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It All Clicks Together: Tips for Clicker Training Your Cat

Ten minutes are all it takes to stimulate your cat and strengthen your bond

All Animals magazine, May/June 2011

  • Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Ruthanne Johnson

In just 10 minutes a day, you can teach your cat new skills, exercise his body, challenge his mind, and enhance your bond. Start by training your cat to follow a target, such as a wooden spoon or a chopstick, says behavioral biologist Karen Pryor. Clickers are available at any pet store (for deaf cats, substitute a pen light). Arm yourself with small treats your cat finds irresistible, and you’re ready to join the clicker clique.



 Step by Step

1. Sitting on the same level as your cat, click and give him a treat. Wait until he has finished the treat and looks back up before delivering another click and treat. “What you are doing is pairing the sound of the clicker with that motivator, so every time they hear that clicker they will have a good feeling about it,” says certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger.

2. Place the target close to your cat’s nose. When he sniffs the target, immediately click and reward the behavior. It’s important to click while the behavior is happening, not afterwards, Pryor says.

3. Hold the target to the side after the behavior is repeated, so your cat turns his head to sniff. Click and treat.

4. Hold the target farther away. When your cat moves toward and touches the target with his nose, click and treat.

5. Once he begins following the target, you can encourage him to perform a variety of commands. For “sit,” place the target slightly above his head and in front of his face.

6. After your cat learns a behavior using the target, add a verbal command, such as “come,” “sit,” or “spin.” The clicker and target may become unnecessary once he responds regularly to the verbal cue, Pryor says.

What's in a meow? For insight into your cat's communication skills, read The Cat's Meow »

Tips for Success

• Hungry cats are more easily trained. Don’t train when your cat’s belly is full, and use small, pea-size rewards he can devour quickly.

• Cats won’t tolerate being drilled or punished. “As soon as you introduce some kind of scolding or some ‘uh-uh-uh,’ the cat will leave and the game will be over,” Pryor says.

• Five to twenty clicks is typically a good starting session for a cat; each subsequent session can be a little longer and harder.

• Train one cat at a time initially. Once they have learned new skills, they may perform on cue together. 

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