Although cats have a reputation for being untrainable, this isn’t the case at all. Clicker training is an aspect of positive reinforcement training that allows you to teach your cat new skills quickly and effectively. Clicker training is so effective because it lets you clearly tell your cat when she has done something correct during training and that a reward will be given for that behavior.
What is clicker training?
A clicker is a small (usually plastic) box with a metal strip inside that when pressed creates a clear consistent clicking sound. Through training, cats learn that the sound of the clicker means they have done a behavior correctly and that a treat is on the way. Clicker training can be used to teach cats tricks or to work on general behaviors.
When it comes to animal behavior, we know that behaviors that have been positively reinforced are more likely to be repeated. This is why it is so effective to use treats, food and play to reward your cat while training. Clicker training takes this a step further and more clearly communicates with your cat exactly what she is doing that you like and are reinforcing with food and other rewards.
How does it work?
Clicker training is effective because
it allows you to clearly tell your cat that the exact thing she is doing in a particular moment is something that you like. Cats don’t automatically know what the sound of the clicker means, but through training you will introduce the clicking sound to your cat, so she associates that sound with the treat that immediately follows.
Clicker training is effective for teaching cats new behaviors and for reinforcing behaviors your cat already knows. Clickers can be used to teach specific skills on cue such as:
➻ coming when called
➻ spinning in a circle
You can also use clicker training to mark and reference desirable behaviors your cat offers, like staying off the kitchen counter.
Why clicker train?
Clicker training is used at zoos and wildlife sanctuaries to teach wild animals (even large cats!) to participate in cooperative care like coming to a certain area of their enclosure when needed to receive veterinary care.
Introducing clicker training to your house cat is ideal if you’re interested in teaching her tricks or different cued behaviors. It’s also useful to increase clear communication between you and your cat. Clicker training can help your cat learn new skills faster and reduce miscommunication between you and your cat while training.
Two things you’ll need
You don’t need much to be ready for clicker training, just:
- A clicker, which you can purchase at most pet supply stores or online. Clickers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with some being more ergonomic and comfortable to hold if you’ll be doing a lot of clicker training. (See some examples on page 37.)
- Lots of small pieces of treats your cat loves and will be excited about. You can also use a squeezable liquid treat if your cat prefers that. Make sure these are high-value treats that are guaranteed to make your cat come running.
How to start clicker training
The first rule in clicker training is to build value and meaning in the sound of the clicker for your cat. This is frequently called “charging” the clicker. Charging the clicker pairs the clicking sound with something your cat finds valuable, specifically food or cat treats. This helps you use the clicker when training your cat in the future.
Introduce your cat to clicker training in a quiet area of your home when your cat is awake.
Step 1: Press the clicker and immediately give your cat a treat.
Step 2: Repeat several times, pressing the clicker and immediately giving your cat a treat.
Step 3: After several repetitions, your cat will make the association that the sound of the clicker means that treats are coming. At this point, when your cat hears the click, she will turn toward you expecting a treat. When your cat has that understanding, you’re ready to start using a clicker to train your cat in new behaviors.
Using clickers while training
Once your cat understands the clicker, use it whenever you are training her. Use the clicker when luring your cat with a treat into a position like a sit or a spin and when your cat follows the treat into the proper position. Then, give your cat the treat.
Clickers can also be used to reinforce good behavior around the house. When your cat does something you like, click and then reward your cat. Clickers can make training less confusing for your cat and help her learn new skills and behaviors more quickly.