Cat sitting on floor
Cat training may seem impossible — after all, we love our cats for their independent natures — but your feline is smart, and she can be taught to do all sorts of cool tricks. One of the most useful is learning to sit on command. Teaching your cat to sit — and stay — means she’s less likely to be underfoot all the time or in your way when you’re preparing dinner or changing the baby.

And think how impressed your friends will be!

I recommend two methods for teaching your cat to sit: the lure and the clicker.

Using a Lure to Teach a Sit

The first method is to lure the cat into a sit using a soft treat that can be smeared onto a spoon or target stick. Canned cat foods, cream cheese, spreadable cheese, kong spray, meat-based baby food (make sure there’s no garlic or onion in it), canned tuna or other soft fish or yogurt can make ideal lickable rewards.

Raise your lure (the spoon with the treat smeared on it) slowly above her face, moving past her nose and toward her forehead. She will follow the lure with her head and will wind up in a sitting position. Once she is sitting, offer a couple of licks and then raise the spoon away.

Reward your cat for following the lure with her nose by marking this movement with a clicker and offering a quick lick of the treat. Eventually, you can begin to build the behavior by waiting until your cat moves her bottom closer to the floor to click. The goal is to get to the point where you are clicking only when your cat’s bottom touches the floor.

Once your cat gets the hang of sitting, it’s time to fade the lure —  take the lure out of training — and replace it with a word or hand signal. To fade the lure, use it to get your cat into a sit but reward her with a loose treat or a lick of treat from a different spoon or bowl. Over time, move to using a clean spoon without a treat to lure your cat to sit while continuing to offer a treat from your hand or a bowl.

You can also replace the lure with a verbal cue or hand signal. One strategy is to lift your hand in a way similar to how you held the lure. Hold a treat in the hand the first couple of times, if needed. You can also start by pairing a hand signal or word, like “sit,”  with the lure. After a number of repetitions of this pairing, your cat will be able to anticipate what she is being asked to do when she hears the cue or sees the signal, and she should begin to respond to that signal rather than to the lure.

Using a Clicker to Teach a Sit

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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