Any cat owner knows that their furry feline friend can be a cat Einstein or Sherlock (usually when you don’t want them to be, for example when they scout out those devilishly well-hidden treats, or somehow make their way back inside after being put out, though you’re sure no windows or doors are open!).
However, you might be sceptical of the idea that cats could learn to do tricks – cats are famously independent, after all, and known to please themselves over the needs or desires of their non-furry human!
Despite dogs being used by humans over thousands of years for intricate and sophisticated jobs (they’re used in the military, police, are used to help the blind and are famously good at detecting drugs and bombs), cats are actually more intelligent.
Though they have a smaller brain than dogs (cats’ brains are only 0.9% of their body mass, compared to 1.2% body mass in the average dog, according to a Psychology Today article, apparently it’s all in the surface area.
Unlike a dog’s brain, a cat’s brain has surface folding, making it 90% similar to a human brain! This gives a cat a much higher cerebral cortex function than a dog has. This is the part of the brain responsible for cognitive information processing.
So why haven’t we spent more time training cats? The cleverness of cats is something any cat lover will remark upon, though we humans also love their comical cuteness, funny responses or evil super villain antics.
Probably the world’s most famous cats are those we view on YouTube. In down time, who doesn’t go straight to Googling ‘funny cats’? In fact, Wikipedia confirms that, as of 2015, there are more than two million videos of cats on YouTube alone, and cats are one of the most searched keywords on the Internet, ever!
Our fascination with our furry friends is unlikely to end any time soon (humans have kept domestic cats for 4000 years after all, since the Egyptians), and now is the perfect opportunity to deepen your bond with your feline by exercising their body and mind (with a few treats thrown in!) by training them to learn a few tricks.
The internet’s most famous cats:
This animation series has over four million subscribers, and each video regularly accumulates more than a million views – some have even racked up more than 58 million views – to put that in perspective, that’s around the population of Italy, all having watched this video!
The antics of slightly clumsy, chubby, cowardly and round-faced Maru have the Internet captivated, with 22 million people viewing his introductory video. He also has 15.6 thousand Instagram followers. Not bad for a mammal without thumbs, huh? Click here to view pics.
3. Nyan Cat
The pixelated graphics and retro cheerfulness of Nyan cat have garnered it millions of watches, its own site and hundreds of Nyan-inspired videos have spawned across YouTube. The original song has 139 million views! Nyan cat ranked as fifth most watched video on YouTube in 2011. All for an incessant tune and a cat with a poptart body. What is the world coming to?!
Our personal favourite is the charmingly British Grumpy Cat, who too has gathered over 19 million views for some of her videos!
However much we might love our feline furry friends for their cuteness and funny antics, they can in fact show us just how clever they are. Did you know that you could teach your cat tricks? And that tricks don’t just have to be silly novelties – you could teach your furry friend useful stuff too!
Some tips on cat training:
– Cats aren’t like dogs. Dogs will withstand minor inconvenience in the present in order to wait for the affirmation, or treat, that they know is coming. Cats have much less patience. They respond to positive reinforcement, NOT punishment – you will never get your cat to do your trick by saying a sharp “no!”
– Train at a consistent time daily, before meal time (that’s when your cat is most likely to respond to a treat).
– They’re fussy. Toss that boring old snack pack back in the food box – your cat will want its favourite treat, be that some fresh tuna, chicken breast, or those pricey treats you sometimes buy!
The basic steps to teach your cat a trick:
- Begin by rewarding your cat for positive behaviours in the training session, starting with a basic trick. A good idea for such a trick is the paw shake. Always use your cat’s name to initiate the trick and get his or her attention.
When your cat is sitting still, hold your treat in one hand and simply slide a finger from the other hand behind your cat’s leg and give it a little prod, prompting your cat to raise the paw. When they do, say, “[name], shake!” and hold the paw gently. Say “good shake!” and reward the action with the treat. Repeat this a couple more times to establish the action, always repeating the use of their name, and the request “shake!” Eventually your cat may put up their paw in anticipation of the treat!
- Repeat tricks several times (but don’t overdo it!) so that it becomes clear to your cat why they’re being rewarded. This is important.
- Concentrate solely on one trick per session, and don’t try to reinforce behaviours for more than 10-15 minutes, or your cat may lose patience. Repeat daily until the behaviour is really instilled.
- When the trick is definitely there, begin to introduce the clicker. Begin by establishing that the clicker means something good – simply click the clicker and reward the cat, with no trick required. This will instil the idea that the clicker means good things are coming. Then begin to use the clicker and treat after a trick, and slowly wean off the treats. Eventually the clicker itself will be its own reward!
- Slowly introduce new tricks!
The sorts of tricks you could try:
- Walking on a leash
- High five
- Walk (and eventually jump) through a hoop
- Be as creative as you like, playing to your cats natural strengths (are they a good jumper? Balancer? What do they enjoy?) so as to keep it fun and stimulating for your cat.