When I first started training my cat Mia I did not know half of what I know today and I learned basically through trial and error. When something worked, I did more of it, and when something didn't I stopped doing it. Cats learn the same way. They will do more of those behaviors that get rewarded and less of those behaviors that don't.
The easiest way to teach a cat to sit on command is using luring. Luring is a training technique that leverages the power of reinforcers (usually food) to lure a cat to certain locations or positions.
By placing a treat over your cat's head, your cat is going to back up and tilt their head back to see the treat. They will naturally end up in a sitting position. When that happens, we'll use the clicker or a word to mark the behavior. After a few repetitions, the cat will learn how to sit on command.
Why you should teach your cat to sit
Teaching your cat to sit and stay until you give them a signal can come in extremely handy. I use it to take pictures of my cat Mia, to keep her from getting cut with the can of food while I’m serving her, or even to prevent her from door dashing if I open the door for any reason and my cat is around.
"Cats can be trained using operant conditioning because behaviors that are rewarded, are likely to be repeated"
Have you ever realized how your cats have learned how to ask you for things? They always do it in the same way. They have learned that certain behaviors give them what they want and behaviors that are rewarded, are likely going to be repeated.
Can Cats Be Trained?
It’s often thought that cats cannot be trained to respond to commands as dogs can, but that isn’t true.
What’s that one thing that gets your cat's attention? Most likely food is the first thing to come to your head. Operant conditioning relies on a fairly simple premise: Actions that are followed by reinforcement will be strengthened and more likely to occur again in the future.
Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence of that behavior. Thanks to this association, operant conditioning can be used to motivate behavior change.
Therefore, it’s so important to stop giving our cats (and kids) what they want so they “shut up” or “stop annoying”. If there’s a behavior we want to stop, you will probably be more likely to see it repeated in the future if you reward it.
"How you respond to your cat's misbehavior can become a reinforcer. Stop rewarding behavior you don't wanna see repeated!"
Let’s get back to the subject matter. To teach sit and stay we are going to need a clicker or marker and a few treats.
Best Cat Treats for Clicker Training (Behavior Reinforcers)
Let me talk very briefly about the treats first. Because we are going to use food as a motivator, we want the cat treats to work as hard for us as we can.
There are two ways to make those treats work hard for us:
- Put your cat on an eating schedule, having free access to food will affect the value they perceive from the treats we give them.
- Find that treat that our cats go crazy for. Low-calorie treats are best if we want to keep our cats healthy. Turkey, tuna, or regular kibble are great options, below are some of our favorites:
- Free'dried raw to keep flavor and nutrients
- Extra Tasty! Single-ingredient, high in protein
- Comes in 1.5oz, 3oz, and 6oz
- Sized for cats. Great for training.
Quick Guide To Clicker Training for Beginners
If this is your first time using clicker training, you will need to charge the clicker first. Charging the clicker is prompting your cat with the knowledge that after a click, comes a reward.
To charge the clicker, you are going to click and reward until your cat understands that after a click/mark comes to a reward.
Do You Need a Clicker to Train a Cat?
A clicker is not strictly necessary to train a cat to sit but makes the work easier. If you don’t have a clicker you can either get one for around $4 or you can produce noise with your mouth or snap your fingers.
We designed our own cat clicker for training. The clicker sound is a little softer, which is great for training cats indoors. The Starter Kit comes with a small manual, a target stick clicker, a quiet clicker, and a treats pouch.
The noise must be consistent to be able to serve as a marker. If all of these sound too complicated, I posted a video a few months ago that should help you get started with Clicker Training.
You can click on the link to go to the video and come back here when you are ready!
Once we’ve found that treat that our cat gets crazy for and the clicker is charged, we can get to work!
How to Train a Cat to Sit and Stay Using Clicker Training and Treats
Teaching a Cat to Sit and Stay is Taught in 2 different phases: Sit, then Stay
How to Teach Your cat to Sit?
Sit is a basic yet super useful trick to teach your cat. I use it constantly to put the harness on/off or to keep her still when outdoors…
STEP 1 - Hover the Treat Over Your Cat's Head
- Clicker on the left hand, treat on the right hand - You can switch if you are a leftie :).
- Show your cat the treat on your right hand.
- Hover the treat over your cat’s head until they sit down while trying to reach it.
- When the butt touches the flor click, then reward.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times
STEP 2 - Train a Cat to Sit Without Treats
- Once the behavior is stablished, remove the treat from the right hand and take it with the left hand.
- Repeat the gesture. If your cat doesn’t react immediately, give them a couple extra seconds.
- When the butt touches the flor click, then reward.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times
- If your cat struggles with the trick when removing the treat from the right hand, just keep doing it with the treat on the right hand for 5 to 10 more reps and try again without the treat.
STEP 3 - Add a Verbal Cue for Sitting on Command
- Once the behavior is clear and you have enough with the physical command, you can add the word: “Sit”
- Use both in combination for a couple weeks and you’ll see how your cat starts reacting to the word without the need of the physical command.
We are half way there. Now it’s time to teach your cat how to stay put while you are doing something else.
How to Teach Your cat to Stay?
Stay is a game changer for any cat owner, to prevent them from begging when serving their food but specially for photographers 😊.
STEP 1 - Using Positive Reinforcement to Teach Stay
- Your cat must know how to sit first.
- You’ll do the “STAY” command first with your hand only.
- Click and reward your cat immediately, apparently for no reason
Rewarding for no reason will tell your cat that they are rewarded for doing nothing and they will be inclined to do nothing next time you do the hand gesture.
STEP 2 - Introducing the Verbal Command for Stay
Once your cat is comfortable and consistently reacts to the visual command, you can introduce the verbal command.
- You’ll say "STAY" and do the “STAY” command with your hand right after.
- This will pair the word with the gesture.
- Repeat until your cat consistently follows the command.
You'll know your cat understands the verbal command when the visual command (hand gesture) is no longer needed for your cat to follow the instruction to stay.
STEP 3 - Increasing Difficulty of the Stay Command on Cats
- You’ll do the “STAY” command. Walk a step back. Click and reward your cat immediately, apparently for no reason.
- Repeat this process going further and further.
- If your cat moves from the position, use finger targeting and get your cat back to where they were.
Some of my favorite uses for sit and stay are to serve food, to take pictures, and to keep her from door dashing when someone enters or leaves home.
If you want to take your cat training to the next level you might be considering teaching them how to jump on your shoulder and if you are just starting, make sure they know how to come when called!
Stay wild, stay safe... See you outdoors!