Allison's Book Bag

Cat Herding 101

Posted on: November 19, 2014

On Monday, I reviewed Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. This guide inspired me to write a couple of articles on the topic for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, an organization committed to improving the lives of animals. Part two of my article is below.


“Lucy, come!” Only a year ago that was the sound of my husband and I calling for our first cat. Not in the grand expansive outdoors but in the limited recesses of our home. Lucy could gracefully disappear in a heartbeat and somehow cloak herself in the remotest corners. I think my husband might have been fine with letting Lucy stay hidden while we merrily headed off to our routines or jobs. Me, being a protective momma, the moment I knew Lucy was missing was also the exact moment I needed to know Lucy’s whereabouts. So I became a frequent crier of: “Lucy, come!” And… no cat. I would shake a bag of treats. Nothing. And so I would have search her out.

Ah, if only I had availed of obedience training. But wait! I had. But with limited success. Each cat is different. Some are motivated by food, toys, or even praise. Some aren’t motivated by anything. Training requires that your cat gets something out of obeying. If your cat doesn’t want what you’re offering, you won’t get far.

Fast forward to the year 2014, and a new cat. Our darling new tortoiseshell seems to view the coils of our recliner and the recesses of our basement as an adventure land. When she isn’t tossing toy mice into the air or sleeping up a storm, Cinder likes to tuck herself away like Houdini. Just like Lucy once did. Except with one difference. The second I combine the rattle of a treat bag with the holler of “Come!” Cinder zips to me like a lightning bolt. She loves her food and that is the both the secret and bane of our existence.

We too have experimented with obedience training, and with much more success that I had with Lucy.

Before You Start

Pick a special reward for your cat. If your cat loves food, pick a tasty treat. If your cat has a favorite toy, use that. If you use food, don’t schedule your training right after a meal.

Teaching a Cat to Sit

  • Sit or kneel in front of your cat.
  • When you have your cat’s attention, slowly lift a treat above its head so he has to crane his neck to see the treat. Tell him: “SIT!”
  • As your cat’s head lifts up and back, his rear will lower.
  • Point your index finger toward his rear as you move the treat in that direction. Be sure not to hold the treat too high or he will try to jump to reach it instead of staying on all four paws. His nose should almost touch the treat.
  • As soon as your cat puts his rear on the floor, praise him and award him the treat.

To give Lucy credit, she would often obey my commands. Being a finicky eater, her reward was simply to spend time with me and please me. As for Cinder, she’s so eager for food that half the time her paws are around my hands trying to pry loose that measly little crumble I call a treat. That’s when I have to pull out my no-nonsense strict tone. Down goes her rear! And out comes the treat! We’re learning together. 🙂

Teaching a Cat to Come

  • Sit next to or near her.
  • When she becomes attentive to the treat, praise her.
  • Choose a unique command. Don’t use “come” if that’s what you yell when your cat runs off with your hot dog.
  • Hold out the treat and give your command. In this example, let’s use “Come!” As soon as she comes to you, treat her immediately. She will soon learn to pair the word “Come” with her action of moving towards the treat.
  • When she moves towards the treat and touches her nose with it, praise her and award her with the treat.
  • Now move back a foot and present the treat again, first under her nose and then by drawing her closer to you by drawing the treat closer to you.
  • As she moves toward the treat, praise her. When she actually touches the treat, award her.

As you might have gathered from my opening story, Lucy didn’t have much use for the COME command. I did have moderate success with: SIT, STAY, JUMP, and TWIRL. The rest of the repertoire, Lucy ignored or disdained. That can happen if you have a cat that isn’t motivated by toys or food. As for Cinder, we’ve zipping through the lessons in Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. Cinder is even learning to FETCH. That’s because food is her god. 🙂 Training is all about knowing your cat!
Teaching a Cat to Stay

  • Get your cat to come and sit.
  • Tell him to STAY.
  • Hold your hand in front of his face, palm facing him. Praise him the entire time he stays. This will encourage him to stay in anticipation of receiving an award.
  • Reward after he stays in place for a few seconds.
  • Repeat the process, gradually increasing the amount of time you ask him to stay.
  • Here’s the thing about these basic obedience commands. First, if your indoor cat ever escapes outside, they might one day save its life. Second, at the very least, they will encourage your cat to show some manners.

Our dear Lucy, who passed away last December, came to my husband and I as a stray with some manners already instilled. During mealtime, she simply lied beside me. Not once did she ever beg. Which meant I used to think of her as being a refined lady.

Then there’s our rambunctious Cinder. Every time we eat chicken, she thinks it’s hers. And without fail, she will try to  steal it from our plate. I’m trying to teach her to sit politely and wait during mealtimes. So far it isn’t working and so I’ve ramped up my efforts. I’m combining the temptation of cheese with the command: STAY. Cinder will wiggle her butt. She will turn in a circle. And she will even break rank. But she’s also learning that I mean business. If she wants cheese, she must learn to say PLEASE by heeding my command to STAY. 🙂

Varying the Routine

Have you ever gotten your cat to successfully comply one day, only to have her ignore you the next day? One of the ideas I picked up from Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is to VARY the routine. After your cat learns to sit in front of you, teach him to sit on a chair or on the bed. Once your cat agrees to come, vary the distance until he can come to you no matter where you are in the house. And should you successfully get your cat to stay, circle around him. After several training sessions, you should be able to completely move around your cat as he remains in a SIT/STAY position.

Cat obedience isn’t a science. I would love to hear your stories, as well as recommendations of web sites or books that you have used. Together, we can all help our cats learn the basics of obedience.

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