Kitten Training Tips and Treat Rewards

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
4 min read

It’s a common misconception that cats can’t be trained. While cats may outwardly seem less responsive to training than dogs, cats are actually receptive to various training methods. Cat training is especially effective when you start training during kittenhood. 

Ultimately, training your kitten is about bonding with them and understanding their motivation. Kittens can be independent, so training often takes patience and creativity.

Whether you’re wondering how to keep cats off counters and tables or hoping to teach your kitten a few new tricks, there are steps you can take to make the training process simple and enjoyable.  

Using food-based rewards can be a powerful tool when training your kitten. Once you’ve socialized your kitten with humans and other pets, you can begin the training process by determining which treats tickle your cat’s fancy.

When you choose the right treat, use positive reinforcement to train your cat. Paired with their favorite reward, spoken cues and verbal affirmations are effective ways to guide your cat toward the behavior you want to reinforce. 

Steps for successful treat-based training include: 

Training before meals. Use the time directly before each meal to work on new behaviors with your kitten. When they’re hungry, kittens and cats are much more receptive to training. Never deny your cat food. Rather, use mealtime to hold your kitten’s attention and increase the power of your treats.

Eliminate distractions. Background noise, such as TV conversations or the stereo, can pull your kitten’s focus away from you — especially when they are young. Try to train in a quiet place whenever possible.

Keep training brief. Keep your kitty training sessions under 15 minutes. Cats get bored quite easily. Don’t let your sessions run long enough to become dull for your kitten. 

Be consistent. Always use the same signals and cues. But don’t be afraid to switch up the type of treat you use to keep things fresh for your little student.

Tackle one skill at a time. For kittens and puppies alike, it's most effective to focus on one skill at a time. Overloading your kitten will make training stressful and unproductive. Always master one skill before moving on to another.

Be patient. When using treats, be patient. Don’t start until you know you have your kitten’s attention. Be open to pausing your session if your kitten gets distracted.

Cats and kittens are receptive to clicker training. Clickers may even help cats focus in stressful environments like shelters. In shelters, studies show that clicker training helps cats learn positive behaviors faster and, ultimately, get adopted more quickly.

To incorporate a clicker into your training at home, follow these steps:

Click to indicate rewards. When your kitten performs the right behavior, immediately click and offer them their favorite treat. When paired with a treat, the click provides a clear cue to your kitten that they are on the right track.

Repeat. Like any student, kittens learn through repetition. Be consistent in your application of the clicker with the treat reward to build the positive clicker association for your kitten. 

Keep it short. As with any training, clicker training sessions should be short. The clicker will lose its effectiveness if you drill your kitten too much.

If cats jumping on your counter is an issue in your home, you will have to be creative in your training strategy. Kittens and cats do not respond well to punishment. Instead, it’s more effective to strategize when it comes to preventing unwanted behavior. To stop certain behaviors in your kitten, try these tricks:

Create an unpleasant association. If you’re looking for ways to keep your cat off counters, using creative strategies can help discourage the behavior. For example, placing double-sided tape or an object the cat dislikes on the counter can help prevent the kitten from jumping up. Over time your cat will break the habit of jumping onto the counter and you can remove the item.

Keep using rewards. When trying to stop a negative behavior, it is important to stay vigilant for opportunities to reward positive behavior. For example, place treats on your cat tree or reward your kitten for using it instead of jumping on the counter. This will build the positive habit and replace the unwanted habit. 

Training a kitten is no small feat, but it comes with many rewarding benefits. Training your new kitty gives you time to bond and understand one another more deeply. Beyond this, you are keeping their mind engaged and nurturing their health and longevity. 

Starting the training process early with your kitten makes it more likely that you can train them to not only avoid negative behaviors but to perform adorable tricks — which can provide mood-boosting benefits for you.