Train Your Cat to Sit

Teaching a cat “tricks” or behaviors is much more than just entertainment for us. Having a cat learn to do something on cue allows you to communicate with him. Training can give your cat physical exercise and keep him from becoming bored and restless.

Clicker training pairs a clicking noise (made by a “clicker”, fingers snapping, “mouth click”) with a reward. When your cat responds to a cue to do something and hears the “click”, she looks forward to receiving a treat, head rub or other reward. The behavior is positively reinforced by receiving the reward and your cat is more likely to repeat the behavior when cued.

Why Train Your Cat to Sit?

train cat to sit
Athena begins to sit as she targets a treat



Let’s say it would be handy for your cat to wait while you fix his dinner or you need him to sit still so that you can look at his teeth or eyes – train your cat to sit!

Getting Started

Choose a time that the cat is calm and up and about. Avoid situations with distractions – have a quiet room where you can have one-on-one time with your cat.

Have treats your cat likes and aim for a time when she is hungry. If she is free fed, you may need to pick up food a few hours before training. If kitty is on a special diet, you may need to train close to meal times and use her regular food to reinforce her.

First, teach your cat that

Click = Treat

 This will set the stage for further training and communication.

Train your cat to sit by “targeting” and clicker training

  • let your cat see and smell the treat
  • hold the treat in your hand and raise it slowly up and over kitty’s head
  • he will “target” the treat. When he sits, click and give him the treat.
  • Repeat 4-5 times a session.
  • After kitty has mastered this, add a verbal cue “sit” – say “sit”, and move your hand over his head.
  • When kitty starts to sit, click immediately. You can give the reward once he is seated but make sure the CLICK HAPPENS AS HE STARTS TO SIT.
  • After several sessions, the cat should sit on cue. Some cats will take longer to learn this than others.

TIP: Start with holding a treat in your hand, then move to having the cat “target” on your hand or finger without the treat.

“Shaping” the “sit”- teaching “stay”

We can use the word, “stay”, and a hand signal, an open hand, to cue a longer sit.

  • Say “stay” as you slowly move your open hand toward your cat.
  • Click and treat if your cat is still sitting as you count to 3; otherwise lure her back and start over.
  • Extend the sit counting to 3-5 seconds. Click and treat if she is still sitting.
    work up to a 15 second sit
  • establish an “OK” cue to mark the end of the sit; you could say “OK” and have the cat target your pointed finger and move away. Be sure to click and treat the “OK”.
  • when working with my cats, I use the words “all done” combined with a hand signal where I cross my open hands back and forth several times
Make training sessions short – 5 minutes or less
For hearing impaired cats – use visual cues
For sight impaired cats – use auditory or olfactory cues
If you are using food, be careful feeding the treat directly from your hand – cats do not see well really close up and may inadvertently nip you trying to get the treat.
Mark the end of all your training sessions with  an “all done” signal


Cat trageting finger

Training Your Cat to Target

Training your cat is a way of communicating with your cat. In Training Your Cat = Communicating With Your Cat, we talked about pairing a “click” with a treat or other thing your cat values. You can make the click noise with your mouth or with a gadget called a clicker.

Basic Vocabulary: “Click” means “Treat”


You can’t say to your cat, “if you sit quietly on that mat, I will reward you” because words don’t mean anything to him. We must find other ways to communicate what we are asking for: Capturing, Luring, Targeting and Shaping.


If your cat is already does a behavior, you can “capture” it by simply waiting until she does it, then click and treat. You mark the naturally occurring behavior using the clicker, reinforce it with a treat or reward, and then link it with a cue.



If you need to get kitty’s attention, you may need to “lure” him with food or a toy; for example, you may “lure” him to the area of the room you are using for training by having him chase a wand toy.



If you use a stick or your finger to point to a spot on the floor and your cat moves toward the stick or your finger, the cat is “targeting” the stick or finger. Training your cat to target will make it easier to tell him to move from place to place.



To fine tune a behavior, for example, to make your cat walk further when leashed, you can “shape” the behavior by rewarding him for going a little further on his leash.

Training Your Cat to Target

target stick,clicker and treats

What you need

  • Treats your cat values. (The reinforcers can be something other than food but food is the easiest to use).
  • A stick – for example, you can use a chopstick
  • A clicker (or you can click with your mouth)
  • For the gadget oriented, a click stick combines both functions; some are telescoping!



TIP: Train when your cat is likely to be hungry: pick up food a few hours before training if free fed; use her food as reinforcers if she is on a special diet.

TIP: Dip your target stick in a moist treat; if your cat is a dry food addict, rub the tip of the stick in some crushed treats to get the smell on the end of the stick.

Targeting: Step by Step

  1. Allow your cat to approach and examine the stick
  2. When he touches the stick, click and treat
  3. Repeat 4-5 times

If your cat loses interest, try training later
Frequent and short training sessions work best
Make sure you have a quiet environment, free from distractions


Treating is key part of training – like people, cats don’t like to work for free. Make sure the reward comes at some point – once your cat hears the click,  she will look for her reward. Make sure to reinforce her!

The Cat-Human Bond

Cats and humans started their relationship 10,000 years ago. It was a symbiotic relationship – the cats ate the mice that fed on the grain and, consequently, the farmers were able to keep more of their grain. The relationship has changed over the years – we no longer need the cat’s mousing abilities but value their independence, and cleanliness; they also fulfill a social need for many, a chance to care for another creature. The cat receives food, shelter, and social interaction.

How Cats See Us

When we adopt a cat, we take over the role of the mother cat, particularly for kittens. We provide food, comfort and security. Cats, who have been house-raised and  are well socialized with humans, seek out and enjoy human company.

Cats that are not particularly well socialized with humans view us as a valued resource – a source of food and care. These cats may think of us big, clumsy cats and rub against our legs, and sniff our hands. These cats are not inclined to solicit attention unless they want something. What Makes a Friendly Cat? A Good Pet Cat?

The Tale of Gus…


Gus was trapped when he was  about 2 years old. He had become a neighborhood nuisance, prowling around and fighting with other cats. After being neutered and undergoing 6 months of drug therapy (for agression and anxiety) and training, he became tolerant of humans and now lives in a multi-cat home. His behavior contrasts with his housemates, 3 house raised-cats. He does not engage in “snuggling” or sitting with humans; he rubs up against our legs and monitors our activity with regard to feeding times and walks. A human is a  big, clumsy cat that provides food and shelter, not  a surrogate mother for Gus, a tamed, previously free-roaming cat.

The Cat-Human Bond: How We see Cats

Cat are not little people in fur suits.  It is easy to treat them this way and attribute human motivations to the things they do.  We cannot totally understand  why cats do things – we see their behavior through the lens of our human experiences. To successfully understand and interact with cats, we must empathize not anthropomorphize.

The Cat-Human Bond – Empathy vs Anthropomorphism

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Empathy can help us understand why cats do what they do.

Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to animals or objects.  The famous meme of Grumpy Cat attributed a sour disposition to a cat afflicted with feline dwarfism. She looked as if she were scowling, and therefore “grumpy”, to humans. Per her owners, she was a friendly cat who liked to be held and snuggled. 


  • I had a bad tooth and it was painful – maybe my cat’s bad tooth hurts too.
  • If I were small and a giant scooped me up without warning,  I would be frightened. Maybe I should greet my cat before picking her up.


  •  My cat pees on my clothes just to be mean.
  • I did not feed my cat on time  so he punished me by scratching the carpet.

When we anthropomorphize our cats, we are expecting a human response from them.  Cats are designed to hunt and eat mice, mate and raise kittens – they are not capable of understanding human ideas of right and wrong. If your cat pees on clothing you left on the floor, she may have a bladder irritation, she may like the soft texture of the cloth on her paws, or another cat is blocking her access to the litter box.  She is not trying to be “mean” or spiteful. What does my cat feel?

Your cat may  be tuned in to feeding time but he can’t read the clock. Scratching is a normal behavior for him – it feels good and he is marking his territory. He is not able to connect scratching the carpet with your displeasure.

Don’t expect human responses from your cat. Instead, try to put yourself in her paws and view the world from the Feline Purrspective!