STOP Making these 5 mistakes when Clicker Training a Cat
Clicker Training is an amazing method to train your cat. It's based on operant conditioning and will help you shape behavior, from doing tricks to correcting misbehavior.
When I started clicker training, I felt like my cat was not food motivated, or she tried to bite or reach out to your hand that’s signaling the behavior when clicker training... Sometimes she just got distracted with everything and seems to only listen to you when I had a treat in my hand…
If you have had the same difficulties when training your cat, or you feel like your clicker training progress is slower than expected, probably you are making one or several mistakes that people make when clicker training a cat:
- Free feeding
- Using the wrong hand to reward
- Clicker is not properly charged
- There are competing stimuli
- Your cat is hyper
Clicker Training is NOT Forever
If you feel like your cat doesn’t understand clicker training and you find it hard to teach them new tricks, the first mistake you might be doing is that your CLICKER IS NOT PROPERLY CHARGED.
What's Charging The Clicker?
Charging the clicker is nothing more than priming your cat with the knowledge that after a “click” comes a reward.
This is particularly important because if your cat does not know that after a click comes a reward, the clicks we do during training are meaningless.
If you’re starting to clicker train your cat or you’ve been a long time not training them, it is a good idea to start the clicker training sessions by charging the clicker. It takes almost no time and will make your sessions way smoother.
How Do You Charge The Clicker?
Grab a 6 or 7 treats, get comfortable and start clicking and rewarding for no reason at all. Just click then reward.
My Cat Grabs My Hand When Clicker Training
If your cat reaches to your hand while you are training them and can’t seem to even let you drop the treat off your hand... I've got good news for you. The more food motivated a cat is, the easier it will be to train them.
Sometimes also happens that your cat tries to “steal” the treats from the bags you have them on. You might be doing either of this two things:
- Feeding them treats with the hand that’s making the visual commands
- Feeding them the treats with your hand instead of leaving them on then floor
My recommendation is that you make the hand signal with your good hand and feed the treats with the other one.
I particularly like throwing the treats away, because it’s a way to make your cat understand that when a treat is delivered it’s delivered far from your signaling hand or the treats that you are holding.
Also, it allows your cat to do some physical activity and unwind between exercises.
Train a Cat That's Not Food Motivated
The next problem that I often find is people claiming their cats are not food motivated. While this is definitely a possibility, it’s not common. Cat's have been programmed to hunt for food and their food drive is very high. I wrote an article explaining all about it, but here are some tips for you:
There are 2 mistakes that might make it hard for your cat to be motivated by the treats you are giving them.
Stop Free Feeding Your Cat
The first and most important of the two is free feeding. Free feeding is to allow your cat to eat whenever they want. In other words, if there’s always a bowl of dry food or kibble available for them.
Not limiting the amount of food or the moments when your cat eats is not a good idea if you are working hard to clicker train them. Free feeding impacts not only your cat’s health but also your bond with them and their food motivation.
Because we are going to use food as a reward when doing clicker training, we want to control when our cat is eating. If you are free feeding your cat, my recommendation is that you put your cat on a schedule.
I feed Mia 3-4 times a day, every 6h to 8h. I am aware that not everyone is home all day waiting for their cats meal time. If that’s your case as well, there are automatic feeders available for both kibble and wet food.
By feeding your cat on a schedule, you can strategically place the training sessions before feeding time and that will increase your cats appetite and interest for the rewards you offer.
It is very important that your cat eats enough food during the transition period to scheduled feeding. Cats are not metabolically designed to use fat stores and they livers get easily overwhelmed.
How Much Should We Feed a Cat Per Meal?
This is the method I used to define how much food I should feed my cat each meal:
- We are going to start by placing, during the designated times a big bowl of food.
- Call your cat to let them know you are putting food down. I like asking Mia if she’s hungry and when she meows, means yes.
- After 10-15 min of the food being down, remove the food. You’ll notice that they don’t finish all the food you put down, next meal use the amount they ate as the measure for how much food you should put down each meal.
Use High Quality Treats to Train a Cat
The second mistake that might have you feeling your cat is not very food motivated are the treats you are using.
I don’t always have chocolate at home because I crave it all the time. If I have chocolate, I keep going to the fridge for more. Chocolate is to me a very strong motivator to go to the fridge. Cauliflower, for instance, doesn’t produce the same effect.
If you want to get your cat motivated, you need to find what food your cat goes crazy for. I can tell you it’s not chocolate. Chocolate is toxic for cats.
What's a Good Treat to Train a Cat?
I started clicker training using kibble, that to Mia is a strong motivator because she always eats raw food, so kibble to her are like cookies.
However, when I need her to focus because I’m trying to teach something more complex, I use freeze dried chcken instead.
I’ve added the links to the products I’m mentioning in the description box down below. A cautious note here, using treats for training can make your cats fat! I would recommend you to make them snack bite size so that you don’t overfeed your cat.
How to Train an Easily Distracted Cat
Sometimes our cats are just not in the mood for training. They are completely distracted and not even treats your cat craves will help them concentrate. Just STOP. Stop the training and play with your cat.
When your cat has too much energy it doesn’t make sense to try to out-power that energy with treats. It’s better to spend some time draining some of your cats energy with playtime and train after that.
Playing with a cat can be very fun but also very boring, particularly with older cats. Cats are ambush predators and will stalk and pounce to hunt their prey:
When you are playing with your cat you’ll have to first trigger the curiosity and hunting instinct, with fast moves that will get your cats eye. When you see your cat is already following the toy with their eyes or ears, the whiskers are out and their pupils start getting big, it’s time to let the toy-prey sit and wait for your cat to pounce.
If you want to know more about cat body language, here you have a video with all you need to know packed in less than 10min:
You can alternate playtime with throwing random treats after a click to get your cat running.
I’m sure this tips will improve your training sessions, can’t wait to see what you think about them in the comments section.
Stay Wild, Stay Safe… See you outdoors!
Albert & Mia
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