You’ve probably seen dogs run agility courses, but you might not know that agility courses for cats are a thing, too. Even if you know, you might wonder how to get started in cat agility.
At a recent cat show, I had the opportunity to watch Jennifer Hardin, who represents the International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT) with a cat who had never been in an agility ring before. In moments, she had the cat jumping his first agility obstacles. I spoke with her later about getting cats started in agility.
Can Adult Cats Learn Agility?
Yes! I introduce older cats to the agility ring just like kittens, and I let them do their smell test of the place first and get familiar with the ring. Then I introduce a toy and try to find the drive for that particular cat. Sometimes it’s a toy. Sometimes it’s a little treat. Sometimes it’s a little encouragement. I’m even starting to train one of my cats on clicker training.
You have to be a little more patient with an older cat because they don’t forgive as quickly as younger kittens do. If you have an older cat who really likes to play with toys, once they are used to being in the enclosed environment of the agility ring, they can usually take off running pretty quickly.
Getting started, you just watch their tail to see if they’re ready. A tail that’s tucked is a frightened cat. A tail that’s down means they’re not sure. A tail that’s straight out means they can give or take a situation. A tail that’s up usually says they’re ready to play. Once you see that happy tail, you follow follow it up with a toy or treat and start to move the cat around the ring.
It’s important to have patience. Cats retain memory longer than dogs and they are pretty smart! You’d be amazed at what you can get your cat to do.
How Do You Motivate Cats for Agility?
Most cats are motivated by a toy. There are some cats who are motivated by food. Mine is motivated by both, and by the clicker training I’m trying to teach him.
I touched his nose with the clicker, and it felt weird, so he pawed at it. When he did, I clicked it at gave him a treat. Now he is pawing it readily because he knows he is going to get a treat. Now I just need to take it to the next step and have him do a trick, then look for a treat.
What if You Have Limited Space to Train Agility at Home?
Being in a house or apartment with limited space is a little more advantageous because a cat is at home in an environment where they are comfortable. They aren’t trying to show off or get distracted.
You have all the obstacles you need to start with agility right at home! One thing I suggest is taking chairs and tilting them over to make a triangle, then you can get your cat to go under them, or get your cat to go over the top. If it has a flat back, maybe the cat can go up one side to the peak and then back down.
You can take clothes baskets and turn them upside down and run a broom handle through through them to make a hurdle. Or just stack some pillows and lay your broom across the stacks of pillows. Grab a 2×4 piece of wood and lay it across some chairs so your cat can walk the plank. Be creative!
In your cat’s mind, your house is already an agility course. You just have to make it fun for them and more appropriate instead of trying to run across the sofa and slide into the lamp on the end table before landing on the floor.
There are lots of inexpensive things to do to create agility obstacles. The agility course I have now in the tent I made for less than $125. It just takes a little time. I found schematics online and then built from there.
See the agility course Jennifer built in the video below:
If you are on a mobile device and can’t see the video above, you can view it directly on YouTube.
How Did You Get into Cat Agility?
Agility is super-fun and a lot of people were into it for a while. Then then it faded away a little bit. It’s making a comeback now.
ICAT plans in next year or so to come up with a point system where cats can compete on a yearly basis on regional and international level for the agility competition so it isn’t just something you do for fun at a show. It’s one of those things where we really need enough participation to balance out starting to give out prize money, but we are hopeful.
I did agility and was really good at getting my cat to do what he needed to do. I started helping other people, too, and it just became a natural fit for me. So when the person who normally led agility had a knee surgery and was going to be out a while, she asked if I would fill in. I have continued to fill in.
It works out, since she is in New Mexico and I’m down here [in Florida], we can cover more area for cat agility. I still do quite a bit of traveling to cat shows and other events.
Agility isn’t just for cat shows. I was at just at Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando [a Florida animal shelter] last week teaching agility to their summer camp. We want to get more adoptable cats involved in agility. It really shows off what a cat can do, and adopters love it!
Big thanks to Jennifer for her time to share information about agility. I think Newton and Cupcake are going to enjoy trying it out at our house.
Do you think your cat would be good at agility?