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Think Cats Can’t Learn Tricks? Think Again!

The Spring, 2009 issue of UC Davis Magazine featured an article that may be of interest to readers of the Vet Blog. Sit, Kitty! Stay!...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  May 1st 2009


The Spring, 2009 issue of UC Davis Magazine featured an article that may be of interest to readers of the Vet Blog.

Sit, Kitty! Stay!

Playing fetch its not just for dogs anymore.

Sit, roll over, shake hands and this coming from an animal that takes 20-hour naps? At the UC Davis Companion Animal Behavior Service, you can learn how to train your cat just like a person would train a dog.

Some people have a notion that cats are aloof or unfriendly, said Melissa Bain, assistant professor of veterinary medicine and epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, but theyre not! Bain, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, has trained her own cats at home for the past 10 years. Its not mainstream, and most people havent done it, but that doesnt mean they cant, Bain said.

She said in the past, shes seen cats play fetch, roll over, get in a box and shake hands, to name a few tricks. This is opposed to the usual tricks cats perform on a daily basis eat, sleep and shed fur. And while animal trainers in Hollywood have been training cats for decades, this is a fairly new phenomenon for the common cat.

According to Bain, its important to use positive reinforcement when training cats, like rewarding them with treats, instead of punishing them, which makes them much less likely to want to participate in the training process. She also uses clicking training to help her cat recognize what she wants him to do. Its not magic the clicker is a tool, and it cant be used as punishment unless you throw it at them, she said.

When I was a child I made a concerted attempt to train my cat to perform tricks. I can’t remember what tricks I wanted to teach her, but I do know that my attempts at cat training failed miserably. Obviously Dr. Bain has better credentials than I!

Photo: Lily gives five.