Q: I'd like to teach my cat some tricks. What's an easy one to teach her?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, cats take well to training, and one of the easiest tricks to teach is "down."
Start where your cat likes to nap, such as the sofa or your bed. When you see her lying down, use a clicker to mark the behavior, and reward her with a treat. If you don't have a clicker, use your voice, saying, "Good!" followed by a treat.
The click (or the verbal marker) helps your cat identify what you want her to do, and the treat helps her associate that behavior with good things. As she begins to move into a resting position, give a cue — "down" — and mark it with a word ("good!") or a click. Immediately follow with a reward. The cue helps your cat to learn the name of the desired behavior. Pairing the cue with the action of lying down teaches her to associate the word, the action and the reward.
To let her know it's OK to move, teach a release word, such as "free." Keep training sessions short — one to five minutes — and offer ample rewards to keep her interested.
Dr. Marty Becker
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