What is your cat’s energy level?

SOURCE: PEXELS

Certainly, some specific breeds are very active. But you don’t have to have one of those breeds to have an active cat. Or your cat might be very chill preferring napping and snuggles to most everything else.

A very active cat might be less inclined to disturb your house if she gets out for walks regularly. On the other hand, a very relaxed cat might be very happy traveling with you in a backpack or other appropriate travel case. What does your cat like?

Training requires some form of motivation. Being food-oriented is certainly the easiest, but training a cat who is not food-oriented can certainly be done.

When I worked with young horses – called weanlings because they had just been weaned from their mothers – giving treats was a bad idea because that tended to make them want to nip at people.

However, a ‘good boy’ and a pat did not make enough of an impression. What good is that to the horse? What baby horses do like – and adult horses too – is a good scratch in a place that they can’t reach. Not all cats like to be scratched, some like to be caressed, some like to be scratched under their chin, some want playtime.

You have to know what makes your cat happy. Not overstimulated but happy. Without knowing what your kitty likes, you have no way of motivating them to change their behavior. Any behavior.

The bottom line is that changing your cat’s behavior means you need to know who they are and what matters to them. Clicker Training I’ve trained horses, dogs, and now cats. I got paid to train horses.

My dog Willy got many, many compliments on his good manners, and my friends asked me for help with their dogs. Generally, I’ve had no problems getting my cats to scratch where they are supposed to rather than on the furniture, and most of my cats came when called.

I’ve used both natural methods and praise because that was what was available. But as a training method, clickers get the win. The reason this method works so well – no matter what animal we are talking about – is that it provides a reward for the correct behavior immediately.

This speeds up the learning process, and it allows the person doing the training to ‘shape’ the behavior. Clickers are simply small handheld devices that make an audible click when the button is depressed. It is a sharp and distinct sound that makes it easy for an animal to distinguish it from other things in its surroundings.

They are easy to find online – I don’t always see them in pet stores – and quite inexpensive. That being said, horse people make a very similar sound to encourage their horses to move forward, and since I tend to misplace my clicker, I’ve started using that method instead since it comes naturally. It seems to be working fine.

The first thing you need to know about your cat is what motivates your little boy or a girl. For clicker training, a favorite treat is ideal but not all cats are motivated by treats.

Your kitty may adore having their head scratched, or they may have something else that they like. Your first job is to find out what they get very happy and excited about. Even a non-food-oriented cat can be susceptible to a particular item.

Now I’m going to add a caveat to that. Excited is good, too excited is not going to work as well. Let me give you an example. Cosmo is very food-oriented. Chicken is a fantastic reward for him.

However, ham gets him so excited that he can’t even concentrate on what I’m asking, and chases me around the room trying to chew my arm off for said ham. (Save this knowledge though, because it will come in handy later.) This is not productive.

So we pretty much stick with chicken or another treat. Since there will be a lot of treats, choose something that is not junk food for cats if possible. Fresh chicken in small  – around 1/4” square – pieces is great. There are plenty of freeze-dried treats out there for cats now, and if you’re using those, make the pieces smaller than for fresh treats. I keep treats in a treat wallet when working with Cosmo.

This is a magnetically sealed silicone pouch with a clip that can attach to a pocket or belt. They are easy to clean, easy to get into for humans, and not easy to get into if you have no thumbs.

No matter what kind of fur person you are training, they aren’t going to understand what the command means the first time around. Most of the time we have to work up to it. For example, if I want a dog or a cat to sit, I’m not going to reward them first when they get their butt on the ground.

It seems like it would be easier to just put some encouraging pressure on that furry behind to urge it downward. But that means you are severely limited on when your cat will perform your desired movement.

If you use your hand to ‘help’ with any of these moves, your cat will only do them when you are within arm’s reach. (this is also true for dogs and horses) They get a ‘click,’ then a reward when they start to put their butt toward the ground. This requires some timing and observation. Don’t worry it just takes practice. But a “sit” is the second or third thing I would teach.

Until your kitty has the first few steps down well, it’s a good idea to do this in a room with a door so that other cats, humans, dogs, bunnies, etc. will not enter your workspace and distract your kitty. Things you will need

A clicker, or the ability to make a sharp click noise with your mouth
Treats your kitty likes, but won’t chew your arm off for Something to put them in Your cat A room with a door Step One The first step is to associate the reward – treat, scritch, whatever – with the clicker. Each session for this should not last more than a minute or two. And you can do it two or three times a day for 5 to 7 days.

Pick a time when your cat is awake, and maybe a little hungry. After a play session is a really good time. Sit down near your cat, and simply depress the clicker or make a clicking noise with your mouth and present the treat. All you’re trying to do here is have your furry friend have a positive association with this particular noise.

Don’t skimp on the step because it lays the foundation for future training. Eventually, the click will become a substitute for a treat when you don’t have a treat handy. And that is the goal.

Step Two Once your cat associates the sound of the click – whether that is mechanical or from you – with a positive feeling, you can start teaching them to respond to specific commands.

As with the previous lesson, do this when your cat is awake and preferably after a play session. Depending on their energy level. Simply say their name, repeating, until they look at you.

As soon as they look at you make them click noise, and hand them a treat. This is easier with dogs. Cats will can – and will – ignore you for sport. But that’s why you need to know what motivates them.

As before, doing this for a couple of minutes several times a day works better than trying to do one long session all at once. But even if you’re just doing five minutes once a day you’re going to get somewhere.

Just try to always end training sessions on a high note. Don’t overdo it such that your furry friend loses interest in the game. Because for them it is a game.

You want them to always be happy about training sessions. Once you have them looking at you when you say their name, you don’t need to go back to simply clicking and giving treats.

Once they will respond on the first name call five or six times in a row, try just giving a click and verbal praise or petting instead of a treat. This is also useful. This kind of training is called operant conditioning, and it’s well-known that intermittent rewards are more effective than always giving a reward.

Step Three This is very handy if you’re wondering where in the house your fur buddy is and is easy to train with the clicker. It is also possible if your cat is very attached to you.

I first did this with my cat Lindsey. She was very attached to me, and the first few times she returned when I called her, I fussed over her, giving praise for nearly 5 minutes. After that, she always showed up within ten minutes of being vocally summoned. And this was without either food or clicker. Cosmo nearly always comes when I call indoors, but outdoors I had better have a treat.

Mini has escaped the homestead from time to time, and when she does, she always comes promptly if I call. One of the most important things you can teach your cat is to come when you call. Are they going to be 100%? No, that’s not reasonable, and even dogs aren’t 100%.

But I can’t tell you how often eased my mind to be able to call one of my cats and have them show up when I was worried about them. And if something happens and they get lost, having the habit of coming when you call is invaluable. Learning this isn’t difficult.

If you have a treat they like, take a few steps away from them call their name, and say come. Don’t go more than a couple of steps at first. Crouch down on the floor so you are close to their level and they can smell the treat. The minute they start to take a step towards you make your click noise.

If they take a tiny step and stop, reward them. Remember we are shaping the behavior not creating it. When they’re consistent about those two steps, then you can increase the distance. Add two more steps, and gradually increase the distance until you are across the room.

Do you want to make it fun? Eventually, you can run around your house with your cat chasing you, which is where I am with Cosmo right now.

It gets both of us exercised! Just watch out for them getting under your feet on the stairs… You can also start calling them when you don’t know where they are, and as soon as they materialize give them a click and a treat. At this point, I like to include an overabundance of praise. Before I knew about clicker training, this was how I got my other cats to come when I called.

Go overboard. Get gooey and adoring, and make it go on for a while. Having them show up when you need them to is worth the effort. This can also be the time to dispense one of those ‘chew your arm off’ treats.

This is the basics of clicker training. Once you have the association, getting their attention, and following you, all down smoothly, it’s really up to you and your furry friend how far you want to take it.

Your only limitation will be how much time you want to put in, and your cats’ natural inclinations and abilities. In the next sections, I will go over other behaviors and how one can apply clicker training.

You may not need the clicker but it does provide options. Leash Training Let’s be honest. You don’t walk the cat the catwalks you. The benefits of getting a cat outside on the leash are very different from the benefits of getting the dog out for a walk.

If you watch Cesar Milan, he often speaks of how dogs are built to travel together in packs, and taking your dog for a walk is mentally calming, for the dog. It’s not bad for humans either.

Cats are not built for covering distance at speed. They’re not going to travel smoothly the way dogs do. But the point of getting the cat outside is for the kitty’s emotional well-being. Keeping cats indoors was not a thing when I was growing up.

Yes, some people did but it was not looked upon as something particularly healthy for the cat. The attitude at that time was that cats needed to be outside roaming and hunting things. Those kept inside were sad and perhaps even tragic. Attitudes have changed.

The view now, is that cats should be kept inside to keep them safe from things like cars and predators.

It also keeps their prey safe from them. However, could you imagine living in your house and never going outside? Of course, most recently many of us have in fact experience that having gone through the age of COVID-19. And many people did not do well with that.

Even a cat that seems largely content to be indoors can benefit from going outside safely from time to time. Often these very contented cats become overweight from lack of exercise. And while we think of them as being content how do we know that they are not depressed?

There are some additional reasons why having at least some leash training is invaluable. In the event of an emergency, you will have more options. Imagine that you had to go to a shelter and even if your cat is good in a carrier, at some point you might need to let the kitty out to use a litter box.

Having them comfortable with a leash and a harness means that you have the possibility of containment outside of that carrier. And if your cat is extremely resistant to the carrier, having the option of a harness and leash could provide a viable alternative. And then there is being able to familiarize your furry friend with the outside of your house. Cats that are always indoors, do sometimes escape.

If your cat knows what the outside of your house looks and smells like, they are less likely to panic when they are outside, and your chances of being reunited go up. Jackson Galaxy is a big fan of taking your cat for a walk on a leash.

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