Training Nemo


I know there are a lot of people out there who are against cat training. They either think cats are untrainable, or that they should not be trained like people train dogs. Here’s my two cents about cat training:

There are two reasons why I “train” Nemo: 1). Communication 2). Mental stimulation


Nemo is my first ever pet even though I’ve loved animals all my life. Everything he does amazes me. What amazed me the most was that he seemed to know exactly what we wanted since day one! He recognized his name probably the minute he walked out of that SPCA box. All I wanted was for him to come when being called. It took him less than 2 days to get that down. He seemed to enjoy the time spent with me, learning all the things I tried to tell him (either that or the treats I was offering).

I desperately wanted to communicate with him, to see how intelligent this little cat (figure of speech) was and how far I could take him. I tried to learn Cat (language) but I only went as far as “food”. I painfully realized that it was MUCH faster to teach him English language than for me to learn Cat language. I started to teach him to sit, lay down, go to his crate, jump on to a surface and off from a surface. Within 2 weeks he learned all those words! He also learned the nasty word “no”. After that, we also did: walk on harness and leash, jump into his perch box, walk through a homemade tunnel (I call it “tunnel”) and a store bought tunnel (I call it “tubie”), let go (of his toy when we are playing), shake hands, and jump over a barrier.

After 2 years of living with Nemo, I realize that all this “training” is just an assurance, to me, that he understands me. When I’m sitting on the couch, it is nice to be able to tell him that I’d like him to come up on the couch to lay on my lap. That is my wish, not a command. Whether to grant me my wish is entirely up to him.

I am well aware of the fact that Nemo is a CAT, not a dog. Cats have lived in the wild on their own for thousands and thousands of years. They aren’t pack animals like dogs. They do not rely on others for food or safety. For the same reason, they also do not form the same type of tight bonding as dogs would with other animals in their pack. They simply weren’t created that way. In a sense, it makes communicating with a cat even more rewarding. She doesn’t have the need to communicate with you yet she does. She doesn’t need to listen to you or please you yet she does. It is the most wonderful feeling in the world that your cat understands and chooses to do what you suggest her to do. This is the type of bonding your cat chooses to have with you.

We pet owners are also trained, by our pets, to do what they demand. We learn to understand their different meows and, most of the time, we grant their wishes. This type of verbal communication, in my opinion, can be a two-way street if the cat is up to it.


When I say mental stimulation it is actually for both Nemo and me. From all the training experience, I found that the most difficult part is to let Nemo know what it is that I want him to do. He sits there, patiently at first, quietly trying to figure out what “sit” means. He is there. He is ready and eager but exactly how do I make him realize this “s” sound I’m making has to do with him putting his butt on the floor? There are books out there that tell you how to train your cat. When the method is proven to be effective, it is a mental stimulation for your cat to figure out what the command means. What do you do, however, when you’ve exhausted all the sources yet you still can’t find the method for the word you want to teach your cat? That, is a challenge for you. I haven’t found any book out there that teaches cats to walk through a tunnel or jump over a barrier. I came up with those myself. I had to think long and hard about how to clearly tell Nemo what the words “tunnel” and “jump” mean without confusing the heck out of him.

There is no doubt that cats are intelligent animals. For an indoor cat, she has smelt everything in the house, learned where the foods and treats are, trained you to clean her litter box and get up in the morning to feed her. What else can she do? Nemo is my first and only cat so obviously I can’t speak for every cat. I have a feeling, however, that there are more cats ready and willing to learn than we think.


I never thought of training a cat before Nemo. Like many people, I thought cats were untrainable, therefore, should not be trained unless you are training them for specific purposes. I thought it was good enough if the cat comes to you when called so that’s what I was aiming at. This idea quickly changed when Nemo came to live with us. I found that he responded to his name the first day we got him! Training him seemed so easy so I just kept on going. I found that the most important thing to remember when training cats, or any other animal, is patience. I never lose my patience with Nemo. I try to keep each training session short and positive. Following is a list of what he can do as of today and how I trained him:

Come–This one was incredibly easy. Nemo recognized his name from day one. I started from calling his name in the same room. He gets a small treat when he comes. (I usually break a treat into half or 3 pieces because I don’t want him having too much treat.) I gradually moved further away from him saying “Nemo, come!”, then another room. It probably took Nemo 2-3 days to completely get it down. Now Nemo comes to me, sometimes running, wherever I call him even from a different floor level. The trick is to always associate his name with something pleasant and call him with the sweetest voice you can make. Let him think that there’s always something good waiting for him when he comes to you. Of course I stopped giving him treats long time ago. I pet him on the head and say “good boy!” instead. I never call out his name in anger. I don’t want him associating his name with bad news. If he does something bad I would say “NO!” firmly. Sometimes my initial reaction is “HEY!” instead of “NO!”. Nemo seems to understand what I mean anyway.

Current success rate: 100% with treats (running!), 98% without treats.

Play–This is not a command. When Nemo first came to live with us he was a coach potato. He’s not a curious cat by nature so he didn’t/sniff around at all (he still doesn’t). He’s just too relaxed. In a sense, this nature is what makes him a perfect house cat. He ate, slept, followed me around, head-bunt and that was it. I was afraid that he would start misbehaving because of boredom so I tried to get him to play. I got him a few common cat toys (plastic balls and small mice) but he wasn’t interested at all. The first toy he showed real interest was a smelly old shoelace. Smelly old shoelacesI was very glad to see that he wasn’t a hopeless case. I started encouraging him to play with a little treat at the end of each play session. I also scheduled playing time before meals so the meals could be the reward. Did I say already that treats work VERY well for Nemo? He’d do ANYTHING for food! When he figured that he got to eat after he played, he started grabbing the shoelace and notoriously licking the thing whenever he got a chance. One day we found Da Bird. That’s when the whole playing game began! Nemo went crazy! He jumped, flipped, ran, ducked, hid, and charged. Ever since that day playing is a reward in itself. Nemo never needed treats anymore. He can turn from a sleepy cat to a maniac in the matter of seconds.

I can’t get a picture of the Da Bird because Nemo killed it in 4 days! I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve fixed that thing. More on Nemo’s playing and toys will be added later to About Nemo.

Sit–I stopped at the “come” command until I read the book “Good owners, great cats“. It says that training is good mental stimulation for cats so I started a string of training for Nemo. “Sit” was a little difficult in the beginning. I think Nemo couldn’t grasp the idea that I wanted him to do something. It took me a few sessions, each about 10 Nemo sitting on commandminutes, to get him to understand. One day all of a sudden he got it! This is what I did: First I get him to face me. I hold a treat in my thumb and index finger above his face/nose. When he shows interest, I slowly move the treat higher and toward his back while saying the word “sit”. This brings him to the “sit” position. It is very important that I give him the treat the moment his bottom touches the floor. It wasn’t successful in the beginning because Nemo would either stand up on his hinge legs or bite my fingers. I figured that’s because I was holding the treat too high. Whenever he bit my fingers I’d pull the treat away and say firmly “NO”. I would stop and let him calm down a little then try again. Now Nemo sits perfectly when the command is given. He sits for his food every day. I think tone intonation is very important in training dogs or cats. I always give a definite “sit” but not a “sit?”.

Current success rate: 97% with treats, 87% without treats.

Down“This may be different from most people’s idea of “down”. Nemo’s feeding area is downstairs but we prepare his food upstairs in the kitchen. His feeding routine usually goes like this: we first play with him for about 15 minutes either upstairs in the kitchen/breakfast room area or downstairs, then prepare his food in the kitchen, finally bring his food back downstairs to his feeding area. Nemo would always follow us to the kitchen and wait by the side. When his food is ready he’d follow us downstairs to eat. I wanted to teach him to go downstairs on command but I didn’t exactly know how. So I started by repeating the word “down” when I walk down the stairs with his food. This is the only method I use and I haven’t really tried to push this command. Now when it’s time to go downstairs, Nemo would follow me to the stairs and wait until I give the word “down”.

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One Response to “Training Nemo”

  1. stop dog biting Says:

    Having your dog listen is not up for negotiation. Negotiating with your dog with treats doesn’t teach him to respect or listen to you, he’s only listening to the treat. One doesn’t always have treats, then what?

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