How to train your cat to listen and follow you

If you sometimes secretly wish your fluffy were more like Fido in the teachability to do fun things or you’d simply like her to obey the household rules (such as no jumping on the counter), you’ll be glad to know that you can teach an old (or young) cat new tricks and behaviour modifications. Ahead, we asked Allene Tartaglia, executive director of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, for her tips to make it easier for both of you.

Pick a trainable behaviour and be realistic about your expectations

Just like dogs, some cats are easier to teach than others, but success really depends on the type of training. “Teaching a cat to run an agility course with obstacles is completely different from ‘training’ a cat to not jump on a countertop,” explains Tartaglia. “In general, cats are more inclined to do what they want to do whereas a dog lives to please its owner.” If you’re trying to train a cat to do tricks, consider clicker training, which involves positive reinforcement.

One of the most popular training ideas is walking a cat on a leash. Leash-training works better when a cat is naturally relaxed rather than one who’s generally cautious and fearful, according to the American Humane Society. It suggests letting your cat get used to wearing a special harness and then a leash indoors. This treat training method will create a positive association with the gear and that’ll make taking her for a walk outdoors easier. Other reasonable behavioural trainings are using a litter box, feeling comfortable inside her carrier, and coming when called.

Reward them with a favourite treat

Cats don’t respond to praise like “Good boy!” as a dog would, but they’ll follow your request when you reward them with their favourite edible treat. The key here is to be consistent in the training of the cat. Reward them every time they respond well to teaching; this way, they’ll connect your teaching with tasty rewards.

Training a cat
Image: Courtesy Tomas Ryant/Unsplash

Understand unwanted behaviours

“Most cats can be taught to not jump on top of the counter,” says Tartaglia, “but keep in mind that if they hear and know the sounds of a can of cat food being opened on the countertop they will want to investigate.” If your cat does jump on the countertop to see what is happening regarding food, “don’t feed the cat from the countertop anymore since this reinforces the behaviour you don’t want.”

Be patient and repeat the lesson

Cats need time to build their confidence and master something new, so the more relaxed you are, the better for both of you. “As with any project, it’s good to approach it with a positive attitude,” adds Tartaglia. Teach just one new trick or behaviour modification at a time, so your cat doesn’t get confused or stressed. Do it several times in a row so they learn why they’re getting treats. Start training the cat for the next exercise only when they’ve mastered the first.

Think twice about toilet training

This is a behaviour modification that may appeal to owners, but our expert advises against it. “It could be dangerous as the cat could fall into the toilet while trying to use it, and that would not be pleasant,” says Tartaglia. “If someone is thinking of toilet teaching a cat, then that person needs to be taught to always leave the bathroom door open and the toilet cover-up.” Easy, full-time access to a litter box, or toilet, is key.

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