Cats might like us to think that they’re untrainable, but the truth is that most cats enjoy short training sessions! The best time to start is when your cat is still young, so beginning when they’re a kitten is a great idea.
Whether you’re hoping to persuade your kitten to stay off the kitchen counters or to teach them fun tricks to impress your friends, make sure to check out our list of the 10 best ways to train your little bundle of fluff.
1. Stock up on treats
Cats are often food motivated, so using treats as a reward for positive behavior is an excellent way to capture your kitten’s attention. Make sure you always have plenty of treats to hand, as well as using verbal praise when your cat gets something right.
2. Use clicker training
Positive reinforcement using praise and treats when your cat gets something right is one of the most effective training methods. You can combine these treats with a clicker box, which makes a noise when you press it. This acts as a “bridge,” connecting the moment that your kitten does something right and the knowledge that they’re about to get a treat. The more you reinforce the good behavior by clicking and treating it, the quicker your kitten will learn what you’re asking them to do.
3. Keep sessions short
Kittens have a short attention span, so don’t expect them to be able to concentrate on a long training session without losing focus. Little and often is the best way to train your kitten, so try to keep your training sessions around 10-15 minutes long for the maximum effect.
If your kitten gets bored, they’re far more likely to wander off and give up on what you’re trying to train them. Kittens also need plenty of sleep, so they may be getting tired!
4. Remove distractions
Don’t expect your kitten to concentrate on a training session if there are too many distractions around them. Other pets, the noise from the TV, or too many toys around for them to play with can all cause your kitten to lose focus.
Find a quiet place to train your kitten to help them succeed. Choose a room where you won’t be disturbed, or wait until the house is empty and free from distractions before starting a training session.
5. Train before mealtimes
If you’re using treats and positive reinforcement to train, your sessions will be most effective if you schedule them just before your kitten’s mealtime. Never let your kitten go hungry, but working in a short training session just as your kitten is starting to think about food means they will be focused on their treats and receptive to your training commands.
6. Consistency is key
Kittens will learn fastest and most effectively if you keep your training commands consistent. Switching between methods is likely to confuse them, and then it’s much easier for you both to get frustrated if they’re not picking something up as quickly as you might like. Using the same cues and signals during each training helps your kitten to know what to expect. It also makes it easier for you to build on commands — for instance, turning a “lie down” command into a “roll over.”
The one thing that you don’t need to be so consistent with is treats! Switching the type of treats that you use as rewards is a great way to maintain your kitten’s motivation and concentration. You can use a lower value treat for easy commands, and switch to a higher value and tasty treat for new or more complex commands. You’ll soon figure out what treats your kitten will do anything for!
7. Focus on one skill only per training session
Kittens have short attention spans, so don’t expect them to easily be able to switch between different commands and skills. Overloading them mentally by asking them to learn different skills during one training session may make them feel stressed.
If you are keen to teach them multiple commands at the same time, use multiple short training sessions within the same day, and dedicate each training session to practicing that particular command.
8. Don’t punish your kitten
Never punish your kitten using verbal or physical methods. This isn’t an effective way to teach them not to do something and may negatively impact your bond with your kitten. Instead of punishing negative behavior, keep an eye out for positive behavior and actively reward that instead. If you’re trying to teach your kitten not to jump on the kitchen counter, look out for opportunities to reward them when they’re playing nicely on the floor instead of shouting when they’re on the counter.
9. Repeat, repeat, repeat
The more often that you ask your kitten for a particular behavior and then reward them when they get it right, the more capable they’ll become at performing that particular trick. As you’re starting to teach a new behavior, make sure your cat gets plenty of treats and praise whenever they do what you’ve asked. As they become more skilled at each behavior, you don’t necessarily have to give them a treat each and every time, but you can switch to verbal praise or a quick tickle on their favorite spot instead.
10. Train in different places
As your kitten becomes more skilled at performing certain commands, start to challenge them by asking them to perform these in different environments and circumstances. When first starting training for a new command, using a quiet room free from distractions is vital. Once you’re confident your kitten has mastered a new skill, ask them to perform the same command in a noisy room, outside, or with additional distractions, like other cats or people.
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