treats. Treats should only compose approximately 10% of their calorie intake.
How to Teach Your Cat to Give a Handshake
Now you know how to use the clicker, you probably want to know how it can help you teach your cat to shake your hand. Once again, the method is actually quite simple, but it will require a lot of patience and care. As before, you must ensure your cat is in the right mood for training and has no distractions.
- Remind them about the clicker
Before you start, it is a good idea to click the clicker and give them a treat. This reminds them of what is on offer if they cooperate, and it tells them ‘it’s training time’. If you jump straight into trying to get them to give you a paw, they may just think it is playtime.
- Lift a paw
Once they are focused and aware that it is time to train, pick up their paw gently. Don’t try to train both paws at the same time. The golden rule with training is to keep behaviors simple and avoid sending confusing messages. Remember to be gentle and friendly. If you appear to be grabbing at them, your cat may tense up. Never use force on your cat, you could hurt them.
- Use that clicker
The clicker should be in your other hand, so when you are holding their paw, click the clicker to let them know that this action will be rewarded. If you want to add a command word, like ‘shake’, say it immediately after the click. Finally, give them a treat. You should then release their paw to pet them and give them affection, this is a further reward.
As with clicker training, you should repeat this as often as your cat allows for about five minutes. Try again later on, and continue the training sessions up to twice a day. Your cat may start to spontaneously lift your chosen paw during training. This means you are making great progress, so make sure to click and reward to reinforce this behavior.
- Using the command word
When your cat seems to have grasped that lifting the correct paw is worthy of reward. Start using the command word first and see if they respond. When they correctly respond to the word by putting their paw on your hand, click and reward.
- Reduce the treats
The final stage is getting your cat to shake hands without giving them a treat. You can do this by slowly reducing the treats until they are unnecessary. You should still praise and pet them to reward them, and you should give them a treat every third or fourth time they exhibit the behavior.
If you want to know how to teach your cat to high five or low five, the process is the same, but instead of holding their paw, tap it with your palm. As always, be gentle as slamming their paw as you might do with your best friends could do some serious damage. A light fun little tap can be a fun way to greet each other when you come home from work.
There are lots of enjoyable tricks you can use to bond with your cat and teach them to be polite. You may even be able to come up with a few of your own. Just remember to be cautious about their physical capabilities. You don’t want to cause any damage to their joints or limbs. If in doubt, talk to a training expert or a vet.
- Maria Trimarchi, 5 Things You Can Train Your Cat to Do, HowStuffWorks
- Training Your Cat to Come When Called, VetStreet