There's this myth about cats not being trainable. I think cats are taken less seriously than dogs due to societal biases. When I first got my cat Mia I wanted to give it a try and I discovered a world of possibilities.
Cats are not hard to train. They will learn from easy tricks like sitting or high five to more complex tricks like jumping on your shoulder or riding a bike with you. The main difference between training a cat vs. training a dog is that cats are more independent and less food motivated. Cat training should be shorter and will have a bigger presence of treats as they are less responsive to praise or toys.
Training a Cat Using Positive Reinforcement
B.F. Skinner discovered that behaviors that are rewarded are likely to be repeated in the future. He and his research team did multiple studies to understand how the consequences of actions influence behavior.
There are two types of responses or behaviors:
They occur automatically and reflexively, such as pulling back from a pointy object after getting stabbed or removing a hand back from a hot stove. These behaviors are not learned, they are instinctive, automatical, and involuntary.
They occur under conscious control. The consequences of these actions influence whether or not they will happen again in the future. Our actions trigger responses from the environment and those consequences are going to become an important part of our learning process.
Without entering too much into the details, cats can learn new behaviors thanks to the latter. Operant conditioning.
What's The Easiest Way to Train a Cat?
Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning where the trainer will help the cat link a noise with a reward. Thanks to this link, the trainer can mark the behavior that it's going to be rewarded with the clicker but not deliver the treat until seconds after.
This delayed rewarding system will allow you or the cat trainer to be more precise in marking the behaviors that you want to see more often.
For example: If you want to reward your cat for sitting and you use a treat in your hand, your cat is going to do a handful of things between the time they sit and receiving the treat. The cat is going to be confused about what behavior exactly triggered the treat: Was it sitting down? Looking at the trainer? Raising my neck to go for the treatment? Lifting a paw to grab the treat from my trainer's hand?
If you want to learn more about clicker training cats, consider reading this post. Or watch this video:
How Long Does it Take to Clicker Train a Cat?
Training a cat can be done very fast, but the range and the automatization of the new learned behaviors will vary depending on the time invested.
Your cat will understand what the clicker is and that after a click comes a reward with as little as 10 repetitions of clicking and rewarding. Note that if you use very big treats, your cat is going to stop being hungy and less susceptible to keeping on learning.
Once the cat understands clicker training (the clicker is charged) learning a new trick will take only a few sessions. In this chart you can see how long it takes on average for a cat to learn a new trick:
|Command||Time it takes to teach a cat|
|Sit||1 or 2 Sessions of 10 minutes|
|High Five||1 or 2 Sessions of 10 minutes|
|Spin||1 or 2 Sessions of 10 minutes|
|Sit Pretty||2 to 4 Sessions of 10 minutes (Needs to know how to sit first)|
|Roll Over||2 to 4 Sessions of 10 minutes|
|Come When Called||2 to 4 Sessions of 10 minutes|
|Sit & Stay||3 to 5 Sessions of 10 minutes (Needs to know how to sit first)|
|Jump on Shoulder||2 to 3 Weeks (10 to 15 Sessions)|
|Ride on Bike||2 to 3 Weeks (10 to 15 Sessions)|
How Do You Train a Stubborn Cat?
There are many external factors that can hinder your cat's progress when clicker training. Those externalities are going to make you think your cat is stubborn, but the reality is that you are trying to train your cat while making one of these mistakes:
Free Feeding Your Cat
Because we are going to be using food as a reinforcer, controling the food intake of your cat is key. By providing your cat all you can eat food on a bowl, you are reducing the value of the reinforcer we need to train the cat.
Free feeding is also going to reduce your bond with your cat and increase chances of your cat becoming overwheight.
Instead, put your cat on a schedule and measure the food intake. They are going to be healthier cats and you are going to be a happier cat guardian.
Not Charging the Clicker Properly
One of the main mistakes I see when people struggle to train their cat is that they have not charged the clicker properly.
If you are thinking that your clicker doesn't have any chargin cable, you should consider reading this article about clicker training.
Charging the clicker is nothing more than priming your cat with the knowledge that after a treat, comes a reward. It is achieved by repetition, click then reward. Do it several times (like 4 or 5) before every training session at least during the first weeks of training.
Not Using High Value Treats
Contrary to dogs, cats don't respond well to praise and are not looking approval from the pack "Alpha". Cats are independent animals and if we are going to use food as a reinforcer, it better be good food.
If you offer your cat treats that are no appealing, training will become equally unappealing. Try using high value treats, like freezed dried chicken.
Not Training at The Right Time
Because we are using food as a reinforcer, having your cat motivated to work for food is key.
Try to schedule the training sessions between meals, so that your cat is not very hungry (if they are, they will quickly become frustrated if they don't receive enough food) but hungry enough to work for food.
Starting Training Your Cat Too Young
Don't start training a cat at least until they are 14 weeks of age. Clicker training is complex for a young kitten and they can grow frustrated or overwhelmed.
Try to teach commands like "Come When Called" first and play with them to strengthen the bond.
At 14 weeks of age, you can start doing more serious clicker training.
If you want more information about where to start when clicker training your cat, take a look at this video, so you know what to teach and when to start teaching what:
Training for Too Long
Cats stomach is the size of a ping pong ball. If the treats you are using are too big, try to breaking them down into smaller pieces so that you can do more rewarding before your cat is full.
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Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia