Cat jumping through hoop screengrab

Recently my daughter and my husband were discussing which animal made a better pet: cats or dogs. “Dogs are way cooler,” my husband argued, “because they can do tricks cats can’t, like jumping through a hoop.”

I had to interject. “Cats can learn to jump through hoops,” I said, much to my daughter’s delight.

It may seem surprising to imagine your cat doing the same tricks dogs do, but it shouldn’t. With the right training, most cats are able to master physical challenges like jumping through a hoop — and some even get good enough to compete in agility competitions.

Teaching your cat to jump through a hoop is also more than just entertaining — it’s a good way to challenge your cat physically and mentally, which makes it tremendously beneficial for most cats.

Training a cat to jump through a hoop is easier than it might sound. Of course, be sure to talk to your vet before starting this training with your feline. You’ll want to make sure your cat doesn’t have any physical conditions, such as arthritis, that may make this exercise painful or uncomfortable for her.

Ready, Set, Jump!

Start with the basics. If your feline is completely new to training, start by teaching her to connect behavior with rewards. Target training is a good first step: Use a treat, toy or a bit of tuna or other soft food on the end of a spoon to entice your cat cat to follow your hand or the target.

Choose the right hoop. A child-sized hula hoop is ideal, but be sure to avoid hoops that make noise or light up (lights and noise can be scary for your cat). Small dog or cat agility sets often have hoops that come with simple stands, which may come in handy later in your training.

Get familiar with the hoop. Start by laying the hoop on the ground and letting your cat explore it. Drop treats inside and outside of the hoop to encourage your cat to explore. Once your cat is freely approaching and walking around and inside the hoop while it’s laying flat, raise it up, either by holding it with your hand or mounting it in its stand. Give your cat a chance to get used to this new position. Reward your cat for her efforts — begin by rewarding her simply for touching the upright hoop with her nose.

Work on walking through the hoop. Once she’s comfortable with that, hold the hoop firmly in place so that it is touching the ground and use a target or lure to draw the cat through. You may need to start by rewarding even small steps toward the hoop — eventually, your cat will move her entire body through the hoop. At first, she may need multiple rewards to entice her to walk through the hoop. As she gets more comfortable, reward her only when her body has passed completely through the hoop. Slowly move from using the target or lure to lead your cat through the hoop to holding it on the other side of the hoop and inviting your cat to walk through the hoop to receive her reward.

Raise the bar — or actually, the hoop. Once your cat is willingly moving through the hoop, it’s time to get the hoop off the ground. Go slowly: Raise the hoop only an inch or so at a time and keep it at the new height until you’re sure your cat is comfortable with this change. This may mean that your cat will continue to walk through the hoop for a while before it is high enough to create a need for her to jump. If your cat goes underneath or around the hoop, don’t reward her — instead, reset and try again. You may also need to lower the height until she is once again passing through the hoop.

Add a cue. Once your cat is consistently following the target or lure and jumping through the hoop, it’s time to add a verbal or physical cue. Say the cue — “jump” — or make your chosen hand signal and immediately present the target or lure on the opposite side of the hoop. When your cat is through the hoop, reward her.

Fade the lure. As she begins to learn the cue, wait a few seconds between saying the word or making the hand gesture and presenting the lure; this should teach her to jump through the hoop in response to the cue, not the lure. Continue using the new cue while minimizing the size of the lure or target. Reward your cat for passing through the hoop with a treat from a treat pouch or lick of food from a spoon you have ready nearby, rather than with the lure itself. Eventually, you should be able to remove the lure itself and use just the cue and a follow-up reward to get her to jump through the hoop.

Jumping through a hoop is a fun way to entertain guests; it’s also an easy way to spend time bonding and exercising with your cat. Give it a try today!

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