Are you looking for a fun activity with your cat? Training your cat to do something — like walk on a leash, play dead, high five or shake — can be a great bonding experience for you both, and it can open the door to other experiences, like being an #adventurecat couple. Plus, it keeps your cat's mind active (and out of trouble).
If you're not sure what thing to try or how to start, you're in the right place.
1. Teaching Your Cat "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 one with a strong odor) to your cat when they perform the requested task.
- Hold the clicker with the treat in one hand and gently hold your cat's paw in the other hand.
- Say "shake" as you shake their paw, then click and produce a treat.
- Try for five minutes at a time, a few times a day so that your cat doesn't lose interest.
- Use the same paw to remain consistent, and click to reward if your cat raises their 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. Take it slow and be patient. You'll get there!
2. Getting Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
Taking your cat for walks can give them sensory information that's brand new, increasing their alertness and reducing the opportunity for getting into trouble. A cat harness is a necessity so that your cat will not slip out of their collar or injure their neck while pulling.
Give lots of treats and pet your cat while they are wearing the harness so they associate wearing it with something positive. Allow them to walk around the house in the harness first, then attach the leash and get them used to that sensation. If your cat struggles too much, try again later, as you don't want your cat to associate the harness with stress.
If your cat does "the flop" the first time they're in the harness (lays on side and refuses to move), don't freak out. This is a bit of a kitty temper tantrum due to the new sensation. Give treats and be patient. Cats don't like change, and it can take a while. Don't move to the next step until your cat is comfy in the harness and moving around normally.
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 they can get used to the new outdoor surroundings without fear. Bring plenty of treats and stick to this until your cat is walking confidently around this area.
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 they slink along. Continually giving treats and petting them while walking will reassure your cat that it's safe to walk with you outdoors. 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 them.
Increase Walk Time
Due to their 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. Remember to be patient. It may take several attempts before your cat is comfortable walking outdoors.
For a more detailed instructional check out How to Leash Train Your Cat.
Make sure your cat is up to date with vaccinations and parasite preventatives before taking them outside, as cats who venture in the great outdoors are exposed to more diseases and parasites, like fleas.
3. Teaching Your Cat "Fetch"
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 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 with them.
Choose a Desirable Toy
Every cat has a favorite toy, and the toy they like the most is the best one to use when teaching them to play fetch since they will be more likely to go after it when you throw it.
Make the Toy Special
If you only bring the toy around when you want your cat to fetch it, they 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 their special toy.
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 they get a treat every time they grab this toy and then another when they bring it back to you. If your cat will retrieve the toy but won't drop it for you, show them the treat, and once they drops it, give them the reward.
Don't Overwork Your Cat
Your cat will slowly begin to learn to fetch, and you can use the clicker to train them while slowly taking away treats. If your cat is disinterested in playing the game after a few tries or if they don'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 they will become stressed and less likely to learn. Some cats just don't like to play fetch, and that's OK.
Fetch can be a great exercise for your cat and playing fetch will bring endless entertainment to you both.
4. Training Your Cat to Play 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.
While your cat is lying on the floor, gently place your hand on them and say, "Play dead." Try this several times before moving on to the next step.
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 them to learn at this stage. Repeat this stage several times so that they learn that "play dead" means for them to flop down on the floor.
Remove Your Hand
Say "play dead" without touching your cat, and as they lay down, give them a click and a treat.
After lots of practice, your cat will have learned the verbal cue "play dead," and as you say it, they will flop over on their 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.
5. Training How to Jump Through a 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 Your Cat Used to the Hoop
Let your cat get used to the hoop lying on the ground as they sniff it to check it out before attempting any tricks. Once they seem comfortable around the hoop, you can raise it or attach it to a stand. Be sure to reward your cat with a treat any time it makes contact with the hoop.
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 they walk through the hoop. Once they walk through, use a clicker and administer a treat.
Remove the Lure
Use treats to guide your cat through the hoop by letting them smell the treat first, then clicking and giving them a treat once they've walked through the hoop.
Raise the Hoop
Each time you guide your cat through the hoop, raise it slightly so that they gradually have to step a little higher each time to get over it, progressing to a hop. Don't administer a treat if they walk under the hoop; start over to try it again. If they seem 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 they go 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 and then offer a click and a treat once they have 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 will likely take several weeks for your cat to master. Stop practicing if your cat seems upset or disinterested in the trick. Speak to your veterinarian before teaching your cat this trick to make sure that they're in good enough health to jump through hoops.
6. Train Your Cat to High Five
Training your cat to high-five is a fun trick that’s fairly easy to teach if you're using a clicker-based training method. All you need are tasty treats as a reward and a target, like the post-it notes used in this video. Follow along and watch as your cat picks up this trick.
Quick Tips for Training 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, you must use positive reinforcement to teach them 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!
Fun Bonding Time With your Cat
Learning new activities can make your cat feel more confident, and give you both the fun time together to relax and enjoy. Even if your cat chooses not to do one of these, give another one a try. You never know, your kitty might be a kitty-hoop-star in the making!