It used to be thought the word cat and the word training didn’t go together. Most older books on cats will tell you it’s too difficult or not even possible. Training, in them, meant punishing to stop a behavior, not teaching to create new ones.
Then came clicker training. It developed out of research by behaviorist B.F. Skinner in the 1940s when he taught a pigeon how to bowl. He and his students showed that a behavior could be modified not only with rewards but by using a noise to bridge the reward to the behavior.
Fifty years later, clicker training was brought back into the companion animal world by Karen Pryor, who had used it with marine mammals. You can’t scruff a whale, so more effective methods than punishment were developed. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement almost exclusively.
In conventional training, the animal is given a command and then forced into doing it often enough that it begins to associate the command with the behavior. Most people with cats have had the experience of trying to force a cat to do something: it just doesn’t work, even with punishment. Most cats, like wild animals, will move into fear mode or just shut down. When the fear center is activated, your relationship with your cat can be permanently ruined.
Clicker training sets up a contract between you and your cats. If they do certain things, they get a click then a treat. Cat translation: if I do certain things, I can train my human to click then treat me…how cool is that! With clicker training, the cat is your partner in learning, a completely different role than conventional training.
It also develops a new language for communicating with your cat. You become more valuable to your cat in a way you probably wouldn’t have thought possible. Your cat will become more confident and have more confidence in you (especially good for shy cats). While we also recommend the use of just food rewards in some situations, clicker training has been proven to work up to 40% faster. This gives you an edge in solving any problems and the best chance at a positive, harmonious relationship with your cat.
Still don’t believe it? Let the cat clan show you how fun clicker play can be:
Ready to get started? See our helpful how-tos:
Clicker play for cats cheat sheet