Cat training: It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t believe cats can be trained, but a quick YouTube search brings up dozens of videos of cats doing activities as exotic as jumping through flaming hoops or running agility courses or as mundane as sitting or coming on command. Cats can learn to walk on leash and even use a toilet instead of a litterbox. (But what I want to know is, can you teach them to flush?)

Now, does that mean that every cat is a feline Einstein? Just as with people, intelligence and trainability vary among cat breeds and even within breeds. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to find a Persian or an Exotic Shorthair jumping through rings of fire (which actually may make them the most intelligent of cats). Those cats simply take a more relaxed view of life.

Some breeds or individuals are definitely more willing to learn — and to show off their talents — than others. Let’s meet five cat breeds who are renowned for their brains and trainability, which are not always the same thing. (I’m listing them in alphabetical order; I’m not about to say that one is more intelligent than another.)

Trainable Cats

Abyssinian Outdoors
Abyssinian: The “Aby-silly-an,” as he’s sometimes nicknamed, combines intelligence and a daring nature with a highly acrobatic body. The Aby excels at learning tricks and could probably solve a Rubik’s Cube in seconds, if only he had opposable thumbs. His highly social personality makes him a star entertainer. Walking on a leash is a perfect activity for this cat because he likes greeting his adoring public.

American Shorthair/Domestic Shorthair: These all-American cats — American Shorthairs are pedigreed, while domestic shorthairs are what we call random-bred — have a lot going for them: They are easygoing, tolerant, adaptable, agile, patient and keenly intelligent. Their people-watching skills are second to none, and that makes them quick learners. Not only can you find them responding to requests (you don’t command a cat, after all) such as sit, down and come, they also may be willing and able to learn other tricks, walk on a leash and pick up house rules, such as using a scratching post instead of your favorite armchair to sharpen their claws.

Bengal: The Bengal is the cat you find turning on the kitchen or bathroom faucet so he can play in the water, or figuring out how to get a nice fish dinner from your saltwater aquarium. He tends to be highly intelligent, curious and active, a combo that makes him a trainer’s dream but a normal cat owner’s nightmare — unless she’s prepared to challenge his brain with puzzle toys and other activities that will keep him entertained. Otherwise, you may find him taking objects apart to see how they work or pawing through drawers and cabinets in search of something interesting to play with. The Bengal is good at learning tricks, including playing fetch, and will take you for walks if you are attached to a leash.

Savannah: This is a smart cat with a sense of humor who likes a good joke, especially if it’s at your expense. Don’t be surprised to find him turning on your alarm clock just to see if he can get you to give him breakfast an hour early, pushing items off shelves so they land on your head or running water into the sink so he can splash around in it. Keep the Savannah occupied with interactive toys and games, walks on leash, and steps and bridges throughout your home that will challenge his gymnastic skills. Exercise his brain and body by teaching him to walk on leash.

Siamese Closeup
Siamese: These endlessly curious cats are typically both smart and demanding. They want to be involved in everything you do, but if you’re not around, they will entertain themselves by turning on faucets, opening and rummaging through cabinets, and watching television with real interest. The Siamese usually takes to leash walks enthusiastically and doesn’t disdain playing fetch or performing tricks — although he hates being compared to a D-O-G. His best trick? Teaching you to do what he wants.