A very brave reader wanted to teach her cat some tricks. Instead of telling her to run away from the idea, I got my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to explain how to do it. And guess what? It’s easy!
Q: I want to teach my cat some tricks. What’s an easy one to start with?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, cats take well to training, and one of the easiest tricks to teach is “down.” In fact, you can teach it while you and your cat are lounging around.
Start in an area where your cat already likes to nap, such as the sofa or your bed. When you see her lying down or moving into a down position, use a clicker to mark the behavior, and reward her with a treat. If you don’t have a clicker, use your voice, saying, “Good!” followed by a treat.
The click or the verbal marker help your cat identify what you want her to do, and the treat helps her associate that behavior with good things.
As she begins to move into a resting position, give a cue — “down” — and mark it with a word (“good!”) or a click. Immediately follow with a reward. The cue helps your cat to learn the name of the desired behavior. Pairing the cue with the action of lying down teaches her to associate the word, the action and the reward.
With consistent training, your cat will learn the connection between cause (lying down) and effect (getting a treat). Repeating the sequence of giving the cue, marking the behavior and rewarding it sends the message that lying down is an action worth performing.
Increase the length of time your cat remains in a “down” by rewarding her intermittently as she maintains the position. To let her know it’s OK to move, teach a release word, such as “free.”
Keep training sessions short — one to five minutes — and offer ample rewards to keep her interested. Find more tricks to teach cats at fearfreehappyhomes.com/3-easy-tricks-to-teach-your-cat.
There’s more – including the truth about the “Great Pandemic Pet Return” – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.