Animal shelters across America are training their rescued cats to do tricks such as high fives and fist/paw bumps, in order to improve the cats’ lives and make them more attractive for adoption.

Although learning tricks has traditionally been the domain of our canine friends, cat training is growing in popularity thanks to a program called Cat Pawsitive, launched by Jackson Galaxy, host of “My Cat From Hell” on Animal Planet.

Cats who wind up in shelters are often fearful and traumatized, and even the most adaptive felines can find such a new environment highly stressful. The scene which a shelter visitor may encounter typically includes many cats cowering in the back of their cages or hiding under blankets, because past experiences have left them terrified of human contact. The added stress of shelter life can even contribute to ill health, which makes these more nervous animals even less likely to be adopted.

The Jason Galaxy Project created Cat Pawsitive to combat this issue. The project uses positive reinforcement clicker training with animal attendants and volunteers. The program is designed to help reclusive cats trust again, teach more aggressive animals to be more gentle, and make cats’ experience in the shelter more relaxed and pleasant.

Training cats helps build positive relationships between humans and animals, provides enrichment, stimulation, exercise and results in a happier, more confident feline.

“When they arrive in a shelter, they may have lost the only family they’ve ever known, or they may have come from a difficult life as a stray on the street,” says Christie Rogero, program manager for Cat Pawsitive. “We help those cats to feel more confident, to feel safe interacting with new people, to even spend more time at the front of their cages actively soliciting attention.”

In 2016, the project chose nine shelters nationwide as test facilities, and from there it has grown to include around 30 shelters, with a further 50 expected to join this year. The program includes webinars on training with behavioural experts, consultations with mentors, training tools and videos.

Cats, which are highly intelligent animals, can be motivated to learn once a trainer ascertains the right timing and tools to overcome feline fussiness.

So far, Cat Pawsitive has been a huge success, with 400 of the participating cats finding forever homes during the first two semesters of the program, and a new generation of happy, high-fiving, fist-bumping kitties!