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 ARTICLES > Clicker Training > Clicker Tips: CLICK AND LAUGH: FUN CAT TRICKS!
  Clicker Training  Article:
Article By: Joan Orr        Publish Date: 2008-09-01

By Joan Orr on 09/01/2008

Train a cat?

You canít be serious!

The idea of training cats is often met with a reaction of disbelief. Cats are prized for their independence and for their determination to do exactly as they please when they please. Surely cats do not want to be trainedóand, if they did, they would insist on setting their own agenda. (They do, of course.)

Clicker training is perfect for cats, because the training agenda is in large part set by the animal being trained. Clicker training requires that the animal be a willing and equal partner in the training processóand cats wouldnít have it any other way. In fact, with clicker training the cat has the upper hand, since the cat must try to get the trainer to click. Training a cat is a humbling experience for a dog trainer. The training principles are identical for dogs and cats, but cats are much less tolerant of training mistakes and will not put up with anything that hints at correction, or even the mildest rebuke. But, if you can accept a secondary role, clicker training a cat is possible, and can be tremendous fun. It is even possible to clicker train a cat to perform enjoyable and entertaining tricks.

Start with treats

For clicker training to work, you need to offer the cat something it is willing to work for. Some cats may work for dry kibble, while others may be horrified at the thought! Try offering your cat several tempting morsels on a plate and see which one it prefers. Offer various combinations of treats to discover which ones are the three or four favourites.

The best treats for clicker training are those that can be broken into small pieces, can be eaten quickly, and can be tossed for the cat to chase. If your cat insists on only the moistest canned cat food, put some in a large-calibre syringe (without the needle) and allow the cat small tastes by depressing the plunger.

Surely cats do not want to be trained?

Cats love to play and pounce and will often work for the chance to play with a favourite toy. Use the toys your cat likes the best for training. During a training session, be sure to have two toys to play with so that you can entice the cat away from the first toy with the second if the cat does not want to give up the first.

Donít be disappointed if the cat turns its back and leaves, or engages in a marathon groom-fest when the training seems to be going well. Even with the tastiest treats or the most engaging toys, clicker training is very tiring, and the cat may need to rest its brain after only a few clicks. Early training sessions may last for only four or five clicks. If the cat ends a session after four clicks, then be sure to end the next session after three clicks. This schedule will prevent the cat from becoming over-taxed and will leave it wanting moreóand eager to play the game the next time you offer.

If you can accept a secondary role, clicker training a cat is possible, and can be tremendous fun.

Target training lays the groundwork

The best way to begin clicker training a cat is to teach it to touch a target with its nose. This task is easy for the cat and will earn the cat many clicks and treats in a short time period. A plastic golf ball or a ping-pong ball on the end of a chopstick, pen, or wooden dowel makes a good target. Hold the target where the cat can see it and click/treat when the cat looks at the target. Click/treat any movement toward the target, and then click for actually touching the target. Work in short sessions at first. Take a break after four or five clicks even if the cat seems keen to continue. Pet or play with the cat, so that the cat does not feel punished when the session ends. After a few minutes, produce the target again and click/treat the cat for approaching, and eventually for touching, the target. Once the cat is interested in the target, start to move the target as the cat approaches, so that the cat has to take one step, then two, and then more in order to touch the target.

Introduce the verbal cue "touch" once you are sure that the cat is deliberately touching the target and seems to be enjoying the game. Give the cue just as the catís nose comes in contact with the target. Do this ten times.

Try giving the cue "touch" before the cat starts to approach the target to see if it understands the verbal cue. The sight of the target is also a cue to touch it, so it is a bit difficult at first to know if the cat understands the word. Try giving the "touch" cue when the cat is looking the other way. If the cat doesnít come to touch the target, then spend some more time giving the verbal cue at the same time as you present the target. Soon the cat will understand the word "touch" and will come running whenever it hears the cue.

Be sure to click/treat every time the cat touches the target in order to keep this behaviour strong. Target training is a great way to teach a cat to come when you call; youíll appreciate the prompt response each day.

Take a break after four or five clicks even if the cat seems keen to continue.

Have a seat

Teach your cat to sit, another useful skill, by moving the target back toward the catís tail so that the catís head must come up slightly to touch the target. Click and treat any movement of the catís rear end toward the ground. Eventually the cat will sit; click and treat when its rear end touches the ground. Add the verbal cue "sit" when the cat gets the idea.

You can also hold a treat over the catís nose and move the treat back slightly to lure the cat into a sitting position. Of course, you can just wait until the cat sits on its own (which it will do at some point during the day) and click/treat when you see the cat going into the sitting position naturally.

However you teach it, the cat will eventually get the idea of sitting (or touching a target) and will offer the behaviour, hoping to get you to click. When this happens, you will know that you have a clicker trained cat, and lessons will go quickly from this point on.

Sleight of hand

High five and wave are easy tricks to teach a cat that has learned the basics of target training. Hold the target a few inches above the catís head, too high for it to touch with its nose. The cat will almost certainly extend a paw to try to bring the target to its nose. Click/treat just as the paw makes contact with the target. Move your hand down the shaft of the target, so that on each subsequent trial your hand is closer to the ball end of the target. When your hand is nearly on top of the ball, remove the target and just use your hand as the target. The cat will put its paw up to your hand where the target used to be. Click/treat every attempt the cat makes to put its paw on or near your hand. Add the verbal cue "high five" when the cat is putting its paw up to touch your hand reliably.

Turn a high five into a wave by offering your hand for the cat to touch, and clicking/treating just before the cat actually touches the hand. Raise your hand higher and higher so that the cat cannot touch it, but will still try. Click/treat every attempt at first, and then click/treat only the highest waves. Add the verbal cue "wave" when the cat offers a good wave every time.

Another way to teach a cat to wave is to dangle an interesting toy just out of reach, and click/treat when the cat tries to bat at the toy. This method may take longer if you have a cat that is more interested in playing with the toy than in winning a click/treat. If you have a cat that likes to play more than it likes a food treat, try using the toy as the reward, allowing the cat to play after you click.

Performance or practicality

There is an endless list of tricks that you can teach a cat with clicker training, and many can be taught for pure pleasure (the catís and yours).

For entertainment, try using the target to teach the cat to spin in a circle, stand on its hind legs, jump through a hoop, push a toy cartóor anything else you can think of. Try giving the cat a large ball or other novel prop. Click and treat any interest in or interaction with the prop. Click anything the cat does with the prop that you like and see where it leads!

Visit www.circuscats.com to see videos and photos of performing cats trained by clicker trainer Samantha Martin, and for more ideas of what your cat can learn.

Clicker training is not just for tricks, though. You can also encourage truly useful behaviours. If you work in a shelter, teach the cats to come to the front of their cages and give a high five or wave to visitors. This simple behaviour makes the cats instantly more adoptable. If shelter volunteers and staff learn to clicker train, it improves the quality of life for the cats in the shelter and makes the job more fun for the humans.

Encourage the behaviour that you like, ignore the behaviour that you donít like, and click patiently.

For purely practical purposes, cats can be trained to ring a bell to ask to go out, to sit on a chair or cat perch rather than on the kitchen counter, to pull claws on the scratching post rather than on the furniture, and to go into a carrier on cue. Any behavior that wins a click/treat will be repeated.

Encourage the behaviour that you like, ignore the behavior that you donít like, click patientlyóand even the most strong-minded cat can be trained in pleasurable and helpful ways.

About the author

Joan Orr is a ClickerExpo faculty member and Advisory Board member of Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior.

Thanks to Laura, Karen Pryor and www.clickertraining.com Go to this website for many more interesting articles.

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