Clicker training isn’t just for dogs! Learning how to train a cat is easier than you think. An easy-to-learn 4 step process can help you to train your cat to do tricks or simply just to do more of the behaviors you want and less of the behaviors you don’t want.

Why clicker training?

Clicker training a cat offers 4 great benefits:

  1. How to train a cat - Manna poised to pounce

    Manna hanging out with her daddy during a photo shoot. She loves hearing the camera turn on!

    Clicker training uses positive reinforcement to create the desired behaviors in your cat. No punishments of any kind are ever used. This makes clicker training much more  enjoyable for both you and your cat. The results of using positive reinforcement are much more consistent and long lasting as well.

  2. Clicker training motivates exercise! Some cats need a little extra motivation to get up and moving. Repetition of behaviors which encourage movement and the use of the cat’s muscles are great for the cat’s health.
  3. Clicker training stimulates the cat’s mind. Doing new things can enhance your cat’s intelligence and keep their brain healthy. Keeping that brain engaged can be very helpful as the cat ages and some functions become more difficult.
  4. Clicker training enhances the bond between a cat and it’s owner. Daily positive interactions help your cat to see you as someone they can trust. It shows them how to communicate with you and makes them want to be around you.

How to train your cat by using a clicker

There are 2 very important items that you will need: a clicker and a motivator. Clickers can be purchased inexpensively from just about any pet store. Alternatively, if you have a cat that is deaf, you could use a small light. The motivator should be a small treat that the cat absolutely loves.

How to Train a Cat Step 1: Learning to speak clicker language.
How to Train your Cat -  clicker closeup

A Clicker Photo Credit: Teresa Trimm via Flickr

In trying to figure out how to train your cat, you’ve probably noticed that the cat doesn’t understand what you say to him/her. Using a clicker allows you to create a common language with your cat which easily communicates “this is what I want you to do.” Creating that meaning is pretty easy.

Start by getting your cat into a place in your home that has no distractions (or fewest distractions). You want the cat to be as comfortable as possible. Don’t start a clicker training session if either you or the cat are in a bad mood.

Step 1 of how to train a cat using a clicker is very simple. Click the clicker and give your cat a treat. That’s it. The cat doesn’t have to do anything to receive the reward. Try to vary the length of time between clicks so that the treat is associated to the clicker and not to a particular cadence. Keep the sessions fairly short – a few minutes can do the trick.

You will know that the cat is getting the idea when they expect the treat after hearing a click. Try this in other areas of the house to make sure that the cat understand that the treats are not associated to one particular space. Move on to Step 2 when the connection between the clicker and the treats has been clearly made.

How to Train a Cat Step 2: Developing the desired behavior.
How to train your cat - Cinco and Manna get a treat

Cinco (top) and Manna getting their treats.

To begin Step 2 of how to train a cat, you will need to know what behavior it is that you want to train your cat to do. Whenever you see the cat perform the behavior, click the instant the behavior is performed and then give a treat. Be very consistent with this training. Keep the clicker and some treats in your pocket all the time. Use a variety of treats so the cat doesn’t get bored.

There are 3 useful methods for training a behavior:

  • Catching
    Literally catching  your cat doing something naturally and giving them the click and the treat.
  • Shaping
    This method of how to train a cat starts with a natural behavior and uses small steps to move towards a less natural behavior.
  • Luring
    Using a treat, you can lure your cat to do certain behaviors.

Some behaviors may require the use of more than one of the above methods. Take it slow and let your cat learn at their own pace. Do NOT for any reason punish or scold the cat. Keep it positive! If you click accidentally, be sure to give the cat a treat. If something is forgotten, start at the beginning again and work back through all the steps. Cats may become more forgetful when there are more distractions present (like an audience).

How to Train a Cat Step 3: Adding a command.

It is time to move on to Step 3 of how to train a cat. Go through the steps necessary to get the cat to perform the trained behavior, but now prompt that behavior with a verbal cue. For example, “sit” or “high paw.” A hand motion may be used in lieu of the verbal cue.

Give the verbal cue and prompt the behavior as you have been. As soon as the behavior is performed, click and then give a treat. Continue repeating the behavior with the verbal cue until the verbal cue itself prompts the behavior (continue to click and treat). Only give the verbal cue (or hand gesture) once.

How to Train a Cat Phase 4: Advanced Training

By the time you reach Phase 4 of how to train a cat,  start giving treats every few behaviors rather than every single one. Rather than giving a treat for every part of your shaping process, just give a treat for performing the completed behavior. Think about making the prize bigger for your kitty than it has been in the past – either a better treat or more of the treat for a completed behavior.

Do your kitties know any tricks?