Modeled after the equestrian sport of show jumping and adapted first by the dog world, feline agility is a team sport whereby a handler directs a cat through a preset obstacle course. By the very fact that agility is a team sport, it can strengthen the bond between you and your cat.
Agility has physical and cognitive benefits too. It gets everyone off the couch, burns calories, and builds muscles. Because it draws on environmental memory, agility helps cats adapt more easily to new situations.
Finally, agility uses cats’ natural abilities, such as their visual acuity, jumping and sprinting skills, hunting instincts, and problem-solving.
The agility obstacles that I use with our cats are: hoop or bar jump, tunnel, cat walk, weaves, and table. (All of these obstacles can be purchased commercially or made yourself. For more information, read my article on this topic.)
As with any other training, you’ll need to find a way to motivate your cat. Treats work the best for most cats. However, if you plan to compete, you’ll need to use toys instead.
Start your agility practice by training your cat to perform each individual obstacle first:
TEACH A CAT TO JUMP
- Show your cat a treat and lure her to a hoop.
- When she arrives at the hoop, reinforce with praise and a treat.
- With the bottom of the hoop touching the floor, tap the treat on the other side. As soon as your cat steps through the hoop, reinforce with praise and a treat.
- When your cat is fluid with stepping through the hoop, introduce a verbal cue by tapping your finger on the other side of the hoop and cue her to JUMP.
- When your cat is fluid with the cue, lift the hoop slightly off the ground, each subsequent time increasing the height. Prompt your cat by tapping your finger or luring with a treat.
TEACH A CAT TO TUNNEL
- Show your cat a treat and lure him to a tunnel.
- When he arrives at the entrance, reinforce with praise and a treat.
- Tap the treat in the middle. When your cat goes to the middle of the tunnel, reinforce with praise and a treat/toy.
- Tap the treat at the exit. When your cat exits the other side of the tunnel, reinforce with praise and a treat.
- When your cat is fluid with going through a tunnel, introduce a verbal cue by tapping your finger on the other side of the hoop and cue him to TUNNEL.
TEACH A CAT TO WEAVE
- Set up two weaves in a straight line and space them 24-36 inches apart.
- Lure your cat in and out of the weaves, with the cat to the right of the first pole, by using a treat.
- When she goes in and out of one or two poles, praise and reinforce with treat.
- When your cat is fluid with weaves, add the cue to WEAVE.
- Add weaves two at a time, repeating the above steps, until you have six poles.
THE COMPLETE AGILITY COURSE
Once your cat has mastered each obstacle individually, it’s time to teach your cat to perform two in a row. Then add a third, then a fourth, and finally a fifth. After each completed obstacle, reinforce with praise and a treat, as demonstrated in the video below:
When your cat can complete a course of five obstacles, wean him off treats. Cue him to do two obstacles before you reinforce, then three, then four, then all five.
Once my cats and I became comfortable with agility, I began creating new agility courses in our basement every week. In the video below, watch Rainy do agility at home:
This past year, I also switched to using a target stick to prompt my cat through each obstacle. The training possibilities are endless! The most important thing is to have fun.
If you get stuck, check out my demos at YouTube or hire me to give you personal lessons via Zoom. If you want to take cat agility to the next step, check out the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s Show and Event Calendar for competitions near you.
About the Author
Allison Hunter-Frederick is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and Trainer. She is also the mother of three fur kids and several revolving foster cats, host mom to international exchange students, and wife of a supportive husband. Through her business Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses her knowledge of cats to help cat owners and animal shelters with their cat behavior needs. She has taught classes in cat agility. Her three cats, which include a former feral, love agility.