Not many people use the words “training” and “cat” in the same sentence. The myth that cats are untrainable is firmly entrenched in society’s mind, right up there with the false belief that all felines are aloof and unloving. The truth is, most cats are perfectly capable of learning, but most people don’t have the patience, the knowledge, or both.
Is it harder to train a cat than a dog? I’m no expert, but I’d say yes because dogs are typically more eager to please us, which makes them more receptive to learning. I doubt anyone could train a cat using only praise as a reward. Treats are the way to get a cat’s attention.
I became interested in clicker training after watching videos of highly trained felines doing basic stuff like sitting and touching a target with its nose, as well as fun tricks such as the high five, paw shake and hoop jump. “If these kitties can learn, so can you!” I said enthusiastically to my three cats, who didn’t bat an eye and promptly went back to sleep. Apparently they’d need some convincing. Oh, and lots of CANIDAE cat treats. Rule number one: never embark on a cat training expedition without a stockpile of the cat treats your kitty loves.
Next on the list: a clicker. You won’t get far trying to clicker train your cat without one. Although some say you can use a ballpoint pen, the click doesn’t seem loud enough to me to really get their attention. Clickers are inexpensive, though – I paid a whopping $1.99 for mine.
You’ll notice I didn’t title this article “How to Clicker Train Your Cat.” The main reason is because I’ve only just begun trying to train my cats, so I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert you can learn from… yet. The other reason is that I believe in the adage “Show, don’t tell.” Although the saying was meant to be advice for writers, I think it also applies to cat training. I found that watching videos of clicker training was far more helpful than reading about the techniques.
One problem I see with the videos, however, is that they present already-trained cats. Why is that a problem? Because watching these trained cats makes it look really easy. My experience thus far is that cat training is hard work. And time consuming. Even my smartest cat, Mickey, seems not to be “getting it.”
I would love to see a video where they use a cat with no clicker training experience. Show me newbie cats being introduced to the concept of clicker training. Seeing that other cats need many repetitions to get to that “lightbulb moment” would help me not to get discouraged that my own cats aren’t jumping through hoops yet. Heck, mine don’t even seem to have made the connection between the click and the treat. LOL. Are my cats dumb? Is it me, am I doing something wrong? Watching newbie cats would (hopefully) show me that the answer to both questions is no. Cat training is definitely not for the impatient among us. <cough>
My advice for anyone wanting to learn about clicker training their cat is to park yourself at your computer and watch a bunch of videos. There are dozens if not hundreds of them (what did we ever do before YouTube?) so start with the basics. The first step in clicker training is called “charging the clicker” which is the process of getting the cat to connect the click to the behavior. The unique sound of the clicker paired with a food reward teaches the cat to distinguish the moment they’ve done something right.
A good place to start is with this video from the Catmantoo cat training channel, which explains how to charge the clicker. From there you can move on to target training, and teaching your cat to sit. The Catmantoo videos feature Robert Dollwet, an animal behaviorist with over 33 years of animal training experience. Karen Pryor is another well known name in the cat training arena, so look for her videos as well.
Someday soon, I hope to post my own videos of my perfectly trained felines doing all sorts of cool tricks that will amaze and amuse you. Well…a girl can dream, can’t she?
Read more articles by Julia Williams