Clicker Training for Cats
Yes, cats CAN be trained.
Shaking hands? Rolling over? Jumping through hoops? If you think training is just for dogs, think again. Cats can not only be trained through the same positive method used for dogs, but it can stop them from engaging in unwanted behavior (no, the new couch wouldn’t look better shredded), and keep Kitty from getting bored and depressed.
Clicker training is all about positive reinforcement. Cats don’t really respond well to being yelled at, or spritzed with water. In fact, negative reinforcement can erode the loving bond you have with Kitty. Why would you want her to be afraid of you? But if an action is immediately followed by a delicious treat (mmm…treats), Kitty will be happy to repeat that great action — and love you for it.
What’s an example of some “great actions”? Teaching kitty to sit and stay still while getting a shot or clipping her nails, getting her to not knock over keepsakes, or unbelievably, VOLUNTARILY going into the kitty carrier for a vet visit. Some people even train their cats to go on hikes with them. Clicker training ensures they stay close to their cat parent while out in the wild (and a leash helps, too). All of these actions can be cute — and useful. They also give you another way to engage with your cat and bond with her. And it really ups the communication factor between you and your kitty, which is a wonderful feeling for both of you.
Clicker training is fairly easy, and can be taught to a cat of any age (because they’re cute AND smart). Here’s how to go about it:
- Stock up on your primary reinforcer: This is the reward. Usually, the tastiest treat for your little cat. If your cat isn’t motivated by food (hey, every cat is different), maybe
kittywill respond to some much-loved petting or brushing.
- Get a hold of a secondary reinforcement: This is going to be the clicker, which you can find at a pet store. You can also use a clicking pen or a click of your tongue, but you want it to be a unique sound, so Kitty doesn’t get confused. This is eventually going to be the signal for your cat to engage in “the trick,” whatever that may be. If your Kitty is deaf, a little flashlight works great.
- Pair the click with a treat: Now it’s time to connect a click with a treat. It may take a few tries before Kitty makes the connection. For some cats who aren’t food-oriented (and we’re not sure that cat really exists, except in myth), their rewards can be a good play session with their favorite toy, or a snuggle session for cats who live for affection.
- Pair the clicker and treat with an action: Now, when kitty happens to undertake a specific action (let’s say jumping off the couch), click the clicker and give her a treat immediately. You can pair this with a verbal command, too. Soon she’ll equate getting off the couch with a treat. But don’t be discouraged. This may take several tries.
- Keep training sessions short: no more than 5 or 10 minutes.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
The key here is patience. Remember, this is like learning a new language for Kitty. But soon she’ll be off the kitchen counter — and busy on her world tour of Kitty’s Kool Tricks. Amazingly, some cats eventually take it a step further and will respond to voice commands without the need for the clicker.
But don’t make Kitty do too many tricks. Remember, cats aren’t dogs. Because cats domesticated themselves, they aren’t really command-oriented. In fact, we love them for their individuality. Before asking Kitty to fetch your slippers, remember to leave her a shred of dignity.
The key to clicker training is rewards. And that’s what the Fresh Step® Paw Points® Rewards program is all about. So if you really want to reward your fabulously talented kitty, join the Paw Points® program, and redeem points for a fun, catnip-soaked treat. Now if only you could train her to clean her own litter…