How to Train a Cat

Cats aren't just nimble - they're also quick-witted. In fact, studies have suggested that they may have the ability to recall memories in an episodic manner similar to human beings. While there have been stories of cats achieving greatness - from travelling hundreds of miles to get home, to playing the piano - this training guide is aimed at the average feline companion.

Tools you'll need to train your cat

  • Treats

    Treats are a key part of any cat training plan. However, it's important to make sure that the treats you use do not upset a balanced diet.

  • Clicker

    A clicker can be introduced as an aid to treats and then replace treats as the cat begins to understand that it signifies good behaviour. Clickers come in many shapes and sizes and make different sounds, so it's important to find one that you and your cat are both comfortable listening to. You may find that a clicker pen does the job.

  • A crate or carrier

    A crate or carrier is used when your cat needs to travel. This may be something that happens more often than you would consider - trips to the vet, holidays, etc. Cats generally find travel distressing and the only way to minimise this discomfort, beyond medication, is to make sure that your cat is comfortable in its transportable home. 

Cat training methods

You may have heard about punitive methods of disciplining a cat such as using a water spray can. However, cats are sensitive so methods like this may stop your cat from doing whatever it is that is annoying you, but may lead to problems such as distrust and aggressive behaviour. For this reason, it's important that your method of training focuses on positive reinforcement rather than reprimands. 

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is all about signalling to your cat when it does what it's supposed to do. This should lead to your cat repeating good behaviour and reduce the chance of causing behavioural problems. 

Cat training: from easy to advanced

Basic

Litter box training

Using a litter box is generally one of the first things young kittens are trained to do. However, whether you're trying to litter train a kitten or you've adopted an older cat that hasn't received litter training, fear not:

  • Start with a generously-sized litter box that your cat can easily get in and out of.

  • Place the box in an easily accessible location, away from your cat's food and water.

  • Monitor your cat's routine and encourage it to the litter box when it needs to relieve itself. If your cat fails to bury its waste, show it how. 

  • Be sure to maintain and clean your litter box, both for the cleanliness of your home and for your cat. Cats do not like using an unsanitary toilet any more than humans do. 

Destructive scratching 

Cats are infamous for scratching their claws on furniture, upholstery and whatever else they can get their claws on. This behaviour may seem destructive, but it's not: cats need to scratch for various reasons - from maintaining the health of their claws to general exercise. Outdoor cats generally use tree bark to do this, but if you're keeping your cat inside you'll need to provide it with a suitable substitute such as a scratching post. 

Coming to you on command

This should be an easy one to master and can be achieved in two steps:

Step one: It all begins with a feeding routine. Simply remember to make a distinct noise before opening your cat's food and your cat will, after constant repetition, recognise this as a signal to come to you. 

Step two: Make the same noise, but use a clicker and a treat. This will teach your cat to respond to the cue without expecting a reward (other than your company).

Intermediate

While most people start by training their kitten to use a litter box and not tear apart furniture, it is possible to continue your cat's education with intermediate and advanced training. 

Walking on a leash

Whether you live in a upper level flat and can't install a cat flap, or live next to a busy road and don't feel comfortable giving your cat free reign to explore outside, leash training may be a sensible option for you. Some cats are more receptive to leash training - just as some are more accepting of collars - but with patience, leash training can be achieved. 

  • Start with the right equipment. Make sure your leash is fitted to a harness rather than a collar (which could damage your cat's neck).

  • Get your cat used to wearing the leash indoors. Many cats will try to remove a leash, so it's important that your cat accepts the leash before you take it outdoors.

  • When you're ready to take your cat on its first outdoor adventure, go somewhere quiet.

  • Make sure you have treats on hand to encourage your cat to explore, but make sure you don't let go of the leash as it could become tangled and injure your cat.

Advanced

Teaching your cat to use the toilet

For those who can't stand the smell or sight of a litter box, there is a solution: toilet training for cats. This does require patience and persistence but can be achieved.

  • The first step is to place your cat's litter box next to the toilet.

  • Once your cat is used to it being there, place it on top of the closed toilet seat.

  • Purchase a special toilet seat attachment designed for training your cat to use a toilet. 

  • Once your cat is able to use the specially designed attachment, you'll be able to remove it completely and your cat will be able to use the toilet without any litter at all!

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