Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cat clicker training: Yes, you can teach your cat parlor tricks!

Cat and clicker training tool

Eamon is a great model for this blog, in part, because he knows a few basic obedience commands like "sit" and "stay" and "watch me." That means I can pop him into position, and then I can use commands to make him hold that position while we work. It's pretty awesome, and we got here because of one very basic dog training tool: A clicker.

I never intended to train a cat with a clicker, but when I was training my first dog and Eamon was just a kitten, he often sat in on the training sessions. He liked the treats, so he'd wander over, and I'd make him perform in order to get a snack. Now, he'll learn almost anything with the help of a clicker. And the techniques I used to train him are the same as those I'd use to train a dog.

Let's use "sit" as an example. I have treats and a clicker, and when Eamon wanders over, I hold the treat up high, and draw it back toward his eyebrows. He wants to look at the treat, so his rear end drops as the treat moves back.

Cat in a sitting position

When his rear end hits the floor like this, I can use the clicker to mark the motion and drop the treat for him to eat. I use the word "sit" with the motion of my hand, too, so he'll associate the motion and the word and (ideally) do it on command. Eamon pretty much has this down with hand motions.

Eamon the cat performing a sit on command

Eamon can sometimes do a "down" command, but I don't ask that of him very often, as his elbows are worn with arthritis, and getting up from a down is a little hard. But to train it, I'd put him in a sit position and then drop the treat to the floor and move it forward. He'd follow it with his nose and then he'd be in a down.

Normally, I wouldn't click and treat until he was in the 100 percent proper position, but this is pretty close for this old guy.

Cat performing a down on command

Cats and clickers really do go well together, but it's vital to keep in mind that cats can have remarkably short attention spans. Where Liam and Sinead might be able to work with me for 5 to 10 minutes, Eamon will wander away after 3 or 4 minutes. When he was a kitten, our sessions were just a minute or two.

Training should always be fun, so the sessions shouldn't stretch past your cat's capacity. But, working with them really is fun, and it's a great idea for kitty bloggers. Your photo sessions will go so much easier with trained cats.

So enjoy! And drop me a line and tell me how it goes, won't you?

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