In spite of popular culture depicting cats as too independent to be trained, things couldn’t be further from the truth: with the right tools, a little time, and a ton of patience, you can train your cat to do almost anything.
Yes, we are saying that training your cat is possible. But we’re not implying it will be easy. That’s why, today, we’ll introduce clicker training.
Why should you click train your cat?
If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll likely have come across our guides on how to train your cat to walk on a leash, how to get him comfortable in his carrier & on car rides, and how to come when called.
Today, we’ll take it a step further and introduce clicker training. But why would you want to clicker train your cat?
There are several reasons why you should consider start clicker training: if you’re planning to go traveling or even adventure in front of your doorstep with your cat, having him trained to respond to your commands in case of unforeseen circumstances is always a good idea.
But there are more benefits to clicker training your feline friend. First, it can help stimulate your cat’s mind and keep him entertained (which, in turn, means he’ll be less bored and, hopefully, will let you sleep
better at night); Second, it’s a fun activity for both of you, and it will help strengthen your bond.
Clicker training can also help correct a cat’s behavioral problems, by diverting his attention to something more interesting while stopping him from focusing on the annoying behavior.
It can encourage timid cats to gain more self-esteem and confidence, passive cats to develop more initiative, and impatient cats to improve their self-control.
How does it work, then? By combining training techniques from classical and operant conditioning and positive reinforcement with the aid of a clicker.
This type of training is conducted on a reward-based system with the aid of a clicker – which helps you keep your commands consistent and clear, and your cat focused – and is built on the scientific premise that cats repeat behavior when their actions are rewarded positively and immediately.
What is clicker training?
You may not have a clear picture of what clicker training is, but you’re likely to have come across the term before. In modern behavioural science, clicker training has been heralded as one of the most effective ways of training animals – from cats and dogs, all the way to dolphins.
Your cat will learn new skills more or less easily depending on how confident you are and how much he is enjoying the process.
At the beginning, you need to keep in mind that you are training your cat – but also learning something new. That’s why, before you start, you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re doing.
Remember: for training to be successful, your cat needs to be having fun. This will depend on a wide variety of factors – including how confident you are while training.
How does clicker training work?
Clicker training is a modern method of animal training based on the psychology of behaviour. It is based on a very simple premise – ‘marking’ a behaviour you want (a desirable behaviour), and then rewarding it.
Employing a clicker allows you to capture a behaviour at the exact time it happens, and to keep your command consistent and clear. On the other hand, using your voice in a consistent manner could be difficult over time, and the noises you make could easily be replicated and misunderstood by your cat.
As a consequence, using a clicker ensures there is no mistake in what behaviour the cat is being rewarded for, and therefore strengthens and speeds up the training process.
Science has proven that you only have up to 3 seconds to reward a cat for a specific behaviour, and have them understand why they are being rewarded. The introduction of the clicker allows you to immediately capture the correct behaviour, without worrying about missing the mark, being too late or rifling through your treat bag for too long.
When using a clicker, you begin to build a very strong positive association between the marker – in this case, the click sound that is made – and the behaviour the cat has performed.
Christine Hauschild, author of Trick Training for Cats: Smart Fun With The Clicker, recommends you start practicing with a human. This step will help you understand that using the clicker to help your cat form a specific behaviour without verbal cues isn’t as straightforward as you may think.
Prepare your tools
Getting started is super easy: you just need a clicker and a cat (duh!).
Whatever clicker you decide to buy, make sure you stick to just one to avoid confusing your cat. If the noise the clicker makes is too loud and could potentially annoy or scare your cat, place it in your palm or cover it to make it less loud.
Also, make sure that the clicker always sounds exactly the same and it is not similar to any sound that your cat can come across easily outside of training sessions.
If you’re not sure how to get hold of a clicker, you can also try with a click-top pen.
If your cat is deaf, you can use a penlight or a flash.
TIP: You may choose to use a marker word rather than a tool. Generally, this word is “good” or “yes”. There are drawbacks to using a verbal tool, however – as it can be quite difficult to maintain the exact pitch, tone and length every time you use it.
Charge the clicker
In layman’s terms, ‘charging the clicker’ means creating a strong positive association with the sound of the clicker.
To do that, you need to find a treat that your cat can’t say no to – something exciting, that he very rarely gets to taste.
Before you start, make sure that your cat is hungry (but please, don’t starve him!) and pick a quiet place where he won’t be distracted. Don’t keep sessions more than 5-10 minutes long.
At the beginning, you’re not trying to teach your cat anything except that click means reward. All you need to do is click and treat; click and treat; click and treat, and repeat as many times as possible. The pause between the click sound and the treat shouldn’t exceed 1 second.
Your cat will soon realise that the sound of a click always precedes a treat. Over time, this association will become so strong that your cat will get visibly excited at the simple click sound.
Training behaviours with the clicker
Now that your clicker is charged, you can start training your cat useful commands, lifehacks and fun tricks. While there are multiple ways to do this, two methods are considered the most effective:
Contrarily to dogs, who just want to please you due to their social nature, cats can only be trained if they know there is something for them in it. Most cats are food motivated, and that’s why luring has proven to be very effective.
The term ‘luring’ describes enticing your cat into the behaviour or position you would like to train him, and then using the clicker to mark and reward him.
To lure your cat, hold his favourite treat close to his nose and slowly encourage him to follow it. Once he has achieved the desired behaviour – for example, sitting – click and reward.
After several repetitions, you can begin to phase out the lure – and, depending on how you’ve trained him, your cat should offer the behaviour after a verbal command or by themselves.
TIP: You want to start clicker training your cat gradually. Initially, you’ll need to reward your cat even if he has started forming that specific trick or behaviour but he hasn’t completed it yet. For example, if you’re teaching him to sit, you want to click and reward him even if he has just started to lower his back. Eventually, he’ll associate that action with the reward. Also use a high-pitch word (such as, “good boy”) to accompany the click and reward.
Observation training will require a lot of patience on your part, but can be a great alternative to train for cats who aren’t motivate by food.
Observation is as simple as it sounds: essentially, you need to wait for your cat to perform the desired behaviour – this could be anything, from an action like sitting, to using their kitty litter, to even meowing – and, when your cat performs the desired behaviour of their own free will, you need to click and reward.
It will only take a few repetitions for your cat to realise what behaviour you are capturing – and he’ll start to do it more often.
For example, you can watch your kitten play around until he spontaneously happens to sit. At that exact moment, you want to click and hand him a treat. Now continue watching him as he walks around, and repeat as soon as he accidentally sits again. Repeat multiple times a day, and you’ll be surprised to discover how quickly your kitten will learn to associate the click sound to his reward and respond to it intentionally next time he hears it.
Click sound = Correct behaviour
Slowly, your cat will understand that click sound = treat. He will also understand that he can influence you using the clicker and will try to repeat precisely the action that will prompt you to use the clicker and give him a treat.
For example: if you click as soon as he puts his paw on your hand, and immediately reward him, he will understand that it’s worth to repeat the action “paw on hand”.
Patience, patience and more patience
Even if your cat responds quickly to the clicker sound and reward, don’t expect immediate results when you try to teach him a trick or correct a behaviour.
A common mistake is to expect immediate results, but it can often take a while for cats to respond to the clicker. Also, just because your feline friend has responded to the clicker for one behaviour, don’t automatically assume it will work for other behaviors.
However, don’t give up and arm yourself with the right amount of food and treats. Eventually, you will succeed.
For further insight on how to clicker train your cat, we recommend Trick Training for Cats: Smart Fun With The Clicker by Christine Hauschild.
Have you ever tried clicker training you cat? Let us know in the comments! ?