Yes, You Can Clicker Train Your Cat Too!
When you think of clicker training, you may have images of a well-trained dog performing tricks or running a complex set of obedience behaviors. However, clicker training isn’t only for our canine friends. Cats, just like dogs, are excellent at picking up clicker training and it’s a great form of enrichment. In fact, many shelters are now including clicker training protocols for their shelter cats to help increase adoptability. If you’re interested in learning how to clicker train your cat, read on.
How Does Clicker Training Work?
Clicker training involves the use of a clicker that makes a noise — this can be in the form of an actual clicker purchased from a pet store, a “mouth click” using your voice, or even a bottle cap such as a Snapple bottle that clicks.
The clicker is not a command. Instead, it is a cue to your cat that the behavior they are currently doing is the right one, and that a reward will soon follow. This click gives you, the trainer, the chance to grab a treat and reward your cat for a job well done. Clickers are also great at shaping behaviors by letting your cat know what they’re currently doing is on the right track. It also encourages cats to try out new behaviors during training.
Cats young and old can benefit from clicker training, and there is never a bad time to start trying. A study of shelter cats showed that cats as young as six months and as old as ten years did equally well while learning.
Tools to Get Started
There are a few tools you should have on hand before getting started on clicker training. Chell, our demo cat, will help show you what’s needed:
Toys or target items to train with
A cat (preferably yours!)
A positive attitude!
Finding the Right Reward
What is a high-value treat or reward? It will vary between cats, but usually, it is something such as a crunchy treat, a piece of tuna, or some canned food. In Chell’s case, she really loves crunchy cat treats. Their small size also makes them great to give several in a row when rewarding a behavior. As long as it’s something your cat likes and is quick and easy to eat, it’s a great choice. You will want to reserve this special treat for training sessions only to keep it exciting.
What if your cat isn’t food motivated? In some cases, petting and affection or even the toss of a toy can be a motivating reward for a cat. Do note, however, that it will take longer for your cat to “enjoy” these rewards, so sessions may be slower or involve fewer tries. Regardless, finding effective motivators is key to success.
Priming the Clicker
Priming the clicker simply means getting your cat to associate the click sound with a reward. This step is easy to do. Without asking for any behaviors, click the clicker and then give a reward. You’ll want to do this about 15-20 times until your cat starts to anticipate the click -> reward process. Signs of association include excitement upon seeing the clicker, attempting to interact with the clicker (pawing, head bunting), or meowing and activity in between clicks.
Here, Chell demonstrates her interest during clicker priming — already a pro!
Training sessions can involve whatever behavior you want to work on. This can be something as simple as “sit”, or getting your cat used to a target stick to teach more advanced behaviors. Keep sessions short — 5-10 minutes at most — to avoid boredom and frustration. If your cat becomes disinterested or bored, you can end the session and try again later. Most cats do great with several short sessions spread throughout the day.
In addition to teaching set behaviors, you can also use clicker training to “shape behaviors.” This can involve catching your cat in the act of doing something you like (such as sleeping peacefully in a designated bed), or by having them present behaviors to you during a training session (such as head bunting your hand to ask for a pet or reward.) Every cat is different, so what behaviors you want to shape or teach are entirely dependent upon you and your cat’s needs.
Clicker training may seem like a daunting, dog-only training tool, but it’s a great resource to help focus your cat’s attention, teach new tricks, or just shape and reward positive behaviors. If you’re interested in creating a tailored clicker training plan for your cat, check out our various website resources, or schedule a training consultation today!