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There are two basic approaches to training a cat to lie down: capturing the down and luring the cat into a down.
Capturing the down. In this hands-off method, you wait for your feline to naturally move into a lying down position. When she does so, mark the behavior (with a click or word) and then reward her. As your cat moves into the down position, give the verbal cue — “down” — and mark and reward as her chest touches the ground. Repeat until your cat readily goes into a down position in anticipation of the reward. As the behavior becomes associated with the cue, the cue can be given earlier, before the cat is about to lie down — for example, when she is stepping onto her bed or perch. With practice, the down cue itself will eventually elicit the behavior.
Luring the cat into the down. This hands-on method is especially useful with felines who are willing to follow a treat or toy. To lure your cat, show her the morsel or small toy you are holding in your clasped fingers or in a closed palm. Begin with the lure near your cat’s nose and slowly lower your hand to the floor at a pace your cat will follow. Sit is the easiest position from which to acquire the down, but the cat can start out in a standing position as well. Your cat may not immediately slide into a down — be ready to reward little steps like her nose moving downward or elbows bending. If your cat stops following the lure, slowly move it back up toward her and show her the hidden item. You may need to upgrade the lure to an even more desirable treat or toy, or you may need to make the training easier by rewarding even minute progress, like the cat remaining in place instead of walking away. Another creative option is to move the lure just below the level of the cat’s elevated space. Your cat may lie down after a few moments to peer over the edge. When she does this, mark and bring the reward up to her. Eventually, you can replace the lure with a hand signal by shaping your hand like it still contains the treat or toy, but with nothing actually inside. Move your hand as before and offer a reward with your other hand when your feline moves into position.
Some cats will learn down in one session, while it make take others several weeks to master. Keep your cat’s training sessions short — 1 to 5 minutes — to hold her interest, and keep the rewards coming. Usually, the more success a cat has with training, the more invested and willing to participate she becomes.
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