Can cats be trained to learn tricks?

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Cats aren’t really known for tricks, but they can be taught as long as there is something in it for them, such as a reward like a liver cookie or a tuna pop. (See our article on making homemade treats for your cat.)

Let your cat be slightly hungry so she’ll be especially motivated to get the treat. Also, always use positive reinforcement, such as petting, treats or even wet food (place a little canned food on a spoon.) It’s also important to determine what exactly interests your cat; all cats are different and some may respond to one thing, like a ball of yarn, while other cats won’t be at all interested in it. The idea is to keep repeating and reinforcing the behavior you desire from your cat.

First, make sure your cat knows the basic “come” and “sit” commands, because they are often the basis of tricks.

• Start with the simple “come” command. To do this, simply say, “come” when you address her for everyday activities such as giving her a favorite toy or feeding her. Soon she will respond to the word “come” even when there is no reward in sight.
• The basis of a lot of tricks is to teach your cat to sit. Once you have your cat come, tell her to sit while placing slight pressure on her butt to make her sit. After the cat sits either on her own or through your help give her a treat and praise lavishly. Soon your cat will respond to the “sit” command without the need for treats.
• Fetch: Start with a very small ball so you can set her up for success. As you roll the ball and she goes after it praise her lavishly and treat. She’ll probably run and chase it, so you’re really being selective—you decide what actions get a praise and treat.
• Shake: Bump her right front leg and when the cat instinctively lifts up a foot tell her “shake” while gently holding the paw. Treat and praise.
• Up: Have your cat sit and hold a treat over her head while saying “up.” Once your cat gets up and reaches for the treat give it to her and praise.

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