long haired tabby cat

5 Tricks to Teach Your Cat: Cat Training Basics

So you’ve decided to start cat training, but maybe you aren’t sure which tricks to teach your cat to get started. With so many directions to go in, it can be overwhelming knowing where to start. You might be wondering:

  • Which are the easiest tricks?
  • Which trick should I teach first?
  • Is there a logical order to teaching my cat tricks?

Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Below are 5 tricks to teach your cat that will get you both started out on the right paw. The idea is start with the basic, fundamental skills, as these will serve as building blocks from which you can teach more complicated skills and tricks later on.

We will be using clicker training principles and techniques for all skills mentioned.

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1. Target Stick Training

A target stick is a long, lightweight stick with a small ball on the end that is usually foldable or extendable. The Cat School target stick even has a clicker as well. Target stick training has several purposes, but the most common reason to use a target stick is so you can lead your cat from one point to another.

  1. With your cat slightly distracted or a few steps away from you, place a treat on the floor.
  2. Point to the treat with the target stick. When your cat approaches the target stick to find the treat, click and place another treat down close by.
  3. Now PRETEND to put a treat down. When your cat approaches the stick, click and then place a treat down right in front of them.
  4. Do several training sessions and repetitions of this.

Your cat will quickly learn that approaching the target stick and even touching it with their nose means they get a reward. Once they’ve realized that, you can begin to raise the stick and use it to lead your cat around. This is a simple trick that can be fun too!

2. Ping Pong Kitty

Ping Pong Kitty is an attention game where you practice teaching your cat to return to you after moving away and getting distracted by food. It’s good exercise for your cat because it keeps them moving, and it will also help lay the foundation for future skills such as recall training.

  1. Place a treat on the floor a few inches away from you. Have additional treats in your hand (or your treat pouch if your cat gets distracted by treats in your hand).
  2. Wait for your cat to eat the treat and turn back to you. Feed them another treat as a reward for attending to you.
  3. Repeat the previous steps by placing treats down at different spots and reinforcing your cat’s attention after they return to you.
  4. Practice in different rooms and with different rewards.

Once your cat seems pretty confident with the above steps, you can begin to incorporate the clicker:

  1. Toss a treat away from you. As soon as your cat returns to you or makes eye contact, click, and toss a treat in the opposite direction. 
  2. Repeat the previous step several times gradually increasing the distance your cat goes.
  3. Practice tossing the treat at various angles away from you. 
  4. Repeat the training in different rooms in your house.

3. Sitting on a “Parking Spot”

One of the most valuable tricks to teach your cat is to go to a mat on command where they learn to stay. This “parking spot” behavior can help with many things, especially when working with multiple cats and preventing problem behaviors. 

  1. Work in a narrow space such as a hallway or doorway. Place a big blanket down so that it intersects your cat’s path when you toss a treat away. Click and reward your cat for placing four paws on the blanket. Practice until your cat is very comfortable stepping on the blanket after retrieving their treat. 
  2. Repeat Step 1 while gradually making the blanket smaller. Your cat should barely notice the change in the blanket. If your cat doesn’t fully step on the blanket, click for two paws touching the blanket but use the treat to guide them further towards you.
  3. Aim for five correct responses in a row before making the blanket smaller.
  4. Always reward your cat for sitting on the blanket.

Start moving the blanket’s location and encourage your feline friend to seek it out. Don’t move it too far away from the original training location at first, but you’ll eventually want to move it around to different rooms of your house as your cat catches on. Then you’ll be able to use the blanket or mat to direct your cat where you want them to go.

4. Carrier Training

Whether your goal is to lower your cat’s stress level on route to the vet or to get your cat outside in a backpack, cat carrier training should be a big focus for all cat owners. Positive reinforcement is key for successful carrier training!

  1. Set up your equipment so it is as easy as possible for your cat to get in. If you are working with an extendable backpack, have it fully extended with all doors open. If you use a plastic kennel-style carrier, I recommend removing the top. The goal is to make it easy for your cat to get in.
  2. Scatter treats in and around the carrier to encourage your cat to explore it. If your cat likes to play, use their favorite toy to make the carrier a fun place for them to go.
  3. Keep your carrier out so your cat can go in it independently. Drop some treats (or toys) inside throughout the day to encourage your cat to pass by and go inside.
  4. If you catch your cat going in on their own or even just popping your cat’s head inside, get excited and praise them. Give them a treat inside the carrier.

The above steps give a general overview of how to get started with carrier training your cat. For a full step-by-step guide from start to finish and access to assistance from Cat School teacher Julie, we recommend enrolling in Cat School.)

5. Nail Trimming

Clipping a cat’s nails is a reality for most indoor cats, yet it is also one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. Nail trims have the potential to be extremely stressful for your cat, so the goal is to make it as positive of an experience as possible. The first step is showing your cat that the nail clippers are a tool associated with a tasty treat.

  1. Bring the clippers out first, as soon as your cat notices them, present the delicious food.
  2. As soon as you stop feeding, immediately put the clippers away.
  3. Wait a few seconds and repeat the process one or two more times.
  4. If you have time, try to do two short training sessions per day.

Once your cat has begun to associate the nail trimmers with positive experiences, you can begin to do the same with handling their paws, extending their claws, touching their paws with the clipper, and eventually clipping their nails.

These training steps give a general overview of how to get started trimming your cat’s nails using positive reinforcement. For full step-by-step guide through the whole process, including access to Cat School teacher Julie for assistance, we recommend enrolling in Cat School.) 

Cat training is a wonderful way to meaningfully interact and engage with your furry friend, and these 5 tricks to teach your cat will help lay the ground work for all your future training and bonding.

In fact, the 5 behaviors and skills outlined in this article are a part of Grade 1 in Cat School, along with other fun skills such as paw target a cup, harness training, jumping on and off a chair, brushing, and sit. If you’re looking for more, be sure to join us over in the Cat School Community!