Are you training your cat?
I touched on the topic in this post about disciplining your cat, but I wanted to address a specific method that all pet guardians can use to not only train their cat or dog, but spend more time with them in a way that’s engaging, stimulating, motivating, and rewarding for everyone. So I interviewed someone who I feel is an important voice regarding animal care, Mikel Delgado, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds which offers cat behavior consultations in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Berkeley and Oakland.
1. What is clicker training?
Clicker training is really just training – but with an added tool – a clicker, which is a way of communicating with animals (not in a hippie dippie way). Through repeated pairings with treats, the click sound becomes associated with rewards. The click sound is the bridge between the behavior the animal is performing and the reward (usually treats). It tells the animal EXACTLY what behaviors you are rewarding.
There are many clickers available at your local pet store and on Amazon like these ones:
2. Why should we clicker train our cats? Shouldn’t we let them be independent of our demands?
Clicker training gives owners a way to communicate with their cats; it says “I like what you just did, and I will pay you for it!” Owners also spend a lot of time giving their cats attention for undesirable behaviors – “get down from there,” “no!,” chasing them off the counters, etc. For some cats, ANY attention is better than none, and so these undesirable behaviors continue. “No” also doesn’t give a cat any information about what you would like them to do instead. I like clicker training because it tells a cat what TO DO – the behaviors you click for will be more likely to be repeated in the future. So if you click and treat for sitting quietly, or scratching a post, when your cat wants a treat…she may offer up these behaviors!
I don’t see clicker training as forcing the cat to do anything. The clicker is NOT a command, it is a response. I love cats’ independent nature, but I also see people get into battles with their cats over behaviors like furniture scratching, climbing on counters, or even biting people to get what they want. I feel like it’s much better to reward behaviors you like – but it usually takes some practice as we are so used to ignoring our cats when they are being quiet and well-behaved.
3. How does one clicker train a cat?
I always start with a very simple behavior, such as touching a target, or sit. You need a clicker, some treats, and a cat! For touching a target, if you place a wooden spoon handle in front of your cat’s nose, they will likely approach and sniff it. That is how cats greet each other and inspect new items. As the cat’s nose touches the handle, click and toss your kitty a treat. If you repeat this several times, pretty soon your cat really wants to touch that handle so you will give them a treat! There are several great videos on clicker training, and a few good books and websites too! Rather than rehash all the details, I would suggest that your readers check them out!
4. What results have you seen with clicker training?
I’ve seen clicker training increase the bond between and owner and their cat – not only because the cat stops engaging in those undesirable behaviors, but because clicker training can be a really fun activity for both! I think many people are surprised and proud that their cat will sit on command for treats! For many cats, it is an important form of mental stimulation, and I think they really enjoy working for rewards, and getting positive attention from their owners.
5. Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the great things about clicker training is that you can take it as far as you like (or not). You can teach your cats to sit and high five, you can use clicker training to reward cats for letting you trim their nails and brush them, you can train them to go in their carrier on demand, and much more. Some people really get into training and do agility courses or other fun activities with their cats. Some of us stick to more basic parlor tricks, but either way, clicker training has benefits!
If you’ve got any questions or comments about training your cat, please post below or by tagging us on social media. You can learn more about Delgado’s work by visiting Feline Minds.