Like dogs, cats can be trained to follow verbal commands – here’s how to teach your cat to roll over onto their back or side.
If you’ve been following our ‘How to train your cat’ series, you may have already mastered getting your moggy to sit and lie down on command.
The next step you can try is to get them to go from lying down to rolling over onto their side or back. As well as being fun for you, this training will help to keep your cat mentally stimulated and by using positive reinforcement will hopefully boost their confidence too.
To get started, you will need:
- a physically able and confident cat (older or infirm cats may struggle)
- a cat that already knows how to lie down on cue
- a quiet room with no distractions
- tasty treats that don’t require a lot of chewing
- patience and the ability to get low to the ground
Now you can begin training.
- Get your cat to lie down directly in front of you. You may find it easier to be sitting or kneeling at this stage.
- Hold the treat between the very end of your index finger and thumb with your palm facing downward.
- Sit in front of your cat with the treat 1-2cm away from their nose.
- If you want your cat to roll to your right/their left, slowly arc the treat on a slight incline towards their right ear. If you want them to roll to your left/their right, move it towards their left ear. Your cat may have a preference or find one side easier so if they are struggling, try the other direction. Once you have found their preferred side, it’s best to stick with it. If your cat moves their head forwards to investigate the treat, this is fine. However, if they keep getting up, try a smaller movement so they are not over-stimulated.
- With the treat in front of your cat’s ear, slowly move the treat diagonally towards the middle of their back. Their eyes should follow the treat so that they look over their shoulder. Often the slower you move the treat, the easier your cat will be able to follow it.
- Continue to move the treat diagonally and your cat should roll over onto their side. As soon as they do this, give them some verbal praise and offer the treat. Repeat steps 1-6 until they successfully roll over every time.
- Once they have mastered this, repeat the process using smaller hand movements, keeping the treat closer to your cat’s head. If your cat still rolls onto its side, move the treat further off to the side so that they continue to follow it and rolls onto their back. When they do, give them some verbal praise and offer the treat.
- Next you can try getting them to roll all the way over onto their other side by continuing to move the treat off to the side when they are on their back. Again, repeat this process a few times, giving them verbal praise and the treat each time they get it right.
- When they are happily rolling over every time, you can start to reduce the reliance on the lure of treats by only pretending to get a treat out of the bag each time. Still present your cat with your hand and use the same movements, then when they successfully roll over still give them verbal praise and a treat.
- After a few successful attempts, you can start to use the hand movements without pretending to take a treat, but always give them verbal praise and a treat if they get it right.
- Finally, you can try getting them to respond to a verbal cue instead of your hand signal. Keep going with the same process, but say your chosen cue word (eg ‘roll over’) one second before you make your hand movements. Eventually your cat will learn to associate the verbal cue with the action and do it before you move your hand. Remember, always give them visual praise and a treat when they do it right.
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 rolling over 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.