“Your cat knows how to fist bump?!” He sure does!
Witnessing a cat doing even the simplest commands isn’t something you see every day. I make it a point to show off our cat Mikita’s party tricks when people come over. It’s a good opportunity for him to socialize. Although he may be a little apprehensive when too many loud voices walk in the room, he knows there’s safety in treats.
Cats have the reputation of being independent and somewhat anti-social animals. They do what they want when they want. Although this is partially true, as pet owners, we tend to encourage this behavior. Rather than immediately socializing them and teaching them “sit” and give “paw”, we leave food out for them to snack on, shake treats to lure them over and reward them just for being cute.
Deciding to train my cat
I started to train my cat, Mikita, after we adopted him, as a means of communication. He was 1.5 years old at the time. I wanted to better understand him while spending quality time together. I had done some research online and saw other people teaching their cat tricks. It seemed like a lot of fun and a great way to teach him some fun skills.
Choosing the right treats
When we first adopted Mikita, I had no idea which treats to buy. In order for a cat to be interested in tricks, they have to be interested in earning treats! If their treats aren’t delicious, they won’t be motivated. I tried several kinds until I found the right ones. As I learned, my goal was to choose the healthiest, most delicious treats possible. This meant minimal or single ingredient. In the end, we settled on freeze-dried, single ingredient treats. He goes absolutely crazy for them and I love that they’re healthy.
Teaching the basics
I’ve taught Mikita a few simple commands. “Sit, paw, high five and fist bump.” With patience and consistency, he mastered each trick (one at a time) within a couple of weeks. The results have been adorable. His eyes light up when it’s treat time. He sits patiently when I ask and he’s very eager to give a paw. He wasn’t always so patient and sometimes he can’t contain his excitement, but a few minutes each day has taught him that his efforts are worth a reward.
Training is helpful for photography
People often ask me, “How does Mikita sit so still for photos?” Black cats are more difficult to photograph than a tabby or a calico, for instance. The key to a good photo of your black cat is having them sit still. Easier said than done. Good lighting helps but it’s not always where you want it to be. Training Mikita to sit and wait for a treat has had the most amazing unintended result of him learning to sit still. He’s a fantastic poser and great in front of the camera! He’s learned to sit where we want him to and he gets the ultimate reward of treats!
Some people are skeptical
The flip side to training a cat is it’s slightly polarizing. Many people have explained to me that they don’t require their cats to do anything for treats. This tends to be the norm. A few feel that making Mikita “work for treats” is cruel. I believe that handing out treats for no reason does not encourage growth. Cats crave interactive sessions. It stimulates their brain and encourages their natural instincts of learning and applying skills. It encourages anxious cats to feel more comfortable when you pet them or touch their paws. Treat time is something Mikita absolutely loves doing. To him, it’s exciting!
For cats who don’t seem to be interested in participating in “tricks for treats”, there’s likely a good reason. They might just be confused. Most cats haven’t been asked to sit before. But with the proper steps, we can teach them in no time. As humans, it’s our job to help them remember the highly skilled hunter they are! Once they catch on, they become engaged and excited!
Tips for cats who aren’t treat motivated
So what should you do if your cat isn’t treat motivated? This makes training a bit challenging. But here are some tips for non-treat motivated cats that might do the trick!
- Remove the all you can eat kibble buffet. Why work for treats when they can graze for free? Put that bowl of kibble away forever and establish mealtimes. Cats thrive on a schedule.
- Perhaps you’re buying the wrong treats. Your cat might like wet food instead of dry treats. Using wet food on a spoon is a great alternative for training. Try several different types and brands of treats or food to find the right ones!
- You might not be offering enough variety in their diet. Cats can display neophobia when it comes to food. If they eat the same food every day, it’s possible they have become scared to try something new. Start introducing more variety into their diet to encourage more food curiosity!
- You might be offering treats when they’re not hungry. Try doing some tricks first thing in the morning when they’re ready for breakfast!
With consistency, patience, and treats I believe most cats, at any age, can learn a few simple commands. Our homes are our cat’s entire world. By having daily treat sessions, we can release some of their wild side! Feeling inspired? Take it several steps further and teach advanced tricks! You can train a cat to accept a harness and leash, to lay down, roll over, ride a skateboard and more. Regardless of how far you take it, you’ll enjoy this quality time spent with your cat.
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