You might believe cats are impossible to train, but you’d only be about half right. While some cats do prefer to live their lives unburdened by obligations or tasks of any kind, others like a bit of a challenge—especially when treats are involved.
If your cat falls into the latter category—and most cats do—you can absolutely teach them some tricks. As Robert Dollwet and his world record-holding cat Didga prove in the video below, cats can perform a wide range of them, from a basic handshake to riding a skateboard:
In addition to some serious cat trick inspiration, this video offers a lot of great tips on the basics of cat training. If you’re interested in teaching your cat how to do cool stuff, this is what you need to know.
The basics of cat training
Training a cat is a lot like training a dog—above all else, you need to be consistent and positive. Use these pointers to get the most out of your training sessions:
- Be patient: Don’t rush into trying to teach your cat the full trick all at once—you’ll both just get frustrated. Instead, break it down into small steps and work your way up.
- Make it worth your cat’s time: Use really good treats as rewards. Wet food, canned or freeze-dried fish, or those gross little meat tubes work well for most cats. If yours isn’t especially food-motivated, extra pets or playtime with a special toy might be a better motivator.
- Get a clicker: A mechanical clicker teaches your cat to expect a reward when they hear a specific noise. When they do a trick correctly, click the clicker, give them a treat, and praise them. Cat School on YouTube has a good video on clicker training to get you started.
- Reward, don’t punish: Whether it’s treats or toys, only give your cat their special reward during training, so it becomes a positive experience they associate with doing a specific action. And never lose your temper—punishment won’t get you anywhere.
- Go slow: You may want to spend only five minutes a day on training to keep your cat’s attention from wandering. Yes, this means it can take months for your cat to master a trick. At the most, cap your training sessions at 15 minutes to avoid wearing yourself out.
- Be committed: The training process will take time and patience, so be prepared to stick it out if you want to succeed.
Remember, training should be fun for you and your cat. If it starts to feel like a chore or an impossible logic puzzle, take a step back and reassess your strategy.
Tricks to teach your cat
If you’re not sure what you want to teach your cat, here are a few popular options to start with. (Work on tricks one at a time so your cat can fully master them before moving on to something else.)
- Harness and leash: Get your indoor cat used to a harness and leash so you can take them outside to explore.
- Shake: Teach your cat to “shake” hands with you.
- Name recognition: Training your cat to come when they’re called is especially useful if they slip out an open door or window.
- Jumping through a hoop: You can also replace the hoop with your circled arms.
Every cat is different, but generally speaking, the more motivated they are by food, toys, and/or affection, the easier they’ll be to train. (Training is an especially good hobby for those of us with active, chaotic cats.) But some cats don’t really care for rewards of any kind, which makes training very difficult. You know your cat best—don’t be afraid to call it quits if your cat needs more time and patience than you’re willing to give.
This article was originally posted on September 27, 2017 and was updated on June 4, 2021 with new links, updated information, and a new header photo. It was also edited to reflect Lifehacker’s current style guidelines.