Cat behaviour – body touches
Understanding your cat’s behaviour is a vital element of your training journey together – and we’re here to support you both, every paw-step of the way.
One of the biggest steps on the path to feline training success involves ‘body touches’. Thankfully, our resident feline behaviour expert, Layla, explains exactly how to introduce body touches to your cat…
What are ‘body touches’?
The term ‘body touches’ refers to the gentle way we acclimatise pets to being assessed, or checked over. In pet training, body touches are important when helping your cat (or dog!) get used to being handled – in preparation for situations like checking for injuries or vet visits.
To train your cat to get used to being stroked along their head, back, tail, legs, paws, and under their belly, you’ll need to follow a few key steps.
Requirements for ‘body touches’ training with your cat
Throughout your cat training journey, it’s essential to remember that every session needs to end with something positive – no-matter how short the session has been!
So, you must only ever embark on training sessions while your cat is calm. If you try to work with your feline friend when they’re excitable or anxious, for example, the training session may not end on a positive note.
Positive reinforcement is vital for all types of training. Finding the right reward should help to keep training sessions fun for your feline friend, as well as for you!
Here are some rewards you might like to use for your cat:
- Tiny, tasty treats – you’ll need to be careful not to give too many treats, though to make sure treats are healthy, you could have a go at creating homemade cat treats yourself!
- Play – not all cats are highly driven by food, so you may find your feline friend responds well to a quick game of ‘chase the toy’ as a reward instead.
- Oodles of praise – some felines adore vocal praise, or cuddles, as a reward for good behaviour.
- Clicker or marker word training – many cats are capable of learning new skills at super speed, especially if they enjoy interacting with you! To discover dog training advice that can be applied to working with your cat, please see our marker word training video.
Remember: It takes trial and error to find the ideal rewards for your cat. You can also keep training sessions engaging, by switching your cat’s reward from time to time (e.g. if you use treats during a session, reward them with play next time)!
The importance of body touches
Body touch training is so important, for both you and your cat, because it:
- Strengthens your bond.
- Can help you to monitor their overall health.
- Improve the chances of recognising if they’re in pain.
- Makes keeping up with their grooming requirements easier.
- Relieves the stress of veterinary appointments.
- Is useful when you need to give them medication.
Important reminder: While body touches are important for many reasons, whenever your cat needs their claws trimmed, always book an appointment with a vet. Please don’t try to trim their nails yourself, because clipping their claws incorrectly could cause a lot of pain and discomfort for your cat.
Step-by-step body touch training for your cat
Find out whether your cat prefers short but frequent bursts of attention, endless cuddles, or the occasional chin scratch every now and then.
Felines who prefer to keep their distance will benefit from short, two-minute body touch sessions. Whereas cats who adore attention are more likely to enjoy body touch training, which could allow your sessions to run a little longer.
Make sure your cat is calm, and there are no distractions, before you begin the training session. It’s always helpful to choose a space in which your feline friend feels comfortable, too.
Gently move your hand to a spot you know your cat likes being touched, e.g. their chin, then hold your hand still over this area for a few seconds. Provided your feline friend stays calm and doesn’t move away, remove your hand, reward them, and provide lots of praise!
Repeat the above step until your cat is completely comfortable with you holding your hand near them for a few seconds – not forgetting to praise them after every attempt.
Once your cat is happy to have your hand hovering near them, move on to stroking them in that spot for a second. As long as they stay still and remain relaxed, take your hand away and reward them again.
After successfully completing ‘Step 3’, repeat the process on an area of your cat’s body they seem less comfortable for you to hold your hand near, e.g. a paw.
Again, as long as they don’t move away or react aggressively, give them plenty of praise and reward them for being so calm.
Continue the whole process, in short sessions of around two minutes in length, over a few weeks or months. Eventually, you should start to see just how amazingly your cat adapts to being handled in all situations!
Should you find the training process isn’t working, despite persisting with it for a long time, please reach out to your vet for advice.
Top cat training tips
Make the most of your cat’s training journey, by following these top tips!
Start training while they’re young
Establishing body touch training while your cat is a kitten can provide an excellent foundation for all future behaviour, which could prevent some behavioural issues from arising in adulthood.
Also, by teaching your kitten about boundaries in a positive way, you’re ensuring they feel safe, comfortable, and confident in your company.
How to handle biting and/or scratching
Sometimes, kittens will assume you’re playing with them – which can result in biting, scratching, and general excitement.
It’s important to stop playing immediately if your kitten starts to bite or scratch at your hands – instead, redirect their attention to a toy. By distracting them with a toy whenever they bite or scratch, you're teaching your kitten they’ll only get attention from you when they keep teeth and claws to themselves.
While it seems cute when a kitten plays with your hands, they can grow up believing it’s acceptable behaviour – which is why it’s important to teach them boundaries during kittenhood. After all, you definitely don’t want a fully-grown cat bringing out their claws and teeth at playtime; they’re not as small as they once were!
Tips for training an adult cat
If an adult cat has joined your family, and you’re working on body touch training with them, here are some helpful hints:
- Start slowly – if your cat hasn’t enjoyed human contact in the past, expect to progress at a gentle pace through each step of body touch training.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition – prepare yourself to repeat every action again and again, until your cat is comfortable with being handled!
- Even if they’re already happy to receive attention from you, provide plenty of praise – this will help reinforce your cat’s understanding that human contact is positive.
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