You may be familiar with the concept of clicker training - it’s a method of training based in positive reinforcement where you use a clicker (a small device that makes a “click” sound) to communicate with your cat. When they do something you like, you click, and then you very quickly give them a treat. Over time, the cat learns that their behavior causes the human to create this mysterious sound, which now predicts something delicious! New life goal: get the human to make the clicking sound!!
The clicking sound is what we call a “secondary reinforcer.” On its own, the sound has little value to a cat, but because of its new association with treats, the sound itself becomes rewarding. This precision allows you to tell your cat that you like what they did in the exact moment that they did it.
Clicker training definitely takes some practice, and there are several resources online that can help! In the meantime, here are some important things to know before you get started!
Will work for food: Train when your cat is a little bit hungry (such as before mealtimes) or use a high-value treat for training.
Start with easy behaviors that your cat does naturally: Sitting, touching a target, or sitting on a mat are all behaviors that are pretty easy to get your cat to do without much training at all. As your cat better understands the training process, you can move on to more challenging behaviors, such as sit pretty, high five, or go to your carrier.
Repetition is good, but keep sessions short: Your cat’s attention span might be short, or she might get full from treats quickly. Rather than long training sessions, go for one or two short sessions each day.
Know why you are training: There are different reasons to train a cat -- maybe it’s fun for you to train your cat to do cute tricks; perhaps you want them to stop jumping on the counters; maybe you want them to accept nail trims; or maybe you want to provide them with some mental challenge. It may be more than one reason - but keep that end goal in mind as you are training so you know WHY you want to do it.
Keep it fun and have patience: Training should be fun; you might get frustrated if your cat doesn’t pick it up right away. Your cat might get frustrated too! So keep sessions short and practice will make perfect.
The clicker is not a remote control: You are not using the clicker to tell your cat what to do. You are using it to say “you just did something I like and I will now pay you for it with treats.” As your cat starts to understand the process, you can introduce verbal commands to tell them which behavior you would like.
Yes, you have to give treats if you click! At first, click and treat often. If you click, you have to pay (with treats)! As your cat gets more well-versed in behaviors, you do not have to click every time they offer you a requested behavior.
Hopefully, these tips will help you have a better training experience with your cat. Remember that it should be fun for both of you.