Training your cat to lie down isn’t hard if you know how to do it properly. True, it comes easier for dogs, but this does not mean training a cat must be difficult.
Training a cat to lie down starts with the cat sitting; thus, your cat must already know how to sit on command. Don’t worry if yours doesn’t yet, click here for our guide on training a cat to sit, which will not only help you prepare, but will also let you polish your cat coaching on easier tasks first. In addition, it will teach you basic animal training concepts to build on later.
Things you will need
Ready to train your cat to lie down? Here are things that will come in handy:
- Tasty treats – something that is preferably more tasty than your cat’s regular food, but easy to carry around and reach for when needed. The cat must also be able to eat one relatively quickly. Dry or semi-moist commercial treats work well, but check here for more information about your options. Remember to subtract the calories in the treats from your cat’s daily food intake.
- Clicker – while this is optional, we highly recommend using a clicker in tasks more complex than simply calling your cat. A clicker is a device that makes a short clicking sound (that should always be paired with a treat) to give your cat a cue at a very specific moment. It’s more precise than saying “yes” or dropping a treat on the floor, because a “click” takes only a fraction of a second. If you pair the “click” with a treat, your cat learns to understand the “click” as something good, and you can use it to pinpoint the very moment when the cat did something right. You can learn more about using a clicker here, but we will cover the basics along the way.
- Time – training a cat will take time. Good news, you don’t have to devote an awful lot of time every day—a training session with your cat should last for five to 10 minutes at most, and can be repeated as often as you see fit: daily, three times a day, every other day. Major progress is made between training sessions, when your cat digests the newfound information and lets it sink in.
- One cat with an empty tummy – the final item needed is your cat, can’t do a good training session without one! For best results, you should work with only one cat. If you have more and want them all to learn, train one after the other behind closed doors. It’s better to train your cat when he is anticipating a meal, and thus will be willing to work for treats. Cats who have just eaten will be unresponsive and sleepy.
How to train a cat to lie down
Once you have everything you need, you can continue with an actual training.
- Take small steps. Keep in mind that the process will be slow and will use a training technique called “successive approximation,” which is used when animals are taught complex tasks—pingpong playing for pigeons, object retrieving for dolphins and lying down for cats. Successive approximation means that you divide the ultimate goal into smaller steps and start by teaching one after the other. You first reward your cat for just lowering his head. When that is mastered, you stop rewarding for it, and wait until your cat crouches a little, then a little more, and ultimately lies down on the floor completely.
- Command your cat to sit. Giving your cat a treat as a reward for collaboration is optional because your cat has already learned this task—you can choose to withhold it to tell your cat this time just sitting won’t be enough.
- Place the treat on the floor and partially cover it with your palm. Look to see if your cat remains sitting. Say “lie” or “down”—it does not matter that your cat doesn’t understand English, he soon will. Tap a finger of your free hand next to the treat. If your cat lowers his head, i.e. looks at it, sound a “click” at the very precise moment it happens, and release the treat.
- Repeat a few more times. As discussed above, sessions must be short, and a single task must be repeated several times. Take a break and return to training sometime later.
- Continue a bit further when ready. It may sound too easy, but indeed that is all there is to training. Master the first step, and next time sound a clicker only when your cat crouches down to “investigate” the treat under your palm. The first progression probably will come soon, and, for many cats, likely instantaneously. Good, now let’s proceed!
- Continue with small steps. Next, as your cat has mastered crouching down, move your hand with a treat slightly away, thus forcing your cat to crouch down a bit more. If your cat’s bottom goes up, stop the command, pick up the treat, command to sit and start over. Bit by bit, move your hand further away each session. Don’t forget to consequently pair your actions with the command “down” so your cat, over time, learns to translate it. Eventually, you will reach the point where your cat crouches down with his body completely touching the ground, and we call it a success.
- Don’t worry if it becomes frustrating. If things don’t go as planned, if your cat’s bottom keeps going up each time you move your hand away, don’t get upset, or mad. Pick the treat up, command your cat to sit and repeat everything all over. Take smaller steps, if needed, and understand that it is normal to feel like you are making no progress. Take the time to perfect one part of the repertoire before moving on to the next one. The success will come.
Once your cat knows how to lie down, you can pick up from there and teach him to roll over. After learning some of the building blocks of cat training, you may have some ideas about how to do that, but we will have tips and another detailed guide soon.