Contrary to popular opinion (which suggests that cats are aloof and independent creatures operating strictly on their own time), they are, in fact, both willing and very easy to train. Teaching your cat tricks like sitting, shaking paws, playing fetch, giving you a high five, is a great way to strengthen the human-animal bond with your favourite feline. And yes, you can even teach your cat to play Three Blind Mice on the piano! All these can be accomplished with a technique known as clicker training. Learn more:
What is Clicker Training?
“It's all about positive reinforcement or better known as clicker training”, explains certified cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, author of the award-winning book Naughty No More! in which she outlines some fun tricks in easy-to-follow steps.
Clicker training is a marker based training method in which the trainer uses a handheld clicker to “click” which indicates to the cat that she’s done the right thing and will be instantly rewarded with a treat. There’s no coaxing or sweet-talking involved—consider your cat ready to work for a tasty morsel.
Tricks are Extensions of Natural Behaviours
“The key to success is teaching tricks that are extensions of natural behaviours,” explains Krieger. “For instance, a cat is natural jumper and a climber so teaching them to jump through hoops or to climb a ladder is a natural extension. They also flop, so you can teach them to play dead or lie down on command.
“And if you can teach your cat to touch your hand in a high five greeting, you can replace your hand with a light switch and very soon your feline will be switching the lights on and off on command!”
What You Need for Clicker Trainig
Treats. Choose something your cat really considers a treat such as diced chicken, cheese or tuna. It must be something soft so it can be eaten quickly. You will need about half a teaspoon for the average training session. Keep the pieces pea-sized. When paying your cat with the treat, place it on a saucer or small plate to keep upholstery and carpeting clean. If you are worried about weight gain, substitute treats for ten to twenty per cent of your cat’s regular meals. Be sure to schedule training sessions before meal times.
A clicker. These are readily available at pet supermarkets and on-line stores. If you cat is deaf, you can use a flashlight to identify the action you plan to reward.
Targets. A target can be any stick-like object such as a pencil, chopstick or a wooden spoon. Later you can substitute a favourite toy such as a feathered object on a stick.
Getting Started with Clicker Training
Start by teaching your cat to touch a target (stick) with its nose. Present the target by holding one end of the stick and put the other end near the cat’s face. It’s inevitable that the cat will touch it by sniffing it. As the cat’s nose is coming close to the target, capture the behaviour by clicking and immediately give a treat. Remember every time you click, you must provide a treat, so that your cat associates the sound with a reward.
Initially, your cat will not understand that these tasty tidbits are not random events but that you are shaping a behaviour, but soon she will learn.
Target. Click. Treat
Target. Click. Treat.
Practice Makes Purrfect
It’s a good idea to practice your clicking skills in front of a mirror before you even introduce your cat to a target. To do so, hold the target and the clicker in the same hand. Put the target stick up to the mirror; click when the stick touches the mirror. Instantly put a tiny bit of tuna from one dish to another. Once you’ve established a rhythm and perfected your timing, you are ready to try out the technique on your feline.
Your First Clicker-Training Sessions
A total of five clicks and treats is a big training session for a cat that’s new to the idea. So keep training sessions short. The cat will learn faster this way. Remember to quit while the cat is still interested and be sure to hide your target when it’s not in use.
How Teach Your Cat to Sit
Start by holding a treat over her head—just far enough back that she will have to sit to reach it. Repeat the word “sit” over and over. The moment she sits, click and hand over the treat. Make sure she can repeat this in any room in the house then establish a cue so that she will learn to do it on command. It can be the word “sit” or a hand gesture.
Soon, she will sit on the voice command and then you can hand over the treat.
Want to get the kids in on training? This is the perfect trick to have kids teach the cat.
How to Teach Your Kitty to High Five
First, have your cat sit. To teach the high five “slap,” wiggle your fingers and move your hand in front of the cat’s paw on the ground.
The moment the cat pats your fingers with its paw, click and treat.
When she consistently pats your moving fingers, slowly raise your hand off the ground until it’s up in the air aligned with the cat’s shoulder height.
When the cat raises its paw, put your hand in the path of the movement and click the instant the paw touches your hand.
Next move your hand slightly so the cat has to aim for your hand with its paw to get clicked.
Finally add the cue “gimme five!” when you hold out your hand. Click and treat.
Playing Three Blind Mice on the piano
Prepare about 20 small treats and place an empty plate on the piano bench. Lure the cat to the seat, click as she jumps up and put a treat on the plate. If she stays on the bench keep clicking and treating.
Next, hold a treat over the keyboard. Click any movement toward and keyboard and any paw touch on the keys. Put the treat on the plate so the cat must come down to eat and get back up to the keys to get clicked.
Next, wait for the cat to move toward the keys or step on them without any help from you. Click any attempt even if she just looks at the keys.
When the cat is stepping or pawing on the keys with confidence, click for strong paw pats. Click any audible plinks and reward with extra food.
Repeat the first steps done the day before. When the cat can make audible plinks on a regular basis, click and treat every second paw touch to build repeated sounds.
Put small removable stickers or post-it notes on the piano keys Middle C, D and E. Click only when the cat touches those keys. This upcoming holiday season, your cat is going to be the life and soul of the party!
When the cat is hitting the notes E-D-C in that order, she is playing Three Blind Mice!
Remember the key to success is patience! In her book, Krieger also outlines a variety of simple tricks from pole jumping, playing fetch, and shaking hands. Visit her at www.TheCatCoach.com.
*This post was sponsored by Fresh Step.