By Darlene Arden, C.A.B.C.
Operant conditioning, popularly called clicker training, is used in zoos and with marine animals, as well as house pets. It’s a simple method of using a clicker (usually a little box toy, but you can use a ballpoint pen, top of a baby food jar, barrette, or anything that makes a consistent sound) that tells the cat he or she has done something right. Simply pair the sound with something the cat enjoys, whether it’s a tiny bit of food, cheese, affection, or a game with a favorite toy as a reward.
With this technique, you can teach your kitty to wave, high five, sit, come, jump through a hoop, or anything else you fancy. Remember to keep sessions short and fun. First click and treat half a dozen times until kitty learns that click means something good is coming. Training sessions of no more than 5 minutes each are key, and don’t add the cue word until kitty is doing the trick half a dozen times successfully.
Sit is easy, and easier still if you lure kitty into the position the first time. Start before mealtime and use a tasty treat. Hold it near kitty’s nose and slowly raise it over kitty’s head. As their head comes up, their bottom will go down. As soon as their little butt is on the floor, click and give them the treat. After a few practices you can add the word “Sit!”
Training your cat to come to their name is also easy. Whenever you talk to them, use their name. When you call them, have a tasty treat ready and reward them with a click and a treat when they arrive. Remember, never call them to you to reprimand them––coming to you should be fun!
Kitty will also follow a toy over and under chairs, so you can set up a mini Agility Course. Yes, there are cat agility competitions, but your lively cat will appreciate the interaction of an agility game at home. And isn’t this better than climbing the drapes and swinging from a chandelier?
Practice daily to keep your cat’s interest, strengthen your bond, and have fun tricks to show friends. A happy, well-mannered kitty will be your reward.