Why do you need to use a clicker and not just merely toss a treat? Because the clicker is more immediate. You want the cat to know the behavior she displayed at that very nanosecond was exactly what you wanted. You can click faster than you can toss the treat.
Getting Started Clicker Training Your Cat
You first have to teach the cat to associate the sound of the clicker with the food reward. This is what gives the clicker its value. Break up pieces of treats or use a supply of dry kibble. Click the clicker and then toss a treat. If you feed your cat wet food you can place a small amount on a chopstick or on a soft baby spoon. Once you’ve clicked and then offered the food, wait for the cat to look at you before repeating the sequence. This helps your cat associate you as the supplier of the reward. Repeat the process about 10 times or however long the cat remains interested and engaged.
The first few sessions shouldn’t be very long. If your cat isn’t interested it might be because she isn’t hungry enough or the food reward choice isn’t motivating enough.
Rewarding Your Cat’s Good Behavior
You can start by teaching your cat a behavior such as “sit.” Get on the floor in front of your cat. Hold a treat or a small amount of wet food on a spoon just slightly up and over her head. As she looks at the treat her hind quarters will probably naturally go into a sit. Don’t hold the treat too high or she’ll simply stand on her hind feet to reach up for it. As soon as she sits, click and reward. Repeat this exercise multiple times. Once she has the behavior down you can then put it on cue by saying “sit.” Soon you can phase out the food lure because she’ll know to respond to the verbal cue alone.
That’s Just the Beginning
There’s so much you can do with clicker training. You can teach your cat a variety of fun behaviors but you can also use it for behavior modification by rewarding behaviors (however subtle) you want to see again. For example, when dealing with two cats who are hostile toward each other I will click and reward any positive or non-aggressive display a cat may display such as when one breaks a stare or when one cat enters a room where the other cat is located. Clicker training becomes a great way to change the cat’s mindset from negative to positive.
If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.