Click Click: Training Our Cats With Positive Reinforcement!

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As lovable as they are, cats have headstrong personalities, and it can be hard to convince them to behave the way you want. Luckily, cats respond to many of the same training techniques dog trainers use on their canine clients. A technique called clicker training uses positive reinforcement to create an association between a sound (the clicker) and a desirable outcome, such as receiving a treat. Once this association is strong, the trainer then creates an association between the clicker sound and a desired behavior so the animal knows to perform that behavior upon hearing the sound.

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Cats are very independent animals that don’t crave approval or come when called, so it’s very important to train them to perform certain behaviors on cue. Once your cat is trained, you can use the clicker sound to recall your cat if he sneaks out the door or slips out of his harness while on a walk.

Training is a great way to build a stronger bond with your cat. It causes him to trust you as the sole provider of his clicker treats and rely on you to keep him mentally engaged. Keeping your cat interested in learning new behaviors prevents him from getting bored, which in turn avoids problem behaviors such as scratching. The best part of clicker training is its simplicity. You need only three items to get started: a target stick, a clicker and your cat’s favorite treat.

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Start with short sessions to prevent your cat’s attention from straying. At the start, five-minute sessions are enough. Begin by teaching your cat to associate the click with a treat. Click, and then immediately give him a treat. Use a single click each time you give him a treat to avoid confusing him.

Use the target stick to encourage the behavior you want. If you want him to stand on his hind legs, hold the target stick above his head so he has to reach up to touch it. As soon as he performs the right behavior, click, and give him a treat.

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Never force your cat to move the way you want, and never punish him for misbehaving. Animals don’t respond to negative punishment and end up fearing their owners instead. Effective clicker training depends on having a high-value reward your cat really loves. Most cats are suckers for fish, so try offering an extra-fishy salmon treat each time you press the clicker. With a little work, the right treat and plenty of consistency, most cats respond very well to clicker training.

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