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Yes, You Can Teach Tabby Tricks

catAs the saying goes, you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks … but you can certainly try with a cat!

Although cats are not generally known for doing tricks, they can learn to perform — if there’s something in it for them (especially a treat). Unlike dogs, cats generally do not respond to commands well. They need to be encouraged, not bossed. Remember, your cat’s intelligence and independence are qualities you cherish, so don’t become frustrated if Kitty decides she’d rather have a snooze than learn a new trick.

Before you begin
A few things to keep in mind if you decide to try to teach your feline friend a trick or two:

  • Be sure your cat knows and responds to his name.
  • Select a quiet time and room with minimal distractions.
  • Have plenty of treats on hand. Positive verbal reinforcement is a good motivator for dogs, but most cats respond better to food rewards.
  • Teach tricks right before feeding time. This is when cats give you their undivided attention and are eager to do things you want them to.
  • Teach your cat only one trick at a time. Don’t move onto the next trick until he’s mastered the first.

Basic cat tricks
During training, use a loving and affectionate tone, rather than a disciplinary voice. Be sure to show Kitty how much you care for her (with love and treats), and she may respond by learning the trick you’re attempting to teach.

Following are some tricks that you and your cat may enjoy:

  • Come (with or without a whistle) — Teaching your cat to come on command is an invaluable safety tool. At mealtime, call your cat’s name (and whistle). Tap on her food bowl or start using a can opener to get her attention. Each time she arrives, praise her and give her a treat. In no time, your cat will associate food with your beckoning (or whistle).
  • Shake hands — Sit facing your cat, touch her front paw and say, "Shake." The second she lifts her paw, shake it. Praise her and give her a food treat. Repeat these steps in sequence a few times. Remember to be consistent and repeat the command the same way each time.
  • Sit-up — Place the cat in a sitting position. Hold a treat over his head and say "sit-up." Do not give him the treat if he stands or reaches for the treat. Repeat the command and wait for him to try and accomplish the behavior you’ve commanded. When he successfully sits up, immediately reward him with the treat. Repeat the command several times.
  • Wave — Hold a treat in your hand and place it in front of the cat’s nose but just out of his reach. Move it back and forth with your hands in a waving motion while telling your cat to "wave." As your cat reaches out for the food, it will appear as if he is waving. Once his motion simulates a wave, praise him and give him the treat.

Provide plenty of affection, use a loving tone and always reward positive results with much praise and treats. This combination should have your fine little feline responding to your requests and impressing your guests in no time (if she’s in the mood, of course…).

For more suggestions on teaching tricks to kitty, visit www.21cats.org or www.catfancy.com.