Although training is more traditionally associated with dogs, you can teach your cat a few tricks, too! Your moggy can learn to recognise their name and come to you when you call them. To help your pet pick up these skills, it’s important to train your kitten from an early age and as soon as possible.
Teaching your kitten social skills
Training kittens starts with their social skills – the more they are exposed to at a young age, the less will shock or surprise them as they get older. From almost as soon as they can walk around without mum’s help, kittens will approach new situations with the confidence and curiosity that cats are so famous for! Kittens will be at their least fearful between the ages of 3-7 weeks, so will be more open to and accepting of new experiences and changes in their environment. After this age kittens will become more cautious, so it’s important that your breeder or rescue shelter introduces your pet to as much as possible before you collect them, ideally between 8-13 weeks old (depending on their breed and breeder).
Of course, your kitten's emotional development doesn't just stop at 12 weeks old, so you can continue to train your kitten once you’ve got them at home. Try some of these tips to help your kitten develop even further:
- Invite a variety of friends to your home to help your kitten get used to all sorts of different people – different ages, genders, heights, hair colour and more!
- If you don't have children, invite some along, making sure you let them know to take care around the kitten, especially when they meet them for the first time.
- You may know someone with a cat-friendly dog. If so, ask them to bring their pet to meet your kitten. The dogs must be well-trained and able to “stay” – even in the excitement of meeting a new friend!
- While training your new kitten, take them out in the car for short trips to get used to car travel from a young age. Offer a special treat when you return to the house so that they associate travelling with a positive reward.
How to begin kitten training
Once your cat has mastered basic social skills, you can begin training your kitten to learn other things. Before you start, it’s advised to have a full check-up at the vet to make sure your pet doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions that could cause issues during training, such as joint or hearing problems.
Hopefully your cat will be perfectly healthy, so you can start to teach them a few useful tricks. These general pointers can help you and your kitten or cat get the most out of your training sessions:
- Emphasise the spoken cue you use to teach your cat what to do (such as “sit”) by speaking clearly and confidently, and reinforcing with positive praise – for example “sit, good, sit”.
- Use a food-based reward as reinforcement during kitten training. After all, wouldn’t you be more willing to work harder if you know there’s a tasty treat in it for you?
- Using a “clicker” or soft-sounding bell when you give a treat to your cat will help them to associate that sound with a reward, so should learn to perform a task just by hearing that sound in the future.
- Train your kitten or cat before mealtimes, as a food reward won't be so enticing on a full stomach. At the same time, don't 'starve' cats to make them eager to learn; a hungry cat can quickly lose their patience!
- Try to eliminate background noise coming from a TV or stereo to help your cat stay concentrated.
- Keep sessions short, ending them before your cat gets bored or tired. Try sessions no longer than 15 minutes to keep your student fresh.
- Keep training sessions consistent, with the same trainer (either you or a professional, if you’re using one), cues, signals, and rewards.
- Wait until your cat has mastered one skill before trying to teach them another, or it may be too much for them to take in.
- Try to fit a 10-minute long training session in every day – sporadic sessions may not get you the results you want and could confuse your cat.
- Be patient! Training is bound to take time, so encourage your pet in each session with lots of positive praise and rewards for good behaviour. If your cat does something wrong, use a firm “no” before directing them to something else. For example – if they are knocking items off a surface, say “no” and dangle a toy for them to play with instead.
Now you know the basics of how to train your kitten or cat, you can move onto how to teach them specific tasks. Let the fun begin!