Clicker Train Your Cat - Really?!

So here's my deep, dark secret as a dog trainer... I'm a cat person.  There, I said it!  It's not that I'm not also a dog person, but honestly, my first love is cats.  We never had a dog growing up, but we always had two cats in the house.  I still feel that a home just doesn't feel right without at least one cat wandering around and sitting on laps.  Why am I telling you this?  It's not to discredit myself as a dog trainer, I assure you, but it is to tell you that when everyone else thinks training your cat is silly and gimmicky, I'm totally behind you 100%- I LOVE cat training!

Cats are eminently trainable and respond extremely well to the clicker.  There are some other things you have to consider- their diets are different, they can't have their feeding schedules changed frequently, and they definitely do not train at the same "pace" as a dog- but don't let that hold you back!  They are definitely plenty smart, and I'm sure you can figure out some food they will train for.  Think back- what were you cooking when you couldn't keep that darn cat off the counter?  There's your reinforcer! Alternatively, my cats love the new Friskies Crispies treats, which are also tiny, low calorie, and chew up quickly.

I always find it interesting how willing people are to accept problem behaviors in their cats that they would never accept from a dog.  Probably the ones I hear most often are behaviors like eating off of counters, scratching or biting when they're being pet, dashing out the front door and into the street, and constantly demanding attention when you are trying to sleep or work.  Why do people accept this in a cat and allow the cat to make them change their lives to accommodate the behavior?  I would encourage you to break out the clicker and treats and come up with a plan to make your fantastic feline the pet that you truly want to have around.  And no, using a water bottle is not the way I train a cat! No more than I believe punishing a dog is the best choice, do I believe punishing a cat is a good idea.

I haven't managed to convince many people of this, but my sister, Elinor, is one of them.  She has two gorgeous orange tom cats that rule the roost in her apartment.  One day she was expressing frustration that one of them would not leave her alone when she was cooking.  I suggested ignoring his pleas for treats, treating him for staying away, and gradually pushing it out until he could wait until the end of the meal and then give him a cookie for waiting her out.  Given how easily the cat had trained itself to be irritating, it was somewhat unsurprising that only three days later she was back, raving about the nearly immediate success she had had!  Her life was immediately made less annoying, and even better than that, she started to realize that all the other behaviors she found irksome could be changed!

It's amazing what a little training will do... and keep in mind, if you don't train them, that cat will train you! And, it's not just about problem behaviors- How cool is it to have a cat that will jump through a hoop? Spin on command? Or, high five?

Here are some great resources for cat training:

Dr. Sophia Yin's Cat Tricks

Dr. Sophia Yin's Cat Behavior and Training Issues

Karen Pryor's Clicker Training: Cat Training Overview

Have you trained your cat to do anything useful or cool?  I've trained several useful behaviors in mine (sit, go to mat/stay, come when called, touch my finger with their nose), but I haven't trained anything cool yet- that's next! What about you?

Happy cat training! And, I promise, I'll head back to dogs on my next post.

And lastly, a comic for you... Untrue, but it's the thinking that I want to change!