Q: I saw you clicker training your cats and heard you talk about cat behavior on Animal Planet’s Cats 101 a couple of weeks ago. It was really neat to see your cats jumping through hoops and to see you help a client with a cat behavior problem. My questions are simple. What exactly is clicker training? Why would you want to clicker train cats and teach them tricks? It seems like it is a lot of work and I’m not sure if the rewards are worth the effort.
A: Clicker training is a science based training system that rewards and reinforces behaviors. In addition to teaching cats tricks, clicker training can stop problem behaviors. Many behavior challenges commonly occur when a cat is feeling stressed. With that in mind, clicker training can help cats feel secure and calm in their environment.
Clicker training helps strengthen bonds between cats and their trainers. It’s mentally stimulating and clicker training is an effective communication tool. Once the clicker is paired with something motivating, the click lets the cat know that whatever behavior she is engaged in is correct. Additionally, it focuses cats away from problem behaviors and on to other acceptable activities. And an added bonus is that clicker training is fun for cats and their clicker teachers.
It’s easy to learn, and the tools are simple. Start by finding something that is highly motivating to your cat. In clicker-speak, this is called a primary reinforcer. The easiest primary reinforcers to use are treats, although some cats are motivated by affection and grooming. Next find a device that always performs the same action each time it’s activated. This is called a conditioned reinforcer. One of the most popular devices used for training cats and dogs is the clicker.
Pairing the clicker with the treat is easy in clicker training. Simply click once and toss your cat a small treat. After she has finished eating and looks back up at you, click and treat again. It can take from five to 20 clicks and treat repetitions until the clicker is paired with the treat and your cat has a positive association with the clicking sound. Clicker training builds from there, becoming a tool that helps you teach different behaviors and modify others.
Remi, one of the Bengals filmed in the Cats 101 segment, demonstrates how clicker training can be used in conjunction with other behavior modification methods to modify unwanted behaviors. Remi’s behavior challenge is stop counter surfing. My client blocked the counters so they weren’t comfortable for Remi to access. Simultaneously, the owner placed a cat tree (a more appropriate place for Remi to hang out) at the end of the counter. After the clicker was paired with the treat Remi was reinforced with a click and rewarded whenever he favored the cat tree over the counter, and clicker training helped curb bad behavior.
In addition to stopping cats from counter surfing, there are many other behaviors that clicker training, in conjunction with other positive reinforcement methods, can change. Clicker training can help with introducing cats to each other, train cats to scratch appropriate furniture, help resolve inter-cat aggression challenges as well as solve many other behavior issues.
Thank you for watching the Cats 101 segment. My cats and I were thrilled to be part of the show.