Clicker Training for Cats: How to Do It

Contrary to what most people believe and your cat might want you to think, you can teach a cat. What is clicking training in cats? Does the method of positive reinforcement, often used to train dogs, also work on our feline friends?

According to experts in cat training, they can certainly clicker train your cat. “I use clicker training quite a lot with cats,” Professor. Marci Koski, Ph.D., is a certified feline behavior trainer who owns Feline Behavior Solutions. “It’s not just for fun and can really assist with issues with behavior. It’s a fantastic tool.”

Through proper clicker training, it is possible to show your pet tricks, lead them through agility training, and encourage them to go to the vet and reduce their aggression towards other animals. All you have to do is learn how to tweak this well-known training method to be cat-friendly.

What is Clicker Training for Cats?

Also called “mark and reward,” clicker training uses the use of a tiny hand-held clicker (which produces a natural “click” sound when pressed) to inform your cat of the exact moment when they’ve accomplished something you want to see them do. When it is heard clicking, your cat will be awarded the reward.

Koski states she can train cats to be clicker-trained at any age. She was only ten years old when she began teaching her. Susan Bulanda, a certified member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, also agrees that kittens are the ideal candidates for training because they’re naturally more active and curious.

Benefits of Clicker Training for Cats

“Clicker training can open up a new way to communicate with your cat,” Koski states. Clickers let you immediately be notified of any positive behavior. That’s the reason she suggests getting the clicker with a strap. So, you can keep it in your pocket and be prepared to praise whenever it is time to “catch” your cat doing positive things.

Clicker training can be utilized as a reward strategy for mental training for learning new skills and any behavior you would like to reward, such as confidence in the car to chopping upwards a scratching post instead of a couch.

Clicker Training for Cats: Before You Begin

“Before you can clicker train a cat, you must find a very special treat that the cat loves,” Bulanda suggests Bulanda. This is because clicker training involves rewarding behaviors instantly after marking them using the click. “You need to figure out what your cat is willing to work for,” Koski states. “That is often the hardest part.”

Most cats love treats they love, but Koski suggests choosing an option low in calories since you’ll be giving out many treats. Koski suggests using goodies that come in a squeezable container to make it easy to distribute, smaller pieces of cooked plain chicken breasts, or small dry food fragments. According to Bulanda, Bulanda, Whatever product you select, you must be exclusively used to train clickers.

It’s a bit more challenging for cats who don’t desire food. Koski suggests rewarding these cats by rubbing or petting them, playing with their favorite toys, or offering other affection and love.

There is no need to carve time for a clicker-training session. Each one will only last just a few minutes. Make sure you’re in a location that is free of distractions and where your cat feels at ease. If you show tricks that require props, be sure to place them before time.

How to Clicker Train a Cat: 4 Easy Steps

1. Make sure you have a supply of high-value snacks or rewards. When you’ve figured out the prize your cat will strive for, ensure you have enough available when you’re ready to begin the training (in instances of food rewards) or have easy accessibility for it (in the case of tips that aren’t food-based, such as toys).

2. Link the clicker and reward. At first, when you’re starting with your training, you don’t have reason to be patient while you are training. Click, hand out your reward, and wait for the cat to consume or enjoy it, then repeat it 6 to 10 times over approximately two minutes.

Koski suggests doing this in three sessions. “By then, your cat should understand that when they hear the click, a reward magically appears,” Koski adds.

3. Use the clicker and reward system to encourage positive behavior. Then, you can begin by using the clicker to record any positive behavior: for instance, When your cat offers you a high-five, uses a scratching post, or walks past the cat’s snarl without hissing and groaning. If you repeat this practice repeatedly, the cat will be taught what you expect them to do. Be aware that clicking itself isn’t a reward. It’s just a way to tell your cat was doing the right thing, and you can expect a treat immediately. It’s not a formal signal to command. Utilizing hand signals or words to convey simple commands is still necessary. Also, don’t be a slave to keeping sessions brief; just a few minutes will suffice.

4. Change the rewards you give. When your cat has learned the specific behavior, you can reinforce it in what Koski calls “a variable schedule.” There must be rewards for each time the behavior occurs, but it shouldn’t have to be a costly treat every time. Sometimes, it will happen, but at other times it could be a more palatable treat or simply a simple praise.

“It’s the same psychology behind slot machines,” Koski states. After you’ve connected an incentive with a significant reward, offering various tips without any predictability could be more exciting since there’s always a chance your cat could “win” the special prize.

Other Helpful Tips

Like any other training type, it could take some time before your pet will “get it.” Here are some essential “dos and don’ts” to remember when clicker training your cat to help you achieve success.

Choose a clicker that suits the cat you are bringing home. A loud, sharp click that works well for dogs may scare some cats. Koski likes the rounded, flatter clickers as they are quieter than the typical boxes. If the sound is not enough for your pet, Koski suggests wrapping the device in your palm to reduce the sound and then putting the machine behind you or even putting it into the socks. Should your cat still not enjoy the sound, she suggests you click a pen, or you could use the Snapple lid. Be consistent with the “click” you and your cat agree on.

If you’re training multiple cats, make sure you begin them independently. Koski insists that you learn each cat’s clicker associations and commands differently. If you don’t, you could send mixed messages each time you click. Once all cats know their rules, you can collaborate with multiple cats simultaneously.

Do not use a clicker to penalize undesirable behaviors or attract your cat’s focus. You want an easy, explicit link between the clicker, the behavior, and the reward. Introducing other elements confuses your message and can weaken your feedback loop.

“At first the clicker is going to feel awkward, and there’s a lot to concentrate on,” Koski states. “Sometimes it’s like you’ll need three hands. However, keep going. You’ll become more comfortable and will be happy to watch your progress while creating the door to a new form for communication with your pet.”

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