Clicker training for cats is widely accepted as the ultimate training tool for cats, belying the sometimes held assumption that it is only used for "teaching tricks." Practitioners of the clicker training method for cats overwhelming report that it is an exercise that cats throroughly enjoy, and that clicker training has brought them closer than ever to their cats. Karen Pryor, a behavioral biologist, is an acknowledged leader in clicker training for cats.
The "Clicker Training for Cats Fun Kit" contains:
- The book, "Clicker Training for Cats," by Karen Pryor
- A metal clicker
- A small celophane package of liver treat samples
Borrowing from Pavlov's Dog, clicker training is a process of conditioned response, technically known as operant conditioning, combined with positive reinforcement (a treat), and a marker signal (the click) to produce the desired action. The book is the key to the entire process - only 85 pages, but packed with information. Clickers are inexpensive and readily available at pet supply stores, and any treat your cat really loves can substitute for the liver treats.
The book is logically divided into five chapters.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
The author explains that "clicker" is unlike traditional training, in that it does not depend on social relationships, but is more like forming a bargain. "I'll give you this treat if you will raise your paw and shake." The click identifies the desired action (and for that reason is given during the action), and the treat is given to complete the bargain. Timing, it would seem, is the very essence of clicker training.
Chapter one continues with examples of ways clicker training can improve your cat's life:
- By calming down overtactive cats
- Bringing out playfulness in older cats
- Increasing your cat's interest in you
- Stimulating your cat's intellectual powers and creativity; he or she can create original "games"
- Solving behavior problems by creating new, desirable behaviors
Karen offers examples of alternatives to the clicker (clicking a ballpoint pen, "popping" the lid of a baby food jar, or even using a flashlight with a deaf cat. The treat is flexible too, but it must be something special that the cat REALLY likes. Examples include diced cheese, white chicken meat, or tuna.
The remainder of the first chapter deals with the nitty-gritty details of the first session.
Chapter 2: Useful Behavior
Karen offers examples of the kinds of behavior we'd all like to foster in our cats, both for their safety, and to keep us from tearing our hair out at times. Important behaviors include coming when called, walking on a leash, and gentle use of teeth and claws. She provides clear directions on developing each one of these desired behaviors, along with several more.
Chapter 3: Fun Stuff
This is the stuff that draws crowds to the Purina Cats exhibits in cat shows; "tricks" like "High Five," "Sit Pretty," "Roll Over," or playing fetch, jumping hurdles, or opening or closing a cupboard door or drawer. Plenty of examples are given, as you find yourself eager to try them with your own cat. Would you like to teach kitty to play the piano? Clicker train. Do you think those agility courses are workouts only for dogs? Wrong - cats all over the U.S. are showing off through the magic of clicker training.
One of the most convincing arguments Karen gives for clicker training is that helps the cat learn how to learn, by expanding his use of his capabilities. We've all read that we only use a tiny portion of our brains; why would this reasoning not also extend to cats?
Chapter 4: Problems and Solutions
Some "behavioral problems," such as litter box avoidance, have their roots in either physical causes (urinary tract blockage or infection) or because of a problem with the box itself (not clean, or shared by too many cats.) Clicker Training may offer an answer to other problem behaviors that sometimes seem unsurmountable. Examples include:
- Overly-aggressive playful biting or scratching
- Ankle Biting
- Ambush (jumping on you from a high place - Karen describes this as the "Leopard Leap")
- Jumping on the table
- Destructive Scratching
Chapter 5 is the section on resources, which include several clicker training accessories sold on her web site, along with a few web sites on clicker training. The Appendix contains 15 tips, a useful section to copy and have handy.
Karen Pryor was a pioneer in force-free animal training methods with her work with dolphins at Hawaii's Sea Life Park, which she founded. She has modeled her clicker training for cats, dogs, and horses, on the techniques she developed there.
Anyone seriously interested in clicker training a cat will need this book, and the Clicker Training Fun Kit will give you all the tools you need to start today.