In past blogs, we’ve talked a lot about the myriad of impacts that enrichment – or lack thereof – has on cats’ quality of life. The nature of a safe, indoor life leaves house cats without the opportunity to flex their instinctual muscles, so proper enrichment is an essential component of any domesticated cat’s life. Without it, your cat’s quality of life is profoundly affected, leaving them vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and the behavioral consequences of boredom.
Clicker training is a great way to provide enrichment and counteract the problems mentioned above. In a study of the effects of clicker training on stress levels, communally housed cats engaged in clicker training sessions for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the cats who received training had significantly reduced stress levels.
It’s a new year, so now is as good a time as any to start teaching your cats some new tricks. Let’s talk about clicker training, the tools you’ll need to prepare, and our 4 favorite clicker training games for beginners.
What is Clicker Training?
You’ve probably heard about clicker training dogs, but did you know that you can also clicker train your cats? Clicker training is a technique that is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States. Based on B.F. Skinner’s 1937 theory of operant conditioning, clicker training is a technique where a trainer uses a novel and consistent noise to provide an immediate signal when an animal performs a desired behavior.
When training fails, it’s often because positive reinforcement isn’t given immediately after the desired behavior is performed. Time taken to grab a treat or toy puts distance between an action and the reward you’re trying to associate it with, leaving your pet confused about what’s being rewarded.
Clicker training, popularized by Karen Pryor, removes this distance by providing a bridge between the behavior and the reward. Using a clicker, a pen, or even their mouth, trainers will make a novel sound that a cat wouldn’t hear in everyday life. This immediately cues that the desired behavior has been performed, following the click with a reward, like a treat, affection, or play.
Benefits of Clicker Training
Adds routine into your cat’s life
Reduces anxiety and boredom
Strengthens the cat-human relationship
Strengthens cat-cat relationships
How to Prepare for Clicker Training
Before you start clicker training your cat, you need to be prepared to set up a clear, consistent routine for your cat. That way, you can ensure that training is enjoyable for everybody involved and avoid any unnecessary stress throughout the process. Click here to check out our comprehensive guide for getting started.
Clicker Training Tools
A high-value reward – Ask yourself: what is the thing that gets your cat most excited? This could be anything from treats to play time and petting, but be sure to have their favorite reward available.
A marker – This is something that makes a novel and consistent sound to mark your cat’s behavior. We highly recommend using a big button soft clicker, but you can get a similar effect using a click-top pen, by tapping the top of a tin lid, or even by using your tongue.
A target stick – A target stick is a tool that will help you when teaching the touch cue. We recommend using the eraser end of a new pencil.
A treat container – If you decide to use treats for your reward, they should be in an easily accessible container. Likewise, if you opt for liquid treats or wet food, be sure to have a spoon handy to dispense them.
Other Helpful Tips
Be sure to set up a consistent routine, having 2-3 minute sessions at the same time and place every day.
Choose a location that is distraction free
Practice by yourself before including your cat. Get used to the rhythm of clicking the clicker and dispensing the reward until it feels seamless.
Be sure treats are broken up into small, bite-sized pieces.
Always end training sessions on a high note.
4 Clicker Training Games for Beginners
When first starting clicker training, it’s best to start with the basics. That way, you and your cat can gradually build confidence and trust, reducing the risk of frustration and agitation that comes with going too fast. Once your cat has learned these simple tricks, you can use them as tools to support their behavioral health. In fearful or uncertain situations, you can use these tricks to redirect your cat’s attention to you.
The first clicker game we recommend starting with is touch. The objective of this game is to get your cat to touch their nose onto a target stick when they hear the cue, “touch.” Click here to access our step-by-step guide for teaching touch.
Once you and your cat have mastered touch, you can move onto sit. The goal of this game is to get your cat to sit when prompted with the verbal cue, “sit.” Click here to take a look at our step-by-step guide for teaching sit.
Once you and your cat both feel comfortable with sit and touch, you can move onto paw. This game involves encouraging your cat to tap your hand with their front paw when prompted with the verbal cue, “paw.” Click here for our step-by-step guide for teaching paw.
The last clicker game is the up cue, which can be taught once the other three cues have been mastered. The goal is to get your cat to lift both paws above their head when they hear the verbal cue, “up.” Click here to access our step-by-step guide for teaching up.
Things to Keep in Mind
As you’re teaching these tricks, it’s good to keep a couple of best practices in mind, including:
Be patient and celebrate the small wins, since a lot of these games will not come intuitively. Click and reward for steps in the right direction.
Cats’ attention spans are shorter than those of dogs, so keep sessions to 2-3 minutes at a time.
If you notice that you or your cat are becoming agitated, bring the session to an end on a positive note.
Let CLA Teach You More Tricks in 2024
It’s never too late to teach your cat some new tricks, and the same goes for humans. Cat Lovers’ Academy is in the business of teaching humans new ways to show up for their cats, so if you’ve found yourself struggling with behavioral issues, conflict between your cats, or any other issues, CLA has got your back.
Jessica Bartlett is a UW-Certified animal behaviorist who offers virtual consultation services that are tailored to the unique needs of the clients she works with. Drawing on her certification in advanced feline training, Jessica helps her clients to speak their cat’s language, leading to more fulfilling cat-human relationships.
Check out Cat Lovers’ Academy to learn more about Jessica, meet her kitty family, take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her cat behavior consulting services.