People often think that dogs are good pets for tricks and cats are best just to lay around the house. This actually isn’t the case! In fact, some cats will be healthier and happier when they learn how to engage with their owners and enjoy fun activities.
Like most animals, cats learn best when they are young, so if you have a kitten or adolescent cat, training may be easier. An affectionate cat that is very food or prey motivated can still be trained when older. The first thing to find out is what motivates your cat.
Some cats will eat just about anything and will do whatever you want for food. I have a cat who loves to play with just about any toy. She loves fake mice, corks, twist-ties, and fuzzy balls. If you are very lucky, you may have a cat that is motivated by both play (usually indicates a strong prey drive) and food.
Once you know what motivates your cat, you are ready to teach. If you aren’t too picky about what kind of tricks your cat does, but you just want the fun of having it do things on command, the easiest thing is to let your cat teach you. Watch your cat for behaviors that it already enjoys, and associate that behavior with a command and praise.
For example, my toy-loving cat showed a ready interest in chasing toy mice. I would throw the toy and she would race after it. She usually picks it up so she could enjoy the “catch.” She would then drop it and wait for me to do something. I got tired of being the one doing the trick, so I patiently worked with her on bringing the toy back to me.
You can do the same with your cat if it loves toys. Throw the toy and when you do, make a sound or use a voice command. I say “whoosh!” when I throw the toy because she likes the sound. Be ready when your cat gets to the toy. No matter what the cat does when it reaches the toy, be ready with some reward. Cats know if you are speaking in a happy tone. A “clicker” device is a great way to tell your cat that it has done something right as well and you can order or buy a clicker from any pet supply.
Once the cat associates the “command” and the “praise” with the activity, you are ready to go further. With my cat, I praised her verbally when she understood to go and pick up the mouse, but I stopped using the clicker and giving a food reward. She was puzzled, trying to figure out why she was only getting half the goods. She eventually took a couple of steps toward me with the toy in her mouth, and I rewarded her immediately. Slowly but surely I taught her to carry it further, and now she will bring me a toy from anywhere that I throw it. I can sit back and be lazy! I always reinforce the reward aspect when she brings it, though I vary the reward from petting to food to the clicker.
Each time you start to teach a new activity, you will use the same process. Start with a command of some kind and an instant reward for even the slightest effort. As the cat gets to know the game, you can expand on the activity. Some other simple activities that most cats can learn easily include sitting on command, walking or hopping through a hoop and jumping from one spot to another. If your cats learn these easier tasks, you can move on to just about any activity. If your cat is a little reluctant to more complex tricks, you can still have a lot of fun with the basics.