Clicker Training Your Cat

Think of these words: Obedience Training. Tricks for Treats. You probably thought of dog training, right? What if I told you all of those words can be applied to cat training? Cats may be high and mighty most of the time, but it does not mean that they don’t know the value of looking cute (especially if food is involved). Claire Williams, a Cat Adoption Counselor at Wayside Waifs, sat down with me to discuss clicker training for cats. Like some of you might be thinking, my first thought was “yea, right”. But the way Williams describes it, it’s attainable and a possibility for any cat! But what is clicker training? 

Clicker training is marking wanted behavior and then proceeding to give a reward for the wanted behavior. A click signifies the wanted behavior, and the treat is the reward. You may be most familiar with clicker training in canines; who would have thought you could do the same with cats? In fact, the founder of clicker training, Karen Pryor, has used clicker training with a wide variety of animals! Cats, dogs, horses, dolphins and rabbits are just a few of her training subjects. 

The question is how do you start clicker training a cat? “The cat gets a treat for breathing” Williams says, “When you click, they get a treat. They don’t have to do anything at first. You just want to establish a connection that the clicker sound means a treat”. She recommends doing ‘mini sessions’ throughout the day, until your cat starts to understand what’s going on. Also, the treats you might already be buying for your cat at the store might not cut it. Let’s remember how picky a cat can be about their food. They don’t mind if you give them a treat that came out of a bottle but you don’t think they’re going to roll over for it, do you? 

Once your cat gets used to the clicker sound being a cue for a treat, start rewarding certain behaviors. If you see a behavior that you like, click and treat. Once they start to catch on, they’ll start doing the behavior on their own. Then, you just need to come up with a hand or verbal signal that signifies what the cat is supposed to do. They will realize that every time they do something in particular they get a treat and they’ll start doing it more often. 

But can cats perform the same kind of tricks that dogs do? Williams knows they can! “They can sit, come, stay…even jump through a hoop if you want them too!” The trick is to find something your feline does not want to live without. In most instances it’s a high value treat; something along the lines of pieces of chicken, hamburger or tuna. Remember though; don’t make the pieces too big. You don’t want to fill up their tummies and lose their interest! At the same time, don’t make your ‘mini sessions’ too long; keep your kitty wanting more. 

So, what advice does Williams give to people who are interested in training their cat?  “Patience, patience, patience”. She says the best times to try and clicker train your cat is when it’s around feeding time, or if they are hungry. You also do not need an actual “clicker” to clicker train, “You can use things such as pens or staplers; tools that mimic the clicker sound”. The main thing you need to do though is be consistent. Consistency is the key to any kind of training and the same goes for cat training. If you do not consistently treat them when they deserve, they will quickly loose interest or become frustrated.  

There are plenty of online resources that are at your disposal to find out more information about cat clicker training. Some cats can do some pretty awesome tricks (my favorite is probably the most simple: high-five). You can also go to Karen Pryor’s website, where she has information and suggestions on how to work with your kitty. Good luck, and remember- be patient! 

Written by Alyssa Willet
Adoptions Supervisor at Wayside Waifs

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