For the feline guests at our Sanctuary, overcoming emotional trauma from their earlier experiences is often the necessary step to finding the perfect forever home.
Jupiter, Colt, Tetris, and Chickpea came to the Sanctuary from a feral colony in Hartford (see more of their story in our Fall 2016 issue). These kittens arrived at the Sanctuary terrified and with no desire for human contact. However, an intense socialization program, which included clicker training, drew them out of their shells, and they went home this past November. Tetris was even able to high-five his Sanctuary caregivers on his way home, in large part due to the clicker training he received.
Clicker training has some valuable uses and can be an important tool for all personality types in an environment like the Sanctuary. It can also deliver tremendous benefits for cats already settled into a home.
Why Clicker Train?
Clicker training is a great way to exercise a cat’s body and mind. Since most cats live indoors without the stimulation of natural hunting behavior, clicker training can provide valuable mental and physical stimulation; it enriches the cat’s life and can help her to be healthier, happier, and more emotionally balanced.
Clicker training is a fantastic way to bond with your cat. The technique focuses on positive reinforcement of a behavior that you choose and provides a simple way to communicate and engage with your cat that is positive and rewarding for both of you.
Clicker training has practical purposes. You can teach your cat to come when summoned or comfortably stow themselves in a carrier. If your cat demonstrates problematic behaviors, you can utilize clicker training to produce more acceptable behaviors.
The Basics of Clicker Training
Once you are armed with some “rewards” – typically an especially tasty treat (tuna, chicken, cheese, etc.) and your clicker, you’ll begin by establishing meaning between the sound of the click and the tasty treat. This is done by just repeating a sequence of clicking and then providing a small treat (click-treat, click- treat, etc.) until your cat anticipates a treat after every click.
When this connection has been clearly established, start associating the click with desired behaviors, preferably something simple such as: sit, come, follow a target wand, or climb onto a perch. Cat owners can teach their cat to high-five or jump onto their cat condo. Click once during the desired behavior to mark that exact behavior – and then present a treat. When your cat consistently performs the behavior that you want, you can later add voice or visual commands.
Repetition, consistency and patience are important things to keep in mind when training your cat, and of course, always remember to be extra nice to your cat so he’ll want to please you.
There are a number of great resources for clicker training. We recommend Karen Pryor’s online course, (www.karenpryoracademy.com/train-your-cat). Pryor also has informative books and clicker training kits.