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I will be a Pet Me Cat at the San Diego Cat Show this weekend… and I am also going to be part of a presentation! My human was asked to do a talk, and the topic wound up being about training cats. The most important part of training a cat, she thinks, is building a great relationship with your cat. That’s both an aid and a goal. But there are technical things humans should know when working with their cats, and clicker training is one of them. I will be honest and tell you I was not clicker trained! My human just sort of worked with me off the cuff, and we’ve had lots of fun doing it. But she felt that if she was going to talk about cat training, we should discuss it. So here I am getting a remedial clicker training lesson.
My human has a couple of clickers, but she likes this Terry Ryan Clik Stik. Besides the clicker, it also has a retractable pointer (more on that later). You will have to excuse this photo, with it upside down. This was the last shot of the day and we were “losing light,” so there wasn’t time for a redo. She got this one at an Acro-Cats show, but you can also get the Clik Stik on Amazon.
You’re supposed to use a clicker is so the cat associates the click noise with the treats (reward) when she does a specific action. You can add in hand signals and voice commands later.
Here is how you begin your first session. Be with your cat somewhere quiet where there are no distractions. (Outside is actually not a good idea — there are loads of distractions!) Make sure you have some high value treats handy. That means whatever she really, really likes — for me it is freeze dried chicken. While she is just sitting there quietly, click the clicker and immediately afterwards give her a treat.
She should only get treats when she is being calm. If she gets grabby, like I am here, let her settle down, then click the clicker and give her another treat. After a while, she’ll learn that sitting quietly will earn her a treat. Voila — your cat just learned to Stay!
The training sessions should be brief, like only 3 minutes long, and you can do them a couple or three times a day. We kitties have short attention spans. Have about 10 treats, or pieces of treats handy. My human uses itty bitty bits of treats. Another idea is to use wet food or ground meat on the back of a spoon — that way your cat learns to be gentle when taking treats from your hand. When I’m doing tricks for other people, my human has them hold the treat reward in the palm of their hand so I don’t accidentally bite (although I’m actually very gentle).
Once your cat gets the hang of the clicker, you can use a pointer to direct action. You get her used to the pointer by letting her touch noses with it, then clicking and giving a treat. Once she realizes she gets a treat by touching the pointer, you can start leading her around, clicking and giving rewards. The really big, important tricks — and two of the best reasons to use clicker training — are teaching your cat to come when called and to go into her carrier. Wouldn’t it be great if your cat could do that in an emergency, like if you had to evacuate with little warning?
So this is why, even though clicker training should always be fun, this is serious business! Kitties, don’t let your human goof off like mine is here. Keep your human on track. Besides, we cats get bored easily, and you want our attention for the minutes you are doing these sessions.
My human found some other uses for the pointer too. When I have my bell in front of me, I sometimes will keep ringing it when she doesn’t want me to, or when she wants me to do another trick. If she tells me to Stay and I start reaching for the bell, she puts the pointer in front of me. That way, I keep my paws on the ground.
My human also got a fun idea for a new trick. She says, “Give me paw!” and I drape my paw over the pointer. Then she clicks it and gives me a treat. I started getting the hang of it in just one session… but I’m pretty used to learning tricks now!
I hope you liked my introduction to clicker training!