Start with treats
First, go out and get a bag of high-quality cat treats. Start saying “shake” and touching their paws and giving them treats. You don’t have to treat them every time you say the word, but do it often enough that they began to associate the word “shake” with the paw touching and the treat.
Next, sit in front of them at their eye level. Say in a clear, friendly voice, “shake,” and then touch your paw with their hand and “hold” it briefly.. Right after that, give them a treat and some encouraging words and some petting. Repeat this with each cat over a period of about half an hour, then take a break.
Encourage the action
The next day repeat the same action, but hold a treat in between your fingers, put your hand (with the treat in it) in front of the cat’s face, and say “shake.”
When I did this, I noticed it seemed like they were wanting to move their paws when they heard me say “shake,” but they seemed a little uncertain about it. I could see the little wheels turning in their minds, but they didn’t quite have it down yet. I continued the reinforcement with the words, the actions, and the treats with lots of petting for about another hour that second day.
The third day is really when it all came together. They saw me hold up the treat, they heard me say “shake” and they actually started to reach toward my hand with their paws on their own! I immediately rewarded them by giving them the treat and telling them “Good girl” or “Good boy” with lots of petting.
On the fourth day and for about a week thereafter, go to your cat at random intervals and ask them to shake, then give them a treat. I did this a few times each day whenever I thought about it, not on any particular schedule. They pretty much performed the shake each time, and if they didn’t do it right away I touched their paw and said the word again to give them a little reminder.
Repeat this action as many times as necessary. For me, after that week, I would ask my cats to shake without letting them see that I had a treat, and they still gave me a shake. Now, it’s such a practiced behavior that months can go by and Fluffy, the cat I still have from the bunch, will still do it right away.
Other methods of cat training
Reader’s Digest gives a synopsis of how to teach a cat to shake hands, and it’s very similar to what I did. The main difference is that they suggest offering the cat a mix of canned cat food and chicken baby food on a baby spoon. After you say “shake,” tap the paw you want them to shake with. After the cat moves her paw, say “good” or whistle, and offer the food.
Many professional cat trainers use a clicker, a device that makes a clicking sound when it’s pressed, to train cats to shake. The trainer clicks the clicker and offers a treat reward. Then, when the cat associates the clicker with the reward, the next step is to associate the clicker with an action, like raising their paw.
These methods are really quite similar to the methods of teaching a dog to shake. One method is to hold your hand near your dog and notice whenever your dog moves her paw the way you want her to. Then reward her and start giving a verbal cue. Method two involves lightly touching behind the dew claw (the extra nail on the foot) and then rewarding her when she lifts her foot.