Clicker training is an animal training method that relies on operant conditioning. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, operant conditioning refers to the process of strengthening desirable behaviors and weakening undesirable behaviors via a system of rewards and punishments. In the case of clicker training, primary reinforcers such as food are replaced by the sound of a clicker, which is what is called a conditioned reinforcer. The use of conditioned reinforcers has a huge upside compared to the use of primary reinforcers because it is much faster, thus making it much easier for the subject to figure out which behavior prompted the reward. As a result, while clicker training tends to be most associated with dogs, it sees use in training a wide range of other domesticated as well as wild animals as well. In fact, clicker training isn’t even limited to the use of clickers because there are variants that make use of everything from whistles and tongue clucks to hand signs and vibrating collars.
Can Clicker Training Be Used for Cats?
As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that clicker training can be used to strengthen a wide range of desirable behaviors in cats. This is important because there is a belief that cats cannot be trained, which is widespread enough that it retains incredible momentum in spite of the increasing availability of information about cat training in present times. Suffice to say that this is bad for not just cats but also cat owners because it can result in poor choices when cat owners are led to believe that their cats cannot be trained out of problematic behaviors.
How Can Clicker Training Be Used for Cats?
The first step in clicker training is finding both a primary reinforcer and a conditioned reinforcer. As stated earlier, food is perhaps the most common example of a primary reinforcer. However, it is important to remember that not all cats show the same level of enthusiasm for food, meaning that it is perfectly fine to use other primary reinforcers such as say, some grooming or some petting. Likewise, while a clicker is the single most famous example of a conditioned reinforcer in clicker training, other items can be used for the same purpose so long as they are capable of performing the same action again and again when activated. Of course, said action must be noticeable by the cat, which is why deaf cats can still be clicker trained using something else besides a clicker.
Once the cat owner has both of these tools, it is time to build a connection between the primary reinforcer and the conditioned reinforcer. Generally speaking, this is as simple as clicking the clicker and then handing a treat to the cat. With a few repetitions, this should be enough to instill in the cat an awareness that the click is associated with good things. The exact number of clicks can see a fair amount of variation, but some people have suggested that the general range is between five and 20 clicks.
Regardless, once a cat has learned to associate the clicker or other conditioned reinforcer with good things, it can be used to signal whenever it is engaged in doing desirable behavior. However, it is important to note that cat owners need to be careful to use the clicker as soon as the cat does exactly what it is that they were hoping that it would do, which should have the most benefit. Otherwise, if they are too slow, they could end up reinforcing some other behavior altogether, which in particularly unlucky cases, can actually result in reinforcing something problematic in nature.
Summed up, cats can be trained in spite of the popular belief that they are just semi-domesticated animals that will not listen to cat owners. Clicker training isn’t the sole animal training method that can be used for cats, but it is one of the simplest and most straightforward, meaning that it can prove very useful in the repertoire of a lot of cat owners out there. Better still, once clickers have been established as something good for a particular cat, the use of a clicker can actually serve as a way to make them feel more relaxed as well as less stressed-out, thus making it even more convenient.
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