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How to Train a Cat: 6 Vet-Reviewed Tricks & Tips

Patricia Dickson

By Patricia Dickson

cat gives her owner a paw

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Some first-time cat owners wouldn’t think a cat would need to be trained to behave, but those with damaged furniture and broken vases may disagree. Unfortunately, some pet parents surrender their cats to the shelter because they cannot handle their behavior.

There is hope, so don’t give up your furry friend just yet. At its core, training your cat is about getting them to behave by associating an action with a reward. Positive reinforcement works for dogs and people, so why wouldn’t it also work for felines? If you’re at your wit’s end with your cat because they just won’t listen, keep reading for a beginner’s guide to good cat behavior.

6 Tips for Training Your Feline

Training your cat doesn’t have to be difficult, but you will need love and patience to get the job done. Here are a few of the tips that work the best.

1. Gather Your Tools

The first thing you need to do is gather the necessary tools to train your cat. These should include your cat’s favorite treats, a clicker, and a specific idea of what you want to teach your cat to do. There are many behavioral issues that you can work on, but you need to start by teaching your cat the basics and then move your way up to the more advanced concepts.

white cat with the owner
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

2. Choose the Right Reward

As a pet parent, you already know that cats are finicky. The treat they like today may easily be the treat they turn their noses up at tomorrow. No magical treat will automatically train your cat, and every cat is different.

You must find the reward that motivates your cat to follow your commands. Some cats prefer dry treats, while others like chewy, wet treats. For your purposes, it’s best to have a few varieties of treats on hand until you know what works best for your feline.

That said, cats tend to easily become overweight, so choose low-calorie, healthy treats, and ensure that they are accounted for in your cat’s daily calorie allowance. Treats should not represent more than 10% of your cat’s diet.

A trick that might work is to offer something that they don’t eat every day. For example, if you give dry treats to your cat daily but rarely give them wet morsels, save the wet food for training sessions. You may have to experiment to see what works best for you and your feline.

Many cats’ favorite treat is plain boiled and shredded chicken, and it can be divided into tiny pieces. It’s also a healthy, high-protein choice. Some owners can even successfully use kibble as a treat, but that will depend on how motivated the cat is. This usually works better for cats fed on a schedule, not ones used to free feeding. The takeaway here is that you need to invest time to find out what works best for your cat.

3. Use a Clicker or No Clicker

Before you start your training sessions, you need to decide if you will use a clicker or not. The clicker makes a distinctive noise that helps most cats understand that they have done what you expected, offering less room for confusion. The unique sound will eventually become a reinforcer for the cat because it historically comes before a treat.

a clicker for animal training
Image Credit: Priyo Adiprasetyo, Shutterstock

4. Choose an Area With No Distractions

Choosing a quiet area to train your cat is essential so that the cat doesn’t get distracted and wander off. Other family members, pets, and even the TV can distract your cat and stop your training session before it begins.

If you have other pets, close the door to the training room. That way, it can just be you and your cat during your sessions. If you have more than one cat you’re trying to train, it’s best to teach them one at a time for the best results.

5. Know That Short Sessions are the Best

Cats are independent and curious and often wander away while you play with them. That’s why it’s best to keep your training sessions short. Shorter training sessions mean that it’s less likely your cat will lose interest or become frustrated. A frustrated cat will not take well to the rest of the training sessions you’re planning.

Try for 1- to 2-minute sessions with your cat initially, and slowly work your way up to 5-minute sessions. It’s better to have these training sessions two to three times a day than to do them all at once. Patience is vital to success when training a cat.

woman hang giving treat to a cat
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

6. Reward Consistently and Quickly

Your cat will soon associate the good behavior you’re asking for with the click of the clicker and the reward that comes after. You should be consistent with your rewards and give them to your feline as quickly as possible after the click. The important part here is that the click should be marking the exact time that your cat is doing what they are supposed to. You’re essentially marking good behavior, so be careful about the moment that it sounds. Your cat will be more likely to do the behavior that brought them a positive outcome. Over time, good behavior becomes second nature to them.

4 Common Behavioral Issues & Useful Tips

Before we get into how to train your cat to behave, we should address a few of the signs that they could have behavioral issues.

wound from cat bite and scratch
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock
  • Litter box avoidance
  • Scratching
  • Aggression

While most of these can be easily avoided with your cat with proper training, it is always possible that you’ll have to seek out a professional to help you with your cat’s behavioral issues if they’re too challenging for you to resolve on your own.

Whether it’s staying off the counters or being aggressive and yowling for food, a cat’s behavior problems must be dealt with. Here, we discuss a few of those situations and how to deal with them.

The 4 Behavioral Issues & How to Eliminate Them

Whether it’s staying off the counters or being aggressive and yowling for food, cats have behavior problems that must be dealt with. We’ll discuss a few of those situations and how to deal with them below.

1. Eating Houseplants

As a pet parent, you probably already know that some plants are toxic to your feline pal. The best thing to do is to keep those plants out of your home and away from your furry friend. Conversely, cat-safe plants are not necessarily safe from your cat. If you wish to preserve your houseplants’ beauty and discourage the cat from eating the leaves, you can line the rims of the containers and the surfaces beneath them with aluminum foil, since most cats don’t like the texture. Make sure to also offer your cat an alternative, like cat grass; that way, they can munch on healthy greens without harming your favorite plants.

Little cat taking a bite off a plant leaf
Image Credit: Mikhail Olykainen, Shutterstock

2. Climbing on the Countertops

Cats love to jump and climb on countertops. Not only do they get fur all over your countertops, but they can also cause damage if they knock something over. A trick to prevent cats from jumping over the counters is to place aluminum foil or double-sided stick tape on them. Your cat will not appreciate that and will stop jumping. Also, if the cat sits and doesn’t jump on the counter again, give them a treat as a reward. Soon, they will associate getting a treat with not jumping on the counter. You can then remove the aluminum foil or sticky tape from the countertop.

3. Being Aggressive

Some cats love nothing more than to bite and kick their owners. This is usually a sign of behavioral issues and often stems from the cat needing their space. Giving your cat the space it needs can go a long way toward stopping this behavior.

Remove yourself from any situation that could end in harm, and ignore the cat; only give them attention when they are calm and positive. Aggression is challenging and can quickly escalate. If the situation has gotten out of control, we strongly suggest that you consult with an animal behaviorist, as they can address the specifics of your cat’s environment scenario and teach you how to recognize the precursors and avoid the trigger cues. You are more likely to be successful in understanding why and when the aggression happens. In extreme cases, cats might need medical treatments.

angry cat hissing
Image Credit: Fang_Y_M, Pixabay

4. Yowling for Food

Cats yowl for food, but when you’re in the middle of a big project for work or cooking dinner, it can begin to grind on your last nerve. The best way to deal with a cat yowling for food is to ignore them, as hard as that might be. If you give in every time your cat screams to be fed, the cat will realize you’re giving them what they want, and the behavior will continue.

Wrap Up

When it comes to behavioral issues in cats, you can do quite a few things to resolve them. Many behaviors are normal for cats, such as getting on the counters and yowling to be fed. However, if your cat continually becomes more aggressive and attacks and bites people, it might be time to call a veterinary behaviorist to get to the root of the issue.

Cats do what comes naturally to them, and training them to do otherwise will take time. Use positive reinforcement and reward your pet when they behave properly, and soon your feline won’t raise your blood pressure with their antics.

Featured Image Credit; rossiaa33, Shutterstock

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