Introduction to our Clicker Training for Cats Tutorial
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a training system of teaching behaviour to animals using positive reinforcement in combination with a marker signal. It is the best way of teaching your pet specific behaviours in a positive and fun way for you and your pet.
A clicker (a small device with a metal strip that makes a clicking sound) is used to indicate to your cat that he has done something good that earns a reward. After the sound of the click, you immediately give your cat a treat as a reward (positive reinforcement) for the performed behaviour. When your cat is rewarded for a specific behaviour, he will remember the positive consequences of this behaviour and will most likely repeat it to get more treats. Clicker training is a fantastic, fun and fast way to train your cat to perform specific behaviours.
The marker signal (marking the exact moment the desired behaviour occurs) must be as precise and consistent as possible. The clicking sound of a clicking device is more effective than a sound or a word made with your voice for two main reasons.
Firstly, your mood will influence the sound of your voice, making it therefor inconsistent. And secondly by the time you praised your cat with your voice, your cat may have moved on to do something else, and you may risk reinforcing another behaviour than the desired one. A clicker gives a quick and consistent signal to your cat that he is doing the right thing.
What is needed for cat clicker training?
You need to use some treats or food your cat enjoys as a reward. Ideally, to motivate your cat, you use treats your cat will do just about anything for. Some cats love chicken, others love fish, but also regular food can be highly motivating for some cats. The treats need to be small. Food treats as tiny as a small part of a chicken or one lick from a spoonful of canned food are perfect sized for cat clicker training.A clicker (a small device with a metal strip) to make the marker signal
There are several cheap and decent clickers on the market. As long as it makes a clear and distinctive sound, it will do. When working with shy cats and to get your cat used to the clicking sound, you could wrap the clicker in a sock or hold the clicker behind your back to soften the click. Remember to only use the clicker when it is intended otherwise it will lose its power.
Cats of all ages can be clicker trained. Both kittens and elderly cats can be trained to perform specific behaviours. It is important to remember that you should never force a cat to participate. This works counter-productive. Clicker training needs to be fun for everyone, and especially the cats.
Optional: a target stick for directing your cat towards specific behaviours.
I recommend using a target stick in my tutorial because I believe it creates a better understanding for your cat to come to the desired behaviour in fewer steps. It is therefor more effective and efficient. When hands are used to direct your cat towards desired behaviour, it will be harder at a later stage to fade the hand cues because hands are always present.
I use the combination of a clicker and a target stick for my cat training tutorial “Clicker Training for Cats” on IamCasper.com
Basics of cat clicker training
Clicker training works in four basic steps, which are repeated over and over again:
1. Get your cat to show the desired behaviour.
2. Click while the desired behaviour is happening (not afterwards).
3. After the click reward your cat immediately.
4. The click means the end of the exercise. Your cat can relax and enjoy his treat before you start again.
First step of cat clicker training
The first step, for every cat owner starting clicker training, will be a training session for charging the clicker.
Your cat must first associate the sound of the click with a treat. To help your cat establish this connection between the sound of the clicker and a tasty treat, we have an association exercise called “Charging the clicker”.
Charging the clicker
When you have your cat’s attention, click the clicker and immediately reward your cat with a small treat. Wait until your cat eats the treat and makes eye contact again.
Repeat this click-and-treat between five to twenty times, in different positions and in different places.
Each reward reinforces the positive consequences of hearing a clicking sound.
In this first exercise your cat doesn’t have to do anything to get rewarded and gets these treat for “free”.
A good indication that your cat has a strong positive association click-reward is to click when he is looking away from you. If he turns his head towards you when you click, looking for a treat, he probably made the association.
Some cats may immediately make the connection between the clicking sound and the treat, but you may need to repeat this process several sessions for your cat.
The clicker, once paired with the treat, becomes a powerful communication tool, communicating to your cat when he is doing a desired behaviour.
Only when you are sure that your cat made the association, you can start working on other new behaviours.
The next (and easy) behaviour in the training process is very often to teach the cat to sit, which is a starting or in between position for other desired behaviours.
In case you will include a target stick in your cat training, the first next step is to teach your cat to follow and touch the target. Both are excellent exercises for cat owners to master the basics of clicker training.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can teach your cat a variety of behaviours and tricks.
In a later stages of the clicker training when your cat shows the desired behaviour you can start introducing vocal commands. At one point you even no longer need the clicker and your cat will simply responds to vocal commands.
Once the clicker is a conditioned predictive of a reward, it can be used as a bridging stimulus. This means that the clicker can be used immediately as a positive marker of the correct response, and the food reward can be slightly delayed until it is available.
The clicker can also be used for initial training of completely new and more difficult behaviours.
Clickers are an excellent way to gradually shape more elaborate or more accurate responses, since it is possible to reinforce one small increment of behaviour and then with each subsequent session, reinforce responses that are gradually closer to the final desired behaviour.
Finally clicker training can also be used to train your cat to resolve an unwanted behaviour. We will go into this in our “Clicker Training for Cats” tutorial.
We will address the reasons for the unwanted behaviour, modify the environment as needed, and give the cat something more appropriate to do that satisfies the behaviour needs. Clicker training is an ideal tool that will help accomplish this because it focuses the cat away from the unwanted behaviour and its triggers, and also reinforces the cat for an appropriate, alternative behaviour.
Some important tips for successful clicker training
When to train?
Keep your cat training sessions relatively short (2 minutes max when starting out – up to 5 minutes later)
Do not practice more than 5 minutes at a time, and only two to three times maximum a day.
Take a break after four or five clicks even if the cat seems keen to continue. After a while you can continue.
Do not practice directly after feeding your cat. The stimulant, the food, will be less attractive. It is better to use a full bowl of food as a ‘jackpot’ after the final click of a training session.
Good timing to click is crucial:
Click during the desired behaviour, not after it. Timing is crucial, because the click sound may actually cause the cat to terminate the behaviour in anticipation of a treat.
Only click once and always give a treat following the click.
So the rule when starting clicker training is: every time you click, give your pet a treat, even if you clicked at the wrong time (this can change in later stages of the clicker training).
Only click once per behaviour: multiple clicks can confuse your cat.
Start with easy behaviours:
Begin with something easy that your cat is likely to do on his own (sit, come, touch your hand with his paw or nose, scratch on his scratching post, or follow a target stick).
Only positive reinforcement:
NEVER punish unwanted behaviour of your cat. Instead, refocus your cat on good behaviours by rewarding them. Cats don’t respond to discipline, but they do respond to being rewarded for desirable behaviour. For example, instead of punishing a cat for scratching on the furniture, reward him for using his designated scratching post. (You can begin by rewarding him just for being near the post.)
Focus on luring your cat into the desired position area. Never push him or pick him up to move him. Your cat’s movements should be voluntary, even if accidental, he’ll gradually associate the click with the movement you’re training him for, whether it’s sitting or jumping on a stool.
Clicker Training Videos
Casper, our Ragdoll, will get clicker training and I will use his training sessions to record multiple videos as chapters to demonstrate different steps and achievements in his training plan. These videos complement the tutorial “Clicker Training for Cats” very well.
To follow this training plan (with all his achievements, difficulties and techniques), you can subscribe to our Youtube channel Iamcasper.
The youtube channel has a variety of videos about Casper’s adventures.
Clicker Training for Cats – Exercise Book
The first chapters of the clicker training for Cats tutorial are almost ready for publication.
The content of the training tutorial are the following topics :
Introducing voice commands
Raising the criteria
Address unwanted behaviours
Different desired behaviours
Training plan for your cat Roll, Sit ,Sit up, High Five, Jump on, Jump off, Give paw, Playing dead, Spin,Fetch, Jump through,Lay down and more.
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