Contrary to what many people think, clicker training is not just for dogs. Read on to learn how to use this effective training tool with your cat.
People often think that cats are impossible to train, but nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are cats much more social than many people think, but they are also easy to train. A popular and effective method for this is clicker training.

What is clicker training and why does it work?

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method based on behavioral psychology. Marking a desired behavior with a sound, usually a click, tells the cat that it is doing what you want it to do.

To get started, you need two things:

  • Clicker: a plastic button that makes a clicking sound when pressed.
  • Reinforcer (reward): Although cats have individual preferences, the most common reinforcer is a food reward. For those who are not motivated by food, pleasurable activities such as playing with a special toy or petting them in their favorite spot can be used.

Be aware that the sound of the clicker means nothing to your cat if it is not associated with reinforcement. After repeatedly and immediately activating the clicker with the reinforcement (whether it’s a treat, toy or pet), the cat will begin to associate the sound with the reward.

To begin training your cat, select a behavior you want to teach him. As soon as it does, click and immediately give it a treat or other reward. Start with behaviors that cats do naturally, such as sitting or looking at you. Once your cat understands what the clicker means, you can move on to learning other behaviors (more on that later), or even tricks like high-fiving.

Why train cats with the clicker?

“Cats are very intelligent creatures that need a lot more stimulation than people realize,” says Samantha Martin, owner of The Amazing Acro-Cats, a group of rescued cats that perform tricks. In addition to mental stimulation, clicker training can also help with behavioral issues.

“Clicker training can be used in many ways for cat training,” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC cat behaviorist. She uses it for:

  • Biting
  • Aggression
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Excessive meowing

“The only situation where I don’t use it is during litter box training, because I don’t want to upset the cat at that time.”

“I use clicker training a lot with my clients,” adds Dr. Marci L. Koski, a certified cat behavior and training consultant. “It can be a wonderful form of cognitive enrichment, a behavior modification tool and, quite simply, it’s a lot of fun!” Dr. Koski recommends clicker training to encourage cats to

  • Scratch on appropriate surfaces
  • Use alternative perches instead of climbing on counters and tables.
  • Reduce the amount of pawing at the door
  • Reward calm or quiet behavior and help your cats cope with stressful situations.

“Clicker training can also help teach your cat to engage in low-stress handling procedures, such as clipping nails and administering medication,” adds Dr. Koski.

Tips to Success

  1. Don’t leave your cat’s food out 24 hours a day. Not only is this unhealthy, but a satiated cat won’t want to work to get its food and will be less receptive to clicker training.
  2. Train your cat before meals. This is especially helpful if he is not motivated by treats. Clicker training at these times will encourage him to work for his meal.
  3. Break the training time into short sessions of five to ten minutes each.
  4. Start with simple behaviors and gradually move to more complex ones. “If your cat gets frustrated when learning something new, go back to a simpler behavior or trick to end on a positive note,” Samantha recommends.
  5. Tailor training to your cat’s personality. “If she has a lot of energy, you could teach her the long jump and the high jump,” Samantha suggests. “With less energetic cats, you can work on high fives and sit nicely.”

The most important tip of all? Clicker training should be fun for you and your cat.

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