To start with, you’re going to need a cat who’s awake and happy to give you some attention plus some of their favorite snacks, a clicker, and some idea of how the training should go. Learning sessions with a cat should be stretched out over time so that the young magician has time to soak in the knowledge and implement it into practice. When you’re training with a cat, it’s not about teaching them to give a paw, high five, sit on command or get into their carrier and be successful in one day. Your work should be staggered and done in small chunks of learning, ones that you can sneak into your cats’ playtime even a few times a day. One thing to remember is: consistency and repetition are key.
And now for the details. What is a clicker? It’s a small device with a metal strip/button that, when you push it, makes a short, audible clicking sound that gets the cat’s attention. It’s usually used for training with dogs, but it’s also fantastic to use with cats where, if we pair it with a favorite treat, it strengthens the cat’s sense of success and the incoming praise. Training with a clicker is valuable because, contrary to us saying “good job”, “good boy”, or “keep it up”, the clicking always sounds the same and gives the cat a clear sign that they did the trick exactly how we expected them to.
What does clicker training look like?
Step 1: Charge the clicker. Not actually, of course - when we talk about charging the clicker, we mean building up positive connotations with its sound and connecting the click with an incoming treat in the cat’s brain. It’s the first and one of the most important steps within clicker training - the entire thing should start with giving the cat a treat anytime we click the clicker just to get them used to the sound and what it means. Click - treat, click - treat, and so on. Try to give your cat the snack as soon as you click - if the break is to long, they won’t associate the sound with the reward, so 1-2 seconds is a max you can take it to. After just a few repetitions, your cat should get the hang of it and if they turn your way anytime they hear the click and expect to get a treat, well done, you can proceed to the next step.
FabCat TIP: When choosing a treat for clicker training, remember to pick small, bite-sized treats with great power - ones that your cat loves, but will get only during the training sessions. This will make them associate the best treats with a job well done and get excited to practice the tricks.
Step 2: Pick your trick. The process of teaching your cat tricks should start with simple ones - giving a paw, high-fiving, sitting, and laying down. Later on, you will be able to string them together but the easier the sequence is at the beginning, the better chance of success you have.
Step 3: Practice regularly. 2-3 minute long sessions repeated twice to three times a day will build up your cats’ self-confidence and let them get the hang of the trick more easily. What’s important though is to not force the training on your cat - if they turn their head away, seem uninterested, or can’t focus on the task, it’s better to let them go, finish on a high note, and try again later.
The process of learning a particular trick, once the cat is used to the sound of the clicker, should be split into a few steps as well. Let’s take learning to sit on command as an example:
The first step is to reward the cat for sitting… on their own. Observe your cat and anytime they sit down, immediately click and give them a treat. Repeat it a few times and they will catch on to the idea that sitting gets them rewards. Later on, you can introduce sitting down from standing up - hold up the snack above your cat’s head and gently move it to the back so that the cat follows it with their head and eventually sits on their back legs. Here, again, we get to the sit = click and snack sequence. The next steps would be to actually say the command “sit” as your cat’s doing it but remember - some cats are more aware of gestures and body language and even with practicing a particular trick for a long time, they might still react to certain gesture more than to a verbal cue. If you can get your cat to sit down anytime you do the gesture or say the word - congrats! Now you can get to the next trick or sequence.
Cats and tricks - why is it good to train with your cat?
Clicker training and learning new skills is a whole new way of playing with your cat, one that will get them engaged and focused on problem-solving. It’s good to introduce it not just to work on your cat’s behavior and get them used to certain procedures (like the aforementioned carrier training or brushing and nail clipping), but also as a way of getting away from the typical playtime routine, diversifying their fun time and building up their self-confidence.
If your cat doesn’t seem too interested in playing even if you think you’ve tried everything to get them active, learning a few tricks may be the thing that does it for them. After all, besides the crazy runners who chase after flies, we also have the smart cats who get excited to work on a new brain teaser or to learn some new tricks. A great example here is our team cat Tosia, for whom all the feather toys, balls, and catnip could not exist as long as there is a clicker and snacks in sight. And how do your cats, fabCats, react to training? Have you tried it already or is the best fun still before you? Let us know in the comments.