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The second method for teaching a sit is to wait for the cat to sit on her own and mark the behavior with a clicker when it happens. As soon as your cat’s bottom touches the floor, click and deliver a reward, such as a lick or two of a special treat.
Clicker training works well for skittish or fearful cats who may do best with interactions that are hands off and don’t require you to get too close. To reward a nervous cat, mark the behavior and then immediately offer a reward — either a loose, soft treat tossed gently toward her or something like a bonito flake (for cats) served on a familiar dish or bowl.
Training should ideally occur at a time when your cat would naturally sit down and in a place where she will be comfortable sitting. For instance, if your cat naturally sits on a windowsill, a perch or the back of the couch, be ready to reward her in those places. As you continue to mark and reward, your cat will learn to connect sitting with the click and the reward. Watch for your cat to sit in a purposeful manner, such as looking over at you before she sits or for her to begin sitting more frequently.
Once your cat begins to sit deliberately, you can add in a cue — again, either a word or hand signal. Start by introducing the word or hand signal just as the cat is moving into a sitting position, such as when she tucks her back end under her on the way into the sit. Eventually start to give the signal when you anticipate your cat is getting ready to sit, such as after eating a treat or getting onto her perch.
When you feel that your cat is associating the cue with the behavior, start rewarding only those behaviors that happen in response to the cue. Give the cue to “sit” while your cat is still standing; if she responds and sits, immediately reward her. If she sits without the cue, reset her by returning her to a standing position and then saying the cue. As soon as she responds to the cue, reward her — but only then. Your cat will be quick to learn to wait for the signal, since it functions as a sign that she will be rewarded for her behavior.
If your cat sits in response to the cue but stands up immediately, withhold the click and the treat for a second or two longer. Alternatively, you can reward the sit by clicking while your cat stays in a sitting position and bringing the treat to her, so she can remain sitting while enjoying it.
A “sit stay” can be built by adding in distractions, like turning your body slightly or taking a step or two away from her. Mark and reward your cat as long as she remains in her sit. As your cat gets comfortable with sitting and staying, add distance, duration and distractions.
Keep training sessions short — 30 seconds to five minutes ideally interspersed a couple times throughout the day. You’ll be amazed at how incredibly intelligent your feline really is and how quickly she masters the sit.
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