Kittens are cute and naturally inquisitive, always wanting to learn more about the world around them. This makes them "purrrfect" candidates for kitten training. If you want to know how to train a kitten to come to you or do other "dog" tricks, clicker training is a great method. Make sure your training sessions are appealing to the "cat brain," which means you need to find a treat that motivates your kitten. You also want to keep the training sessions short and sweet.
Look for What Motivates Your Kitten
Cats can be a little trickier to train than dogs. Although cats want to make their humans happy, that desire doesn't drive them as it does for dogs. That means you need to figure out what motivates her, and you need a little extra patience. Your cat is a lot easier to train if she's food-motivated. Finding new ways to "catch her prey" (i.e., a treat) can be a great motivation for a cat.
Some kitten trainers will need to try something different, like catnip or a toy, to motivate their furry student. Every kitten has a motivator; you just need to take the time to find it.
Keep Training Sessions Short but Frequent
Cats—especially kittens—need short training sessions.1 For many, five to ten minutes is about the most they can handle before they start getting distracted. You want to end on a high note, so it's better to stop the training session too soon rather than too late.
It's important to train your kitten frequently, especially in the beginning. Try to train multiple times in the same day if you can. Cats love to chase prey and get lots of exercise in short bursts, so lean into that natural inclination. Consistently training every day will get the best results. Cats need a lot of refresher courses to remember what you've taught them.
Consider Clicker Training
Some cats really take to clicker training, so give it a try on your kitten. A clicker button is a small plastic device that has a button on one end. When you push the button, it makes a clicking sound. A clicking pen or even making a clicking sound with your tongue can be suitable substitutes.
The idea is that whenever your kitten does something you want to encourage, make a clicking sound, then give your kitten a treat (or whatever motivator you discovered works best), and affirm him with a gentle pet. You can also pair the clicking sound with a particular command (like "come," "sit," or "touch"), and eventually, your cat will learn to act when you say the command, without a clicker involved.
Teach Your Kitten to High-Five
One great trick you can teach is how to high-five or "wave." Kittens love using their paws to play and pounce on everything, so they may easily gravitate to this type of trick.2 If you're using clicker training, hold a toy above your kitten's head and "click" when she lifts her paw to bat at it. Say "wave" as she goes to bat at the object and let her play with the toy. Then start saying "wave" before she lifts her paw. After some time, she'll begin to make the connection and start waving her paw at the word "wave" without needing to see a toy.
Teach Your Kitten to 'Touch" an Object
Another great trick is "touch."3 Try putting a ping pong ball at the end of a long stick. First, make a "click" sound, then give your kitten a treat when he sniffs the end of the stick with his nose. (You may need to start with smaller steps, like simply "clicking" when he takes a step forward, then proceed from there.) Once he touches the target with his nose correctly, start moving the target, so he has to walk toward it to touch it. Say "touch" when he touches it with his nose. Do this over and over until he's following the target wherever it goes when you say "touch."
This can be an excellent way to get your kitten to go into a carrier, or it can be a jumping-off point for teaching other tricks, such as jumping through hula hoops or jumping on stools.
Teach Your Kitten to Come to Her Name
An important command to teach your kitten is how to come when called. If your cat ever gets out of the house at home or while traveling and she's well trained, it's more likely she'll come back to you when you call her. This can be a life-saving skill in some situations.
So how do you teach a kitten to "come"?4 First, choose the command and make it consistent. A simple and easy choice to remember is to use your cat's name, followed by "come!" Start with something that already gets her attention, like the sound of the treat bag being opened. If her name is Muffin, say "Come Muffin!" and crinkle the treat bag. When she comes, give her a treat and use the clicker sound to reinforce her action. Do this until you can call her from a different room and have her come at your command. Then try putting her in a harness and testing the same techniques outside where there are more distractions until she can do those successfully as well.
Keep Your Kitten Calm & Happy
Another key to training your kitten is keeping him calm and happy. A nervous or stressed kitten won't be able to focus on training. Comfort Zone Calming Diffusers can help ensure your kitten adjusts well and feels safe, happy, and calm—his e-meow-tional well being is important! The diffusers release calming pheromones that mimic your cat's natural signals indicating everything is okay. If you're working with your kitten outside, snap a Comfort Zone Calming Collar around her neck to help her feel safe and calm outdoors. (Don't forget her harness and leash!)
You might also want to try the Mother's Heart Beat Heated Kitty Pet Bed with Heart Pillow. This can help reduce stress as kittens transition to their new home.
Training a kitten can be a lot of fun once you find the right motivator, whether it's a treat, pets from you, a toy, or catnip. Your kitten will need "refresher courses" now and then, so she remembers what she's learned. These moments are excellent times to deepen the bond you have with your kitten and create memories you'll cherish for a lifetime.
1. Adventure Cats. "How to Clicker Train Your Cat." AdventureCats.org, 11 October 2015, https://www.adventurecats.org/backcountry-basics/how-to-clicker-train-a-cat/.
2. Orr, Joan. "How to Tame Your Kitten, Clicker-Style." Karen Pryor Clicker Training, 1 June 2012, https://www.clickertraining.com/node/1709.
4. Adventure Cats. "Teach Your Cat to Come When Called." AdventureCats.org, 8 October 2015, https://www.adventurecats.org/backcountry-basics/teach-your-cat-to-come-when-called/.