Three useful behaviors to teach your any-age cat

We know what you’re thinking: Cats can’t learn tricks.

Not so. Cats are highly intelligent and many of them are amenable to learning tricks — or, as cats would put it, teaching you to give them treats.

But why train a cat? Doesn’t that take away from their inherent “cattitude”?

We like to think of it more as enhancing their lives. Cats are smart and active, and training provides them with mental stimulation as well as a physical workout. It helps you and your cat learn to communicate more skillfully, adding a new dimension to your relationship. And it’s just plain fun.

Here are three easy tricks to teach your feline Einstein.

▪ Sit. This is a great trick to teach cats who have a habit of jumping on guests’ laps uninvited or chasing people and attacking their legs. It’s also the foundation for teaching stay, sit up and wave.

Start by holding a treat just above your cat’s head. As his nose goes up to sniff it, his rear automatically goes down into a sit position. The instant he sits, click and give a treat. Click and treat any time you see your cat sitting, whether you’ve asked him to or not. As you do so, give a name to the action — “Sit” — and praise him for it — “Good sit!”

Once he learns to sit on cue (cats don’t respond to commands, you know), you can have your cat sit as an alternative to things he might do that annoy you.

▪ Come. This may be the easiest trick to teach, believe it or not. Every time you set down your cat’s food bowl, make an easily repeatable sound: ring a bell, jingle your keys or whistle a tune (don’t use the clicker for this trick). Your cat will quickly associate that sound with mealtime and respond instantly to it.

Learning to come when called can save a cat’s life. If you need to evacuate your home because of a fire or other emergency, it saves valuable time if your cat comes when called.

▪ Touching a target. This is useful because it can help you direct your cat to certain areas.

Use a target such as a pencil with a large eraser on the end or a narrow bird perch. Put a small amount of wet food on the end of the target and show it to your cat, holding it just far enough away that he has to reach forward to get the food. As soon as he touches the target with his nose, click and give him a treat. Gradually extend the distance the cat must come before touching the target.

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