Ask any cat owner if their cat is “trained.” See if they laugh and say, “My cat has trained me.” True, cats tend to train their people on feeding schedules, scratching spots and to always have a lap available, but we humans can also train cats to do tricks.
Hollywood’s Cat Training Secrets Revealed!
Mark Harden, one of the senior trainers at Boone’s Animals for Hollywood, has trained more than 100 cats for movies and commercials. His cat actors include Snowball, from “Stuart Little” and “Stuart Little 2,” and Midnight, the exotic Egyptian Mau appearing in the 2004 film “Catwoman.”
“There is a lot of finesse in training a cat,” Harden says. His accomplishments prove that not only can you train your cat, but with a little work, you can train a cat to do some pretty amazing tricks.
Clicker Training for Cats
The cat training method Harden uses is very similar to what you would use to train a dog: Clicker training. When your cat learns that a click from a clicker means a reward for behavior, you can start “catching” behaviors your cat does naturally and turn them into tricks.
- Teach your cat to respond to a clicker by pairing food with a click: food/click, food/click, etc.
- Switch this, and click and pay: click/food, click/food.
- Start to delay the time between the click and the reward, so the cat gets the idea the click means food. The clicker becomes a down payment for the treat and helps you with proper timing of your reward. Harden calls this a bridge.
Turn Typical Cat Behavior into Tricks
Your cat can learn tricks by channeling its natural behavior. For example, if your cat naturally stretches up your leg in the morning when it wants breakfast, turn this into a high-five.
- Let your cat stretch up your leg.
- Put your hand in the cat’s path.
- When its paw touches your hand, click and reward.
Harden also teaches cats to come when called by pairing their food with a sound like a buzzer.
- Like the clicker, sound a buzzer while the cat is eating.
- Gradually move the food dish, and sound the buzzer and set down the food when the cats come.
- Success comes when you can release the cat out of view and have the cat come running to the sound of the buzzer. It’s very much like the crinkling sound of the cat food bag or the pop of the cat food can.