Can You Clicker Train a Cat?
Clicker training is most often associated with dogs, not cats.
That could be because dogs are easy—they love treats. Give a dog a treat, a pat on the head or a loud “Good boy!” and he’s a happy camper. A cat will yawn in the face of these poorly thought-out rewards.
The idea behind the clicker is simple. You see the behavior and instantly mark it with a noise. You think you can say “Good kitty” fast enough, but no. By the time your brain sees the behavior and the words work their way down to your tongue, your kitty has off and running with something else, often the very thing you don’t want.
Pet supply stores sell clickers, or you can use an ink pen—the retractable kind, not your basic BIC—to make the noise. Often the easiest way to hold a clicker on a bracelet, that way you can use both hands to use props or guide your cat.
Who Doesn’t Love a Good Empty Box?
To start, show your cat the treats. Have the clicker in hand. Set an empty box on the floor and make a fuss over it. What cat can resist a box? It doesn’t matter what size the box is, cats will squeeze themselves into a tiny cereal box or stretch out in a refrigerator box.
As soon as she shows any interest at all—from a suspicious look, to a sneer at the poor accommodations, to touching it with a paw—click. The noise should make her pause to look at what in the world you’re up to now. Toss a treat.
A Bit of Bribing
After about three successful experiments (on the cat’s part), she’s got the idea. “Wow, look at this. A treat fell out of the sky. Wonder what made that happen?” She will try again. “What? It happened again. Is it something I did?” She will give you the squinty eye of concentration to be sure you’re getting this. She’ll then test your powers of observation by reaching a paw slowly toward the box. The instant she makes contact, click and rain down a jackpot of treats. She’s got it!
Commands Don’t Work as Easily with Cats
Teaching cats to sit, shake, and play dead is almost as much fun as banging your head on a table. Rather than try teach your cat to follow a command she doesn’t know, find a behavior she does know first and then reward it. If she sits, click and treat. If she lies down, click and treat. Don’t name it yet, that can come later. You can progress at your own (and her) pace. Start simple and let her control the game, as it should be. You’ll be surprised at what she thinks up.
Clicker training a cat can be done. Have a little patience, keep your cat’s point of view in mind and dole out the best treats you can find.