Is it possible to train your cat like a dog?
The answer to that depends on what you mean by “like a dog.”
Do you mean is it possible to teach him to follow commands and do tricks like a dog?
Or are we talking about training him using the same basic methods that we use on dogs?
Read on to find out the answer to both!
Can you train your cat like a dog?
Since there are two different ways to interpret that question, let’s start by breaking it down.
Can you train your cat to follow commands like a dog?
Ever see those insanely cute videos (like the one below) of cats doing outrageously amazing tricks and think, “Hey, I want to train my cat like that!”
Yeah, me too. Obviously, it’s possible. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the aforementioned videos to make us feel like totally inadequate cat trainers!
What you need to realize, though, is that these people spent hours upon hours perfecting those routines with their kitties.
Cats may be more independent and even more clever than dogs in many ways, but that actually works against you.
See, most dogs are people pleasers by nature. Cats? Not so much. You have to really make it worth their while!
Can you use dog training methods on a cat?
Well, that depends entirely on what method you use to train your dog!
If we’re talking alpha training and all that antiquated dominance nonsense, no.
Seriously, go ahead and try to “dominate” your cat. I guarantee he’ll do whatever the kitty equivalent to laughing in your face is!
If we’re talking reward-based training, though, then yes, it’s absolutely doable.
Just like it does with dogs, reward training teaches your cat that if he does A, he gets tasty B.
Read on for tips on how to train your cat like a dog using similar methods.
Tips to Train Your Cat Like a Dog
We’re going to focus more on the second scenario because it’ll actually help you with the first.
1. It’s all about timing & location
Choosing the right time and location for your training session is absolutely essential.
The best time to train your cat is right before meal time, when he’s hungry enough to be interested in what you have to offer.
So, if you regularly feed your kitty at 5 PM, time your session for around 4:30.
Along with the right timing, you’ll also want to stick to the right amount of time.
Just like dogs, cats learn best when the sessions are short and sweet. I’d say no more than 20 minutes. Too much longer than that and they’ll get bored!
If you’ve ever trained a dog, you know that it’s important to choose a distraction-free environment at first. The same goes for training your cat!
Take kitty into a room away from other pets and noise. Your bedroom is a good option, especially if your cat likes to hang out in there.
Don’t make him feel like you’re trapping him, though.
In fact, it’s probably better to lure him in there with a favorite toy and have someone else shut the door behind you.
Once he masters a trick or command, then you can introduce distractions. For now, though, it should just be the two of you.
2. Use high-value treats
If you’ve ever trained a dog, you know that treats are the key to success. The same goes for cats.
However, here’s the thing- cats aren’t quite as tempted by low-value treats as dogs are. Let me explain.
High-value vs. Low-value treats
When you train a dog, typically you choose low-value treats (things he gets everyday) for low-distraction environments.
However, when the task is particularly demanding or the environment is super distracting, you pull out the high-value goodies (things he loves but rarely gets).
My dog gets carrots every day, sometimes “just because.” She doesn’t really have to do anything fancy for them.
Still, when I hold one out and ask her to sit, she does. In other words, I can use them for basic training, even though they’re low-value.
My cats get a few of their favorite cat treats every day as well, sometimes “just because.”
If I were to try to use them in training, they’d look at me like I’d lost my mind. They’re simply not valuable enough to motivate my kitties.
So, when I want to teach them something new, I have to break out the little piece of cooked chicken or the homemade salmon treats.
Bottom line, make sure you’re giving kitty a good enough reason to comply with your request.
3. Work with your cat’s natural instincts
If you want to train a cat like a dog using reward training, you first have to teach them what the “reward system” means.
I’ve had both cats and dogs for my entire adult life.
All those years have taught me one thing- dogs almost instinctively know that rewards are something we earn while cats think that their very existence deserves a reward.
Teach them that rewards are earned
So, teach them that while their existence is definitely worthy of SOME rewards (like humans, our pets deserve some “no strings attached” goodies on occasion), they have to earn the good stuff!
For that, you’ll want to work with their natural instincts and reward them for things they’re already doing.
I recommend starting with litter training. Cats naturally want to go where they can cover up their “business,” which is why they’re such a breeze to litter train.
When you see your cat coming out of the box, immediately say, “Good kitty!” and hand over a reward.
Continue to condition your cat to see treats as a reward by using them during playtime.
For example, you can hold a treat up above kitty’s head to encourage him to reach for it or fill an interactive ball with treats.
Basically, whenever your cat does something you like, reward him. It won’t take long for him to learn that the good stuff only comes when he earns it.
If you want to see the last two tips in action, check out the video below. It’s long but super entertaining AND informative.
4. Start with simple tricks and commands
Yes, I know, you want to teach your cat to ride a bike so you can be the next YouTube star. Who doesn’t, right?
However, your cat can’t master complicated tricks until he learns a few basic commands.
Try teaching him simple things like “sit” and “come.” You know, the things you teach your dog at first.
Check out the tutorial below for tips!
5. Redirect, don’t punish!
If you’d rather learn how to teach you cat NOT to do something, this one’s for you.
Just like you should never use punishment based training with dogs, you should never, ever, ever punish your cat for doing something that you don’t like.
Cats scratch furniture. They barf up hairballs in our shoes. They throw things at us when we don’t pay attention (or at least mine does). They put on obnoxiously loud way-off-Broadway musicals at 2 AM.
None of these things are done out of spite. There’s a reason behind each and every one.
Yes, even when Willow chucks things off the counter in what I swear is a clear attempt to hit me, she has a reason.
Your job is to figure out that reason, then figure out how to either deflect or deter the behavior without taking out your frustration on your cat.
How to redirect negative behavior
If your cat is scratching up your sofa, redirect that behavior by giving her something more appropriate to sharpen those claws on.
We bought a cheap $5 cardboard scratcher from 5 Below that my Zoe just adores. Alex & Willow prefer a fancier scratching post.
If kitty is singing at the top of her lungs in the middle of the night, redirect her by giving her something quiet to play with.
Sometimes, Zoe sings because she’s lonely. Just inviting her into my room is enough to settle her down (I keep my door closed not to keep her out but because I’m the first to bed in my house).
Got a cat like mine that throws things at you for attention? Make sure her needs are met (does she have food, water, and a clean litter box?).
If they are, ignore her assault. She’ll stop when she realizes she’s not getting anything out of it.
That about sums it up!
As we’ve seen, yes, it’s possible to train your cat like a dog as long as you modify your methods a bit and have plenty of patience. 🙂