Just because your cat is no longer a kitten doesn’t mean that she has stopped learning. Nor does it mean that she wouldn’t benefit from and enjoy being trained. This is especially true of adopted adult cats due to the relationship-building aspects involved in training – the enjoyable, rewarding experiences of working and having fun together.
Furthermore, toys, games and training can be an especially fun part of daily life for indoor cats, providing them with additional mental stimulation.
Find her motivation
The first key step in training a cat is to engage her attention. Offer her something that she really likes, such as nuggets of her favourite food or some treats (although remember to count any treats you feed her as part of her recommended daily intake). If your cat is more motivated by play, then try using her favourite toy instead.
Cats can be trained to do all sorts of things. Here’s a simple exercise to help get you started.
- Holding a treat, lure your cat to weave through your legs and reward her when she does so.
- Progress to a figure-of-eight.
With practice, she will speed up and you can add a cue word, for example “weave”. With further practice, she should soon learn to associate the word with performing the action.
Over time, you should be able to say “weave” and your encouragement can be reduced to a simple hand signal.
Treats can then gradually be reduced so they are only awarded for the fastest responses.
A clicker is a small plastic box with a ‘tongue’ that, when pressed, makes a distinct sound that cats learn to associate with an impending reward. Clicker training is great for cats and most take to it very well. You will also need a ‘target stick’ of some kind - this can be bought from a training outlet online, from a pet store or improvised using a piece of bamboo. Make sure that whatever you use is safe and unlikely to splinter or break into smaller components that could be harmful.
- Hold the target stick close to your cat around the level of her face. Being inquisitive, she will no doubt sniff it and possibly rub against it with her cheeks or forehead. As soon as she makes contact, click and then reward her with a treat.
- Repeat over and over again in five-minute training sessions, holding the target slightly further away each time so that she has to seek out the stick to make contact. Every time she does, click and reward her.
A good routine to follow is to train for around five minutes, rest for 15 and then train again for five minutes. Repeat a few hours later. With further practice, you will be able to introduce a delay between clicking and treating.
The stick can be used to ‘call’ her as necessary, and has the advantage over simply enticing her with a treat in your hand as it allows you to put the stick wherever you wish – for example, in her cat-carrier should you wish to train her to go inside when asked.
Training senior cats
If your cat is senior (aged over 7 years), it’s important that she isn’t allowed to lose focus through lack of challenges. Learning new things is vital for maintaining good cognitive function. Think of the brain as a muscle; if it’s not exercised, it can become weaker. It’s also important to note that a cat who becomes accustomed to training at a young age will be more receptive to it later in life, so the best way to train your senior cat is to have started early.
Special considerations for seniors
As with training cats of any age, ensure that food rewards are included in her daily food allowance so that she does not over-eat. This is especially important for cats aged 7+ as they have a slower metabolism and can be prone to weight gain. Secondly, be sure to cater for any specific health requirements. For example, if your cat suffers from arthritis, take care not to train her on slippery wooden floors, or to make her jump or run around too much.
Finally, be aware of her age and try not to tire her out too much. Training demands much concentration, so short-but-frequent training exercises are far better for her than the occasional marathon stint.