What is the best way to teach my cat how to shake hands?

It’s a misconception that dogs are the only animals who can be taught to “shake” hands. A cat will respond in the same fashion if you consistently follow a simple training routine.

Any time you’re going to try to teach a cat a trick, it’s a good idea to time the session just shortly before the animal’s morning or evening meal. A little hunger and a few tasty treats can go a long way.

First, show your cat the treats in your cupped hand, maybe even letting him take one or two just to show you’re on the up and up with this game. Then offer him the other, empty hand, using the command word, “Shake.” The cat will be expecting you to have treats there as well, and will investigate.

As the cat is examining your hand, gently pick up his paw, give it a shake, and then immediately give him a treat with praise. Say his name and the word, shake, to reinforce this cue.

You are trying to communicate to the cat that placing his paw in your empty hand will still get him the reward he desires, and that the word “shake” is a signal of what you want him to do. “Shake” is actually a good command word for a cat because it contains a hard, distinctive consonant.

Cats will only put up with training sessions that are about 10 minutes in length, so plan on repeating this sequence four or five times. Be patient.

Felines have a very different take on learned behaviors than dogs. Dogs want to please their owners, whom they perceive to be the leaders of the pack. Cats have no such genetic imperative. They’re solitary hunters. Oh, they love you, but they’re not going to do any sort of “trick” unless they see a clear reward.

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