While most cats spend a lot of their time lying down when sleeping (cats sleep for 16 hours a day on average!) it can be useful to get them to occasionally lie down when they’re awake too, eg to make grooming them easier.
Training them to lie down on cue can also provide them with mental stimulation as by giving them positive reinforcement, you can make it an enjoyable experience for them and improve their confidence.
Here we are going to teach you how to train your cat to lie down using a lure, eg treats.
To get started, you will need:
- a physically able and confident cat (older or infirm cats might struggle) that already known how to sit on command
- a quiet room with no distractions
- some tasty treats that don’t require a lot of chewing
- a bit of patience
- Get your cat into a sitting position directly in front of you using the training techniques you learned previously.
- Hold a cat treat between the very end of your index finger and thumb with your palm facing upward.
- Stand in front of your cat with the treat 1-2cm away from their nose (some cats may prefer it if you sit or kneel so they are not being leant over).
- Slowly lower the treat towards the ground in front of them. They should then follow it with their gaze and look down.
- Once the treat is just above the ground, start to slowly move it towards you/away from them. If they follow the treat with their gaze they should naturally lower their front legs until they are lying down. It may take them a few seconds to figure this out so hold the treat in position if they don’t lie down straight away.
- As soon as your cat is lying down, say ‘yes’ and give them the treat. If your cat is good at following treats, throw the treat a short distance from them so they move and naturally reset their position ready to start again. If not, do not worry, hand feed your cat then move yourself so they stand up and you can restart the process.
- If your cat is comfortable with this process, repeat steps 1-6 a couple of times so they learn that lying down will get them a treat.
- Once your cat has mastered this, you can start to reduce the reliance on treats. Put your hand into the treat bag/bowl but don’t actually take one out. Still present your hand to your cat in the same way you did before and repeat the actions. If your cat lies down, say ‘yes’ and then get them a treat – you always need to reward them in some way.
- When this technique is working reliably, you can then present your hand without pretending to get a treat beforehand. Hopefully your cat will still lie down in response to your hand movement alone, but make sure you still follow it up by saying ‘yes’ and then giving them a treat.
- Now you can start to reduce your hand movement to a simple flick of the wrist. Do this gradually, increasing the distance between your hand and the floor each time you repeat the actions. Eventually you should be able to just hold your hand out in front of you and then bring it down to your side and you cat will recognise this as the cue to lie down.
- Next you can start to train them to lie down in response to a verbal cue as well as a visual one. Repeat the process as before but one second before you give the usual hand signal, say your chosen cue word. This can be any word you like, as your cat will only be responding to the sound, not the meaning (eg you could say ‘floor’ or even ‘grapefruit’ or ‘llama’). However, avoid using a word that you have previously used to get them to do something (eg ‘down’ when trying to get them off the sofa) as they will already have an association with this word. After repeating this process a number of times, your cat will begin to pre-empt the hand signal by lying down when you say the cue word instead.
- Once your cat is comfortably lying down on cue, you can start to repeat this process while standing at a greater distance from your cat, or encouraging them to stay lying down for longer periods.
Throughout training, try to keep sessions to a maximum of three minutes long and then give your cat a break. If you can stick to three, three-minute sessions a day, you should hopefully be able to get your cat lying down in response to your verbal cue within seven days. However, it’s important to remember that some cats will take longer to master this than others, and some may not get it at all.
Be patient and if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break and come back to it later. It’s important not to physically force your cat into position, as this will cause them to become stressed and could lead to behavioural or medical problems. Training should be a fun experience for both you and your cat, so always use positive reinforcement and make sure they have the choice to stop if they want to.
Have you managed to successfully train your cat to lie down on command? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter!
If you have any problems training your cat, take a look at our advice on the Cats Protection website or contact a qualified behaviourist.
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