I am sometimes asked by people, “Can you train cats?”  This question always makes me smile.   The answer is yes, you can .  I had to train a shelter cat to do a “down” on a cat bed while in school at The Academy for Dog Trainers.  The Karen Pryor Academy requires its students to train at least one animal other then a dog while in the program.  They have had students train a wide variety of animals.  Although, by far the most common secondary species is the household cat. I encourage people to try training their cats as a way to bond and provide mental stimulation for their pet.

I was recently visiting  a cat that had to be kept confined while recovering from a broken paw.  I wanted to give her some environmental enrichment but could not play normal cat chases things game due to her paw.  So,  I thought I would train her something cute to do instead.  Her people had a small bag of grocery store  kitty treats.  I gave her one to gauge her interest in them.  To make things easy for me,  she loved them with all her heart.   I sat in the bathroom and taught her to touch my palm with her nose. This is often called Targeting by trainers.  I had not brought a clicker with me so,  I used the word ” yes” as my marker or “click”.

Our first impromptu session went like this:  I sat on the floor with her sitting facing me and counted out ten treats beside me.  When I can I like to count out treats in tens and work on a set criteria until the animal is getting 8/10  correct consistently.  For the first criteria (or level) I held out my hand open palm facing the cat waited for her to investigate and “sniff” my hand.  I held it fairly close to her – close enough that she would not have to take a step to reach it.  When she did I said Yes! as soon as I felt her nose.  I then gave her a treat right away and pulled my “touch” hand back.  To do a new trial (one trial for each treat) I put my hand back out open palm facing her at the same distance from her as before.  She went right for it, another “Yes!” and another treat.  After 10 trials, all with very quick responses,  I counted out 10 more and upped my criteria to the next level.  Meaning, I held my hand just a little further from her face so that she had to stretch even further to get her nose to my hand.

By the end of our second session she was able to take a full step to get to my hand and earn her Yes!/treat.  Her owner was very excited to continue the work and teach her kitty to target her hand from across the room.

So, the next time you give your kitty a treat, consider teaching them a small behavior to do.  It will increase your bond and give your cat some awesome mental stimulation.

Some Key Tips For Teaching Targeting:

Put your hand out to the same distance from your dog/cat’s nose each time
Hold it still!
Mark the moment they “touch” your hand with a verbal marker or click
Give the treat from the other hand
While giving the treat take away your “touch” hand so you can put it out again to           create a new trial (do 10 trials at a time)
Up your criteria after 8/10 right – usually that will mean holding it further from             their nose until you reach the desired distance.