Contrary to popular opinion, it's possible to train your cat in some useful skills. Cats can be trained to recognise their name, as well as to come on command. And the earlier you start training, the greater likelihood of success. But cats are individuals, and each one will react differently when training begins. Some will ignore you or look at you as if you are mad, whilst others will be very curious and eager. Just bear in mind that you'll need to be patient - and be careful: your cat is just as likely to be training you.
Before starting training, it's a good idea to have your cat examined by your vet to ensure there are no hidden health problems that could be aggravated by any training activity.
You can reinforce tricks your cat has mastered, but do not confuse him or her by teaching more than one new behaviour at a time.
Cats should be rewarded every time they perform a new task correctly. Once it's learned, only offer the reward every so often. You can use your cat's favourite food as a reward, or something different, like a special flavour or treat. Manufactured cat treats are the healthiest option.
Teach your cat to associate a food reward with a sound: a bell, or a clicker for example. Once the association between the noise and the reward is learned, always hit the bell or clicker at the exact moment your cat performs the desired behaviour.
Remember that you are trying to reinforce the spoken command. Always precede a command with your cat's name. After your cat has performed the behaviour correctly and is rewarded, continue repeating the command in a positive way: for example, 'Sit, good, sit'.
If your cat isn't acquiring the desired behaviour, you may be trying to progress too quickly. Go back to your previous training until you and your cat understand each other.
Training for specific situations
Cats that habitually relieve themselves outside the litter box should be gently brought to the box once or twice a day. If they use it, reward them. You could also try placing the litter tray where your cat keeps going, to associate the tray with the action. If your cat chooses to go in a very unsociable place, try putting pieces of silver foil down - they don't like the texture on their paws. Or you can move their food, as cats don't like to eat in the bathroom! You should also clean the area very thoroughly and use a spray whose odour cats find repellent, such as a pheromone-based masking spray that you can get from your vet or pet shop. If your cat chooses to use your bathroom as a toilet, just restrict entry by keeping the door shut.
Some cats that spend time outdoors can be frustrating or even destructive in their efforts to come back inside. Try suspending a small but loud bell on a string at your cat's eye level. Ignore the meowing, scratching and other efforts to get your attention. Eventually, your cat will touch that bell and make it ring, at which point you can open the door. If this is repeated several times, your cat will soon learn to ring that bell deliberately.
- Train your 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 will quickly become an annoyed one.
- When you start training, eliminate any distracting noise from the TV or stereo as it will make the process almost impossible.
- Keep sessions short, ending them before your cat gets bored or tired. Fifteen minutes is ideal and keeps your 'student' fresh.
- Don't vary the training sessions - make sure the trainer, commands, signals and rewards are always the same.
- Try to spend a minimum of 10-15 minutes every day and stick with it. Training your cat once a month won't get the results you want.