Pet Science

Can You Train Your Cat to Sit? It's Absurdly Easy With This Simple Trick

Your cat can learn a whole host of skills.

Cat sitting on windowsill against lush Alocasia houseplant looking at food piece in owners hand, kit...
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Pet Science

In June 2020, an Austrian kitty named Alexis performed 26 tricks in one minute, claiming the world record for the most tricks executed in that time by a cat. While it might seem impossible to teach your cat even one trick, animal behavior experts say that’s far from the truth. Not only is teaching your cat tricks possible, but it’s good for them.

Training your best feline friend comes with a slew of benefits, from improving the cat-human bond to making unpleasant tasks easier. So where should you start? Here are the best introductory tricks to train your kitties.

Learning to sit

For Sarah Ellis, co-author of The Trainable Cat and head of cat mental wellbeing and behavior at the welfare organization International Cat Care, one trick emerges as the perfect starter: Sit.

“Sit” is the ideal opportunity to condition your cat for a successful training journey. All you need is a treat and a simple gesture. Make sure your cat stands facing you as you stand facing it. Hover a treat a few inches over its head, where your cat can see. Slowly draw the treat back toward its tail, and your feline friend’s bottom will naturally settle to the floor as its eyes follow the treat. The second your kitty sits, give praise and fork over the treat. This nearly automatic process makes “sit” an excellent place to start.

Maura Tyrrell, an experiential learning coordinator in animal behavior, ecology, and conservation for Canisius University in New York, teaches a course on animal learning that requires students to train foster kittens. The first assignment is clicker training, which entails teaching the kitten to associate the sound of a clicker with a treat.

“So they know when they hear that sound, ‘Oh, a treat is coming, I must have done something good,’” Tyrrell says. This association comes in handy for every single trick learned thereafter.

Strengthening bonds

Anyone who believes cats are untrainable has fallen victim to a common myth. “I don't think a lot of people know that they can” train their cat, Tyrrell says. “They might not also know how fun it is.”

Training also brings many benefits for cats, like crucial mental stimulation. “They're trying to figure out what they can do to get that reinforcer,” Tyrrell says. “So it does require a lot of cognitive power on their part.” Ellis underscores that mental enrichment is as crucial to a cat’s well-being as any other necessity.

Learning tricks can also aid in what’s known as cooperative care, Ellis and Tyrrell say. Cat owners often struggle with giving their cats medicine or taking them to the vet. Training your cat to go in the carrier on command — yes, it’s possible — removes or at least lessens the stress. For example, a 2013 paper in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that cats trained to lie in certain positions and complete blood collections showed much lower signs of stress than cats trained in only one or neither.

Creating positive associations with the carrier is a good place to start. “We basically train them to love being in their carrier,” Tyrrell says. Hiding special treats in the dreaded carrier is one way to train your cat not to fear it.

And, your relationship with your kitty will grow stronger through the learning process. “It definitely can strengthen the bond,” Tyrrell says.

Teaching old cats new tricks

The good news is that cats can learn tricks at any age too. Tyrrell began training when her cat was 14, and is still teaching her new tricks at age 17. A 2023 paper published in The Veterinary Journal by prominent cat behavior experts Monique Udell and Mikel Delgado corroborates all these points.

Training doesn’t have to be laborious. “Small and often” is Ellis’ approach. “You can literally do some of this while you're on the phone or while you're watching TV,” she says.

This isn’t unique to the smartest cats, either. If you have a cat, your cat can learn a trick. “You can train every cat,” says Ellis.

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