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Cat expert: clicker training

By G. John Cole Content Writer

Updated on the

People don’t associate cats with obedience. That’s not really the arrangement we have with them. But it is possible to communicate instructions to your cat using a clicker.

What your cat does with these instructions is up to them. But experience has shown that it is quite possible to get a cat to comply with your suggestion that they sit still or fetch something. Of course, it’s possible that every time your cat obeys you, the creature chalks up another mark against you for which it will one day wreak its revenge. But nobody said having a cat was going to be without a few surprises.

Where to begin with cat clicker training

Your cat reckons it’s got much better things to do than clicker training. So you need to begin by making sure you’re the most interesting thing in the room. This means finding somewhere quiet without distractions. And ideally picking a moment shortly before mealtime, when your cat is likely to be hungry.
Next, stock up on treats. You’re going to need a pocketful of them to keep moggy’s attention. This can be nodules of dry food, or something like tuna. If you’ve found a healthy, non-fattening snack that your cat likes, use it for clicker training since the creature may end up eating a lot of it.
Training begins by teaching your cat that a click of your clicker equals a treat for moggy. This is why you shouldn’t talk during the process. If you talk, the cat might think the treat is something to do with what you’re saying.

Click the clicker while giving the cat a treat. Wait until it has finished eating, and do the same again. Do it again and again.

Cat clicker training: making moggy work for it

Next you’re going to teach your cat to make an association between hearing a click, achieving something, and getting a treat. Instead of feeding the treat directly to the cat, click the clicker and throw the treat a metre or two away so kitty has to go and get it.

Now it’s time to introduce some hardware. We’re talking toys. Could be a piece of yarn or anything you can dangle. Hold the toy out with one hand, and when the cat interacts with it in any way – sniffing or pawing it - click the clicker and give it a treat. Then hide the toy while you reset. And do it again. And again. You’re getting the cat used to interacting with stuff outside of its own ego.
Which means that you’re now ready to get a bit more specific. Try holding out the dangly toy. This time, don’t click and treat until the cat jabs the toy with its paw. Only when it does this should you click and treat it. Try this several times. Congratulations – you just taught your cat to box.

Now your cat has the principles down, you can try to broaden its range. Try walking away and calling your cat. When it comes to you, click and treat. Try it a few times, from different distances. And then stop calling – just click.

Other cat clicker training tricks

You can get your cat to do anything that you might normally expect of it on demand with your clicker. So while you can’t teach it to drive or make you a brew, you can use the principles above to teach it to get into its travel basket, raise its paw, or to sit down.
Maybe you could even train multiple cats with different skills so that they work together to achieve more complicated goals with a single click. Like training one to open the cat flap and the other to walk through it. Or to form a tiny furry basketball squad. Anyway, this is just a theory.

Cat clicker training hints

Of course, the cat training process is never going to be quite as straightforward as all this. Remember that your cat has a short attention span so you need to get in and out of each session before the creature gets bored and starts browsing Instagram. And start each session with a couple of basic click-treats so the cat remembers what it’s all about.

Once the cat gets the idea and clicking becomes part of your everyday life, you no longer need to give the treat each time you click. Just now and then, so that the cat continues to respond to the clicker in the hope that this time they might get a treat.

Be warned, however, that toying with a cat’s expectations like this may result in you waking up tied-up in yarn and covered in scratches. This is called ‘kitty’s revenge’ and you can’t click your way out of it.  

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