A lot of people think that cats can’t be trained the way dogs are and that they can’t learn to ‘sit’ and to ‘stay’. But cats can be trained just like dogs, it just takes a lot more patience and time, and it will go slightly differently. With cats, everything happens on their terms, but it’s still possible!
With cats it’s important to reward them when they do something right. Punishment doesn’t work with them because they are unable to link the punishment to what they have done wrong. Cats may also see punishment as a form of attention, and it may reinforce them to do the incorect action again. Ignoring them or distracting them when they do something you don’t want, and rewarding them if they do something you want, is the best way to get your cat’s attention.
Positive reinforcement means that if you see a behavior in your cat (or dog) that you like, reward it. If you reward that behavior, there is a good chance they’ll do it again.
I tried it out with my cat Hiro. Every time we played with the Nekoflies, he would growl and refuse to let go. It didn’t make playing more fun, so I decided that instead of punishing him, I’d work with positive reinforcement.
Every time he growled, I left him alone. I didn’t do anything, I didn’t say anything, I only left him alone and stopped playing. It never took long before he realized that playing on his own wasn’t fun, and he’d come back to me. But every time he did not growl, I’d shower him with compliments and he’d get a treat. He figured out what I wanted from him in no time. Within a couple of days I saw a big difference, and within a week he stopped growling.
Two weeks ago I started clicker training with one of my cats, Hiro. He is the one who is the most easily trained, and even though training cats sounds like a challenge, I knew Hiro would make it easy for me: he will do anything for treats.
Clicker training is a popular method to teach dogs (and cats) various actions and also to change behavior. With clicker training, you use a special clicker that is used to help you train your cat. The clicking sound that the clicker makes can be seen as the ‘good boy!’ sound, but instead it’s always a neutral sound. Because we humans have emotions means that when we are frustrated or impatient our voice can sound different. This doesn’t happen with the clicker. You click when you see the action or behavior you want, and then you give a treat, and repeat that.
It’s important to use the clicker the first few days to let your cat get used to the sound, and help them associate that a click means getting a treat. When your cat is used to it, you can start training him. You can start with something simple: getting your cat to sit on command.
Step by step
- Move a treat from his mouth over his head to make him sit / or wait until he sits down.
- Say: “sit” (optional).
- Click when he sits.
- Give your cat the treat.
- Say: “Good boy” (optional).
I always say something like “Good boy!”. It’s a compliment, and even though cats do not really understand our language, I’m sure he knows that he is doing something good when I compliment him.
- I suggest using dry food they always get as a treat. If they don’t want to work for it, try it when they are hungry.
- You can use treats or pieces of chicken if they don’t want to work for their boring kibble. Balance that with their regular food, so your cat doesn’t gain weight or get sick.
- Train your cats just a few minutes a day (depending on the cat of course) and stop when he becomes bored by it.
- Some say you have to hide the clicker to avoid using it as a remote. I personally don’t.
- Be patient!
- When your cat gets the hang of clicker training, see if you can make it more difficult. Maybe hide the clicker when you click, or change actions, or see if he does it without treats. Be creative! And if it doesn’t work, go back to where you left off.
- Train your cat in a place where he feels safe and confident.
- Don’t punish your cat and make training fun!
Have you ever tried clicker training?
Written for the Anipal Times.