Greetings feline fanciers! Skye Blake here with a question for you… Ever heard of clicker training for cats?
It’s a secret we cats have kept for a very long time! You think we can’t be trained, but we actually CAN… and have fun doing it!
Let’s take a closer look…
What Is Clicker Training?
We’ve already learned about training your cat to be comfortable in a carrier, come when called, and wear a harness and leash.
Clicker training is another method of communicating with your cat that you can use either with regular training or on its own.
Dolphin trainers developed it using whistles and it’s now a part of working with other wildlife, dogs and even cats.
The fancy term for clicker training is “operant conditioning”.
It uses positive reinforcement and a marker (usually a sound or “click”) to shape and develop behaviors.
How Does It Work?
A clicker allows you to mark (“click”) the action as it’s happening followed by a reward (treat).
Think of it as taking a photo… you’re capturing (“clicking”) a moment.
Your cat catches on that when the clicker sounds, she gets a treat for what she’s doing.
This works for getting behaviors you want (letting you pick her up) and stopping those you don’t want (ankle biting).
You may call it “clicker training” but it’s actually “clicker games” because it’s loads of fun.
Ever have a cat knock things off the counter?
He’s bored! When he does it, he gets the fun of watching it fall and your reaction!
Since you don’t want that behavior, clicker games are a great way to give your cat the mental stimulation he needs, while getting behavior you want.
Teaching Cats Tricks
Once you learn clicker games, you and your cat will have lots of fun learning new tricks and reinforcing old ones.
You can teach him to touch things, do “high fives”, sit on a stool while you make dinner, and wait for a signal to jump down and eat.
No more winding in and out of your legs demanding food or tripping people!
You can work with multiple cats and use treats other than food like praise, pets and toys.
Learning speed games is also fun because you’re changing the response time to a specific signal, giving your cat great exercise and joy.
The Difference Between Clicker Training & Regular Training
Clicker training is used when you want to mark a specific behavior for the cat to understand it gets something pleasant when it does “X”.
Regular training is getting the cat to make an association with something generally rather than a specific movement.
For example, if you want your cat to get used to wearing a harness, the clicker isn’t necessary because the cat only needs to understand that something good will happen with it.
Once your cat accepts the good association, you can play clicker games to get specific behaviors, such as stepping into the harness or walking forward with it.
There’s a helpful interview worth listening to conducted by Stacy LeBaron with Julie Posluns, Cat School – The Community Cats Podcast
Julie Posluns is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist (ACAAB) at Cat School, teaching people clicker games and general cat training methods.
This video is one of many created by Julie Posluns, ACAAB, showing how to train your cat to do many different things.
This video from Jackson Galaxy, featuring Samantha Bell, is a good example of how easily cats can learn and connect with people using clicker training.
To discover more about how to play clicker games effectively, read a great little book “Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats” by Karen Pryor, an animal behaviorist and one of the developers of positive reinforcement training methods.
You can buy clickers online (Chewy has an inexpensive one from Frisco) or use something at home like a pop-up lid, pen… or even a computer mouse.
Here are a couple options… (Disclaimer: I make a little commission from Amazon sales).
Some people use a specific sound, like clicking their tongue, but it must be the same sound every time, which can be difficult to maintain.
Be sure to get a clicker that’s appropriate for cats… dog clickers tend to be too loud for cats.
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Learn How To Clicker Train Your Cat…“,Julie Posluns, ACAAB, Cat School, catschool.co
“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com
“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016
“Julie Posluns, Cat School“, Stacy LeBaron, The Community Cats Podcast, April 28, 2020
“Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats”, by Karen Pryor, Karen Pryor Clickertraining, Waltham, MA, www.clickertraining.com, 2001
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017
“The Trainable Cat“, by John Bradshaw and Dr. Sarah Ellis, Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, 2016
“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012
Updated May 24, 2023