Who says you can’t train a cat? Not us! The myth that only dogs can learn tricks and commands has long been busted. Letting your pet know what you want them to do is all about clear communication, and one of the most effective ways to develop this training language with your cat is through clicker training.
What is clicker training?
Pushing the button on the clicker produces a click, after which you immediately reward your cat with a tasty treat. Combining the sound of the click with an immediate reinforcer (the treat) is an example of positive reinforcement. After that, the click sound communicates to the cat that she is doing something you want her to do.
Supplies you’ll need:
- Target stick – a lightweight stick that you can train your cat to touch or follow
- Treats or another reinforcer your cat will love (such as verbal praise or touch)
Step 1: “Charging” Your Clicker
Until you pair the sound of the click with something your cat wants, the clicker will not inherently hold any special meaning. Press the clicker one time, then present the food to your cat. Once your cat begins to look for the food after they hear the click, your clicker is “charged”.
Step 2: Capturing
Choose a behavior your cat naturally exhibits. For example, it could be making eye contact or looking at you, stretching, grooming, or any other natural behavior. Without any prompting, when you see the behavior you’re looking for, click straight away and offer the treat. This will help you work on timing the behavior and the click so your cat understands the connection between the two. Work on capturing for at least 24 hours before moving on to the next step.
Step 3: Targeting
Hold your target stick 2-3 inches away from your cat. The behavior we are now looking to capture is more specific – a nose touch, a head bump, or if your cat is really jazzy, a high five! Once your cat makes contact be sure to click and treat (try to keep this in mind, like a mantra: click and treat). You may want to work on targeting for 3-4 days to make sure your cat gets it.
Step 4: Luring
Often times people ask, “how do I stop my cat from jumping on the kitchen counter?” A different approach is to train your cat to come down from the counter using your target stick. When your cat approaches the target stick, slowly guide her towards the place you wish your cat to go. Once she is there, be sure to click and treat.
Step 5: Adding a Cue
A cue is a verbal sounds signal such as “sit” or “down”. Once your cat is reliably offering the behavior you’re looking for, then you can add the cue. If you are using luring to get your cat to come down from the kitchen counter, you can add the verbal cue “off”, “place”, or whatever makes sense – just make sure you’re consistent. The order goes: verbal cue, behavior, click, and treat.
Always work within natural feline behaviors and avoid the temptation to teach your cat unnatural tricks.