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Can Cats Play the Piano?

While training cats is often not as easy as dog training, it certainly is possible if you can find the right motivator. The key difficulty is finding a reward (usually a food reward for simplicity) that will encourage your cat to keep trying to perform a behavior to get the treat.

Most training revolves around rewarding closer approximations to the behavior you want, known as ‘shaping’. The first step is to show your cat the reward in your hand, most cats will bat at your hand to get at the treat. If you hold the treat near the keys, often the cat will accidentally hit the keys. Reward immediately this happens. Eventually your cat will make the connection between hitting the keys and getting a treat, when this reliably happens introduce the command word, such as ‘play’.

HINTS AND TIPS

  • Many cats are motivated by small pieces of BBQ chicken or sausage.
  • Use very small pieces of treats or you will lose motivation and your cat will spend too much time chewing.
  • Train your cat when he is really hungry!
  • Only train for 5-10 minutes per day so you both avoid frustration.
  • If you are working with a real piano, the first step is to train your cat to jump up on the seat, you can do this by pointing at the seat with a treat in your hand. Your cat gets the reward when they jump up.
  • If you have a nice piano, introduce the treat on a small plate, so you don’t get crumbs through the keys.
  • Enjoy & make sure you video your results!

Here’s a further refinement on piano playing. Teach the cat to play the keys two or three times for a click. (This builds up endurance, so the cat won’t quit just because it didn’t get clicked for any one plonk; thus you have room to select and click only the right sort of plonks.) Put a removable sticker on middle C, as a target, and click the behavior of playing that key only. (You might want to teach “aim for the sticker” separately, by clicking the cat for pawing stickers in other places before adding the task of recognizing the sticker to the piano-playing task.)

When the cat is hitting the marked key reliably, put another sticker just to the right, on D. Your aim is to establish the behavior of hitting D and then C for a click. You’ll always be ending up on the note the cat first learned, C, so the cat can proceed with confidence. When D-C is accomplished, add the next note to the right, E, then shape the behavior of playing all three notes, right to left, one time each.

Links / Sources

1. https://www.lovethatpet.com/blog/can-you-train-your-cat-to-play-the-piano/
2
http://www.clickertraining.com/node/978

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