What Can You Train a Cat to Do?

Jessica Gomez
Girl with her cat

Cats are incredibly intelligent animals, and you may be surprised to learn that you can teach a cat just as many tricks as you can teach a dog. Ever wonder how cats in movies lay and run exactly when they're supposed to? Cats can come when called and answer commands; you just have to learn to teach them their way.

What You Need to Train Cats

Cats don't respond to negative reinforcement or punishment; it stresses them out and causes an adverse reaction to what you're trying to get them to do. To train your kitty, the Humane Society notes that you must use positive reinforcement to teach him new tricks. With a clicker, some moist treats, and a lot of patience, you can train your cat to do any of these fun activities!

Shake

Kitten learning to shake

Shaking isn't just a trick for dogs! You can teach your cat to shake using the clicker system, giving a click and bite-sized treat (preferably with a strong odor) to your cat when he performs the requested task.

To teach your cat to shake:

  1. Hold the clicker with the treat in one hand and gently hold your cat's paw in the other hand.
  2. Say "shake" as you shake his paw, then click and produce a treat.
  3. Try for five minutes at a time a few times a day so that your cat doesn't lose interest.
  4. Use the same paw to remain consistent, and click to reward if your cat raises his paw when you hold your hand out.

Depending on your cat, it may take a few days or a few weeks to get shaking down pat.

Walk on a Leash

Cat on a leash

Taking your cat for walks can give him sensory information that's brand new, increasing his alertness and intelligence. A cat harness is a necessity so that your cat will not slip out of his collar or injure his neck while pulling.

Start Indoors

Give lots of treats and pet your cat while he is wearing the harness so he associates wearing it with something positive. Allow him to walk around the house in the harness first, then attach the leash and walk with him around your house. If your cat struggles too much, try again later as you don't want your cat to associate the harness with stress.

Move to the Yard

Since this is a new adventure for your kitty, you'll want to start off with a small, private and quiet space so that he can get used to his new outdoor surroundings without fear.

Try a Short Walk

After you've ventured into the backyard a few times without issue, you can take a short walk with your cat. Your cat may be nervous and crouch as he slinks along. Continually giving treats and petting him while walking will reassure your cat that it's safe to walk with you down the street. Avoid areas where there may be noisy dogs, lots of cars or kids so that your cat can get used to walking before taking on other stimuli that may scare him.

Increase Walk Time

Due to his small stature, your cat will not be able to walk as quickly or as far as a dog, so a walk around the block may be all that your kitty can handle. Make sure your cat is up to date with vaccinations before taking him outside as cats who venture to the great outdoors are exposed to more diseases. Remember to be patient. It may take several attempts before your cat is comfortable walking outdoors.

Fetch

Cat fetching

Fetch has long been known as the most common interactive play between humans and dogs, but you can play fetch with your cat as well.

Start Small

Start with a small area where it will be easier for your cat to find and retrieve a toy. Choosing a quiet space will allow your cat to hear you clearly and understand that you are communicating to him.

Choose a Desirable Toy

Every cat has a favorite toy, and the toy he likes the most is the best one to use when teaching him to play fetch since he will be more likely to go after it if you throw it.

Make the Toy Special

If you only bring the toy around when you want your cat to fetch it, he will pick up on that after you've done it a few times. Say the word "fetch" often while playing the game so that your cat begins to learn what fetch means and that it becomes associated with his special toy.

Reward Behavior

Associate fetching with a reward by clicking and giving a treat every time your cat runs after a toy you've thrown. Your cat will begin to learn that he gets a treat every time he grabs his toy, and then another when he brings it back to you. If your cat will retrieve the toy but won't drop it for you, show him the treat, and once he drops it, give him his reward.

Don't Overwork Your Cat

Your cat will slowly begin to learn to fetch, and you can use the clicker to train him while slowly taking away treats. If your cat is disinterested in playing the game after a few tries or if he doesn't seem to be getting it once you've tried several times in a row, put the toy away and try again later. Don't force your cat to do it as he will become stressed and less likely to learn. Some cats just don't like to play fetch.

Fetch can be a great exercise for your cat and playing fetch will bring endless entertainment to you both.

Play Dead

Cat playing dead

Not many people know this, but you can train a cat to play dead. Word association is the name of the game with this trick.

Start Slow

While your cat is laying on the floor, gently place your hand on him and say "play dead." Try this several times before moving on to the next step.

Nudge

Call your cat to you with a treat, then gently nudge your cat to a laying position with a side roll as you say "play dead." At the same time, administer a click and a treat. The verbal cue is especially important for him to learn at this stage. Repeat this stage several times so that he learns that "play dead" means for him to flop down on the floor.

Remove Your Hand

Say "play dead" without touching your cat, and as he lays down, give him a click and a treat.

Remove Treats

After lots of practice, your cat will have learned the verbal cue "play dead," and as you say it, he will flop over on his back.

Playing dead will take a lot of practice to master, but once your cat gets it down, it's a funny trick that is sure to entertain anyone who visits with your kitty.

Jump Through a Hoop

Cat jumping through hoop

Yes, you can even teach your cat to jump through a hoop! This activity is the hardest on the list to tackle, but it's something that your cat can learn with lots of repetition.

Start With a Small Hoop

Vetstreet recommends using a child-sized hoop without any lights or sounds attached to it.

Get Cat Used to Hoop

Let your cat get used to the hoop laying on the ground as he sniffs it to check it out before attempting any tricks. Once he seems comfortable around the hoop, you can raise it up or attach it to its stand. Be sure to reward your cat with a treat any time it makes contact with the hoop.

Walk First

Once your cat has become accustomed to the hoop, slowly drag a toy with a string lure through the hoop as you hold the hoop on the floor. The idea is to get your cat to follow the toy as he walks through the hoop. Once he walks through, use a clicker and administer a treat.

Remove the Lure

Use treats to guide your cat through the hoop by letting him smell the treat first, then clicking and giving him a treat once he's walked through the hoop.

Raise the Hoop

Each time you guide your cat through the hoop, raise it slightly so that he gradually has to step a little higher each time to get over it, progressing to a hop. Don't administer a treat if he walks under the hoop; start over to try it again. If he seems disinterested, put the hoop away and try again another day.

Use Word Association

Choose a word such as "hoop" or "jump" that you use every time he goes through the hoop. Your cat will eventually learn to associate the word with the activity. Once your cat has mastered jumping through the hoop with your guidance, you can say the word, then offer a click and a treat once he has jumped through without your guidance. With tons of practice, you can eventually remove the treat and just say "hoop" or "jump" to get your cat to jump through.

This trick is very difficult and will likely take several weeks for your cat to master. Stop practicing if your cat seems upset or disinterested with the trick. Speak to your veterinarian before teaching your cat this trick to make sure that he is in good enough health to jump through hoops.

Training Your Cat

Playtime with your cat is a crucial part of his brain's development and learning new activities can even make your cat feel more confident. Teaching your cat new tricks will allow him to work his brain in new ways while providing a fun and safe activity that you can enjoy together.

What Can You Train a Cat to Do?