While naysayers will say that cats can’t be trained, in fact cats train us every day. Anyone have a cat that comes and paws you in the morning until you get up and feed him? Yup, that smart cat figured out how to train you! To tip the balance in your favor try calling “come” before you put your cats bowl down, in no time he’ll know what it means.
With positive training methods cats can be taught many useful behaviors such as come, sit, to enter a carrier, accept nail trims and even fun tricks such as sit up or shake a paw. The key is to catch the cat doing something you like, mark that with a special sound and follow with a food reward. Many trainers will use a clicker, a small box shaped noise maker as the sound is unique. Rewards can be small fishy treats, tiny pieces of cheese or meat. Some cats also respond well to using a toy as a reward. Whatever reward you choose, it has to be special and very highly rewarding for your cat, so make sure you only use it during training to increase power and value.
In order for the clicker to mean anything for your cat you must first charge it up by pairing the sound with a treat. To do this you simply take a handful and click and reward repeatedly. When your cat looks at the hand with rewards instead of the clicker you will know he is getting the idea.
But how do you get your cat to offer behaviors you like? The three main ways are through luring, capturing or shaping. Luring means having your cat follow a food treat, for example if you wanted him to sit you would put a treat on his nose, draw it up and back over his head until he sits. Capturing is easier, simply watch your cat and click and reward any behavior you like. Shaping is the process of successively rewarding steps to a final behavior. For example if you wanted to train your cat to voluntarily go into him crate you would first reward him for looking at the crate, then for stepping towards it, then for taking steps into the crate.
Training your cat not only teaches him useful behaviors, it will also engage his brain which will help him become calmer and well-adjusted feline citizen.
For more information on clicker training for cats read Getting Started Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor
by Miranda Wimbush
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