1. The basics of clicker training

The basics of clicker training

Share on 2019-09-20
Clicker training is the most popular way of conditioning for cats. A certain sound is combined with a positive experience (e.g. treats) to encourage the cat to take specific actions - it is a chain of associations between signal, action and reward, which is linked in the cat's brain. 

Clicker training is a good way to keep your cat mentally fit and change behaviour. In addition, training can strengthen the bond between cat and human and improve the feeling for each other.

Step 1: Link Clicker Sound & Reward

In order to teach your cat something later with the clicker training, the clicking sound must be associated with a reward. It should be something that your cat is particularly attracted to, such as petting, favourite food or treats. The reward must always follow the click sound immediately, so that the connection is clear for your cat.

You connect the connection in your cat's brain by repeatedly making the clicking sound and rewarding your cat after each time. Repeat this process several times on different days until the connection is made. 

To generate the clicking sound, a so-called clicker from the pet shop is usually used. You can also use a different sound, but it is important that it is a constant sound so that the communication signal cannot be misunderstood by your cat. A signal with the voice is not suitable for beginners, because the voice pitch always varies a bit and your pet might misunderstand the sign. 

Tip: Cats are easily distracted. The room in which the clicker training is carried out should not offer any stimuli or sounds that could distract your four-legged friend from his concentration. Other cats should also be locked out of the room. We recommend that you do not start the Clicker Training if your cat is distracted or cleaning himself.

Step 2: Link reward & action

You and your cat have mastered the first step and consolidated the Click - Reward link. 
In the second step, you now link an action with the reward and the click. Here your cat must understand that it is through its own actions that it brings about the Click and thus the reward. To make this understandable to your velvet paw we use her natural curiosity. 
If your cat puts a new object, for example a cardboard box in front of her nose, she will show some interest in it, be it a direct look or a touch with nose or paw there will be a Click + Reward. Repeat this a few times and very quickly your cat will understand that the Click is triggered by the interaction with the box. 
If you want to go one step further and get your cat to put his paws inside the box, only interactions of your cat with her paws and the box will be clicked, if your cat touched the box with her nose only in the first step, it might take some patience, but very fast your velvet paw will touch the box, maybe just accidentally, with her paw and you can show her again with Click + Reward that she is on the right way. Soon the reward for just touching the box with your paw will turn into a reward for putting your paws into the box, until at some point she stands with all four paws in the box.
Another easy exercise for the beginning of clicking is touching and later following a target stick with your nose.

Important: Make sure that you build up the exercises slowly and step by step so that you do not overstrain your cat. It is better to have several shorter units than one long one and always finish the training with a positive reward before your cat loses interest, this way you and your cat will have fun with the clicker training.

Step 3: Successful practice of complex actions

The basis for the clicker training has been created and your cat has been accustomed to the clicker sound with a few simple exercises. Now you can turn fun exercise tricks into practical and more complex ones. To do this, it is worthwhile to divide the desired end result into many intermediate steps and write it down. You should use the natural behaviour of your pet to facilitate the start of the exercises.

Tip: In order to keep an overview and to integrate old and new exercises into the clicker training, a training diary is useful. If on one day a trick is trained from a random movement of your cat, it is important to write down the exact procedure in order to be able to practice this behaviour further. Here you can also write down in detail which exercises during the clicker training are progressing or regressing.

Step 4: The Perfect Timing - Precise Clicker Noise

For more demanding exercises, it is especially important that the Clickerton is applied with the greatest precision to the movement to be rewarded. For example, if your cat jumps through a hoop, you can't reward him during the jump - but the clicker sound should be heard at that exact moment so your cat understands what he's being rewarded for. If the click occurs on landing, the jump will not be perceived as the behaviour to be rewarded.

Supporting signals 

For more extensive exercises you can introduce word and hand signals. Signal words should always be pronounced with the same intonation, pitch and length, so that your cat recognizes the word as its signal. Also the hand movements should always be the same. First train the signals so that you can use them as command signals for further exercises.

Tip: You can train your own timing with the Clicker even without a cat. For example, by rolling a dice and always clicking on odd numbers.

Once the first training phase has slowly become established and the clicker training has become routine, the learning success of the cat should be continuously maintained with always new tricks.

Advanced Tricks

For experienced cats you should always increase the level of the exercises during the clicker training. This way you can make the procedures longer and more complex, for example a course where several tricks are performed and combined in any combination to increase the complexity of the procedures (also called "chaining"). Also unwanted behaviour can be gradually eliminated in advanced training units by clicking and building up alternative behaviour. If your cat is well accustomed to the Clicker, you can even make difficult situations such as vet visits much less stressful with the appropriate exercises.

Tip: We recommend that you always practice the more challenging tricks in changing environments so that your cat does not associate the behaviour with the premises.