How to Train a Cat with Clicker Training (Video)
Most pet training information seems to focus on dogs. So it′s only natural to wonder: Can you train a cat?
The answer is a resounding yes! Cats can be trained to come when you call, use a litter box or scratching post, high-five and even go through hoops. You'll just need to use a special strategy called clicker training.
Cheryl Kolus, DVM, trains about a dozen shelter cats every other week through a non-profit organization called the Clicker Training Institute for Cats and Kittens, or CLICK. Here you′ll find her expert insights into what clicker training is and how to get started.
What Is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a type of training that uses a distinct clicking sound to tell an animal when he or she is doing something good. The clicking sound can come from a clicker sold in pet stores (made specifically for this purpose), or from a regular a push pen, or even from a click of your tongue. It just needs to be the same sound every time.
This fun and humane training method has been used for decades and has become increasingly popular since the 1990s. Clicker training is effective with many kinds of companion animals, including dogs, horses, birds, and of course, cats!
How Does Clicker Training Work?
Clicker training involves making the clicking sound IMMEDIATELY as the cat (or other animal) performs the action you want to encourage. Then you quickly follow up by giving your cat a treat or other reward within one to two seconds. (We suggest a bite of 9Lives® cat food for delicious, nutritious and affordable motivation.)
The click acts as a ′′bridge′′ between the desirable behavior and the reward, which provides positive reinforcement. In other words, your cat learns to associate the behavior with the click, which is associated with the reward.
How to Train Your Cat with Clicker Training
The first step to clicker training is called ′′charging′′ the clicker, also known as ′′loading′′ or ′′priming′′ the clicker. These are just fancy terms for teaching your cat that the clicking noise means a reward is coming.
To do this, simply make the clicking noise and immediately give your cat a bite of 9Lives® food. Repeat this process a few times, until your cat seems to expect a treat when he or she hears the noise.
From there, clicker training your cat for any behavior basically involves three steps, which occur almost simultaneously:
- Your cat does something you want to encourage.
- You click while your cat is doing that positive behavior. (You may also want to say the word for that behavior, such as ′′sit,′′ at the same time.)
- Within one to two seconds, you reward your cat.
Morris sums it up nicely in his video, as he explains how to clicker train a cat with proper ′′eti-cat′′ (or, etiquette, as we humans tend to call it).
PRO TIP: To time your clicks right, think of the clicker as a camera. Clicking it is like taking a snapshot of the correct behavior as it′s happening.
Now you may be wondering, how do you get your cat to perform that behavior in the first place? Read on for a few different methods.
Clicker Training Methods for Teaching a New Behavior
There are multiple ways you can go about teaching your cat new behaviors and tricks with a clicker. Here′s a quick overview of a few to help get you started.
The capturing method may be the easiest clicker training technique. It basically involves catching your cat in the act of something he or she does naturally, but that you′d like to teach him or her to do on cue.
For example, you may want to teach your cat to bow. If he or she essentially ′′bows′′ when stretching after a nap, watch for this behavior, and then click and treat when you see it.
The technique known as luring involves using a reward (usually a little bit of cat food or treats) to entice your cat into a certain position. For instance, if you hold a treat directly in front of your cat′s nose and then raise it slightly above his or her head, that will likely cause him or her to naturally sit, just from looking upward at the treat. When he or she sits, that is when you would click and treat.
A word of caution, though: Only use the lure (treat) up to three times, and then use just an empty hand to signal what you want your cat to do. Otherwise, your cat may learn to ONLY perform that behavior when food is used as a cue.
If your cat already knows how to perform a certain behavior on cue, you can use that behavior to prompt your kitty to perform a different one. For instance, if your cat has already learned to follow a stick (called a ′′target stick′′) as you carry it, you can carry that stick by your legs as you walk, and then use clicker training to teach your cat to heel.
The shaping technique refers to shaping your cat′s behavior in small steps, until they add up to one bigger, final behavior. Once your cat understands the first small step, you would hold out on clicking and treating until he or she performs the next small step as well.
For example, you may want to teach your cat to spin around in a full circle. The first step would be to turn his or her head in the right direction. The next step would be to bend his or her body in that direction. Next would be to step in that direction with one paw, and so on.
Keeping it ′′Pawsitive′′
Remember, training your cat should be fun for both of you! If one of you starts to get frustrated, wrap up your training session with something easy. Give yourselves a break, and try again later.
Also be sure to keep the ′′pawsitive′′ reinforcement coming. Once your cat has learned to perform the new behavior on cue, you no longer need to use the clicker every time. But you should keep rewarding that behavior, whether with 9Lives® food or simply with praise and petting.
More Cat Training Tips
Training is a great way to build an even stronger bond with your kitty and help give him or her The Good Life — and the ′′pawsibilities′′ are virtually endless!
Ready to keep learning? Follow Morris on social media and check out his other videos for more fun ideas and helpful advice.
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