Just a Click! Away Here’s a way to have fun with your cat and train her to do your bidding
If you think cats can’t be trained, Karen Pryor begs to differ with you.
The doyenne of clicker training for dogs takes her expertise to felines in “Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats,” where she considers the technique more like trading or making a bargain. You do something for me – like jump off the counter – and I’ll give you a treat.
Cats, especially indoor cats, have the reputation for just sleeping, eating, and lying around. No wonder why they get into trouble. This intelligent creature needs a job.
Founded by Pryor, a behavior biologist, clicker training is based on operant conditioning and the all-positive methods used by marine mammal trainers.
The process is simple. You need a clicker (or something that makes a distinctive noise), a target stick, and some delicious treats. Pick a time when your cat is somewhat hungry.
To start with watch her and Click! when you see an amusing behavior and offer a small pea-size treat. You are associating something desirable with the Click!
Once the cat has made the association between Click! and treat, hold out the target stick. The cat should nose the end of the stick automatically as part of its marking behavior. Click! and treat, and repeat. Then gradually move the target away and Click! and treat when the cat touches it.
Increase the distance and variety of target behaviors, keeping in mind the cat’s level of interest. End the session before disinterest sets in.
Pryor takes the training to the next level by describing methods for getting your cat to come when called, walking on a leash outdoors, waiting to be picked up, and permitting grooming without a struggle. Coming when called can evolve to a fun hide-and-seek game or something as critical as locating your cat if she escapes. “It’s good for cats to have something to think about,” she says.
Aside from the practical, clicker training can be used as a fun way of forging a bond between you and your cat. Again it’s a way of developing that furry creature’s brain and preventing boredom that may lead to destructive behaviors. Pryor says that clicker cats can do most of the things dogs can do, including agility training. She also throws in playing the piano, following the dot (fun with the laser pointer), and fostering certain behaviors, moving on to elaborate acrobatic displays.
Pryor goes on to describe how clicker training can be used to work out behavior problems such as litter box avoidance, scratching, aggression and ambushing.
While Pryor takes clicker training to rather involved levels, the average individual with an average cat can use some of the basics to build a bond and have fun together. As detailed as Pryor’s advanced methods are the dedicated trainer would probably have opted for a dog rather than a cat. However, it does give one “paws” to know that the furry creature lounging in the windowsill does have the ability to do more than inventory the birds at the feeder. n
Sally Bahner is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and has a private feline consulting service. She is the “Dear Sally” on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat Radio (www.catchatradio.com), found on Sirius, the Martha Stewart Living channel. She is a longtime editor and writer on everything feline.
By Sally E. Bahner