Clicker Training for Cats: The Basics


Cat training has often been considered an elusive goal by pet owners who’ve been conditioned to view cats as “untrainable.” Yet many cat owners have found an enjoyable way to train and interact with their pets through the process of clicker training for cats.

So what is cat clicker training? Cat clicker training is an easy and fun way to help shape your cat’s behavior. The scientific term for the method is operant conditioning – simply put, it means you can take advantage of your cat’s natural tendency to repeat an action that has a positive consequence. With clicker training, punishments are not used. You “mark” a desirable behavior with a click, and then reward it with a treat.

The clicker is a small plastic device with a metal strip that makes a clicking sound when it’s pressed. The value of the clicking sound is that it is completely distinct within the cat’s environment. Unlike the sound of your voice, which your cat hears all the time, the sound of the click becomes a clear form of communication. The click is something that he can uniquely associate with the desired behavior. The treat then immediately follows the click, reinforcing the positive consequences of the behavior.

Cat clicker training definitely requires your patience. Before you begin, look for examples of clicker training videos on the Web, or go through your local bookstore to find guides full of clicker training tips and tricks. Set your goals for cat training, and decide which behaviors you want to encourage, which ones you want to replace, and whether you want to teach your cat a few simple tricks.

The first step is to get your cat used to the sound of the clicker. When you have your cat’s attention, give the clicker a click, and follow it immediately with a small morsel of something he loves to eat. Commercial cat treats are ideal for this process. It’s important to give just a small taste of something yummy so your cat is left wanting more. You can either toss the treat to the cat, or hand-feed it to him.

Be patient. Some cats will associate the click with the treat almost immediately, while others may be slower to catch on. This process is sometimes referred to as “charging the clicker.” Once the clicker is charged, and your cat readily makes the association between click and treat, he’s ready for more advanced cat clicker training.

Perhaps the easiest command to teach your cat is to “come” at the sound of the clicker – wherever he is, he’ll come out of hiding to retrieve the treat. It’s the same principle by which cats learn to come running at the sound of a can opener. And if you have a new kitten that hasn’t yet acquired an aversion to the cat carrier, you can use clicker training to get him to enter his carrier on demand.

Some cat owners have successfully replaced clicks with voice commands or visual cues. Once a behavior has been learned, it doesn’t have to be rewarded with a treat every time, but should always be accompanied by praise.

Keep The Following Clicker Training Tips In Mind As You Train Your Cat:

  • Click during the desired behavior, not after it. Timing is crucial, because the click sound may actually cause the cat to terminate the behavior in anticipation of a treat.
  • Begin with something easy that your cat is likely to do on his own (sit, come, touch your hand with his paw or nose, scratch on a post, follow a target object like a wand or pencil).
  • Only click once per behavior. Multiple clicks can confuse your cat.
  • Keep your cat training sessions very short.
  • Focus on coaxing or luring your cat into a position area; never push him or pick him up to move him. Your cat’s movements should be voluntary, even if they are accidental, he’ll gradually associate the click with the movement you’re training him for, whether it’s sitting or jumping on a stool.
  • Start by rewarding for small movements toward your goal, and then shape a behavior by raising the goal. For example, if you’re training your cat to enter his carrier, at first you’ll reward for any steps he takes in that direction, then for walking right up to the carrier, then for entering it.
  • Don’t punish bad behavior, but refocus your cat on good behaviors by rewarding them. For example, instead of punishing a cat for scratching on the furniture, reward him for using his designated scratching post. (You can begin by rewarding him just for being near the post.)

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