A Beginner's Guide to Clicker Training Your Pet
It's a positive reinforcement method that rewards your dog or cat for following your command on cue.
Believe or not, the independent canines and felines in our lives can be trained. "Many people are surprised to find that training cats is not that hard," explains Julie Posluns, principal and teacher at Cat School. Both species are highly intelligent animals that become bored, and clicker training can ease their boredom by providing challenges and puzzles for them to solve. Posluns says that a misconception is that we train pets only to modify their behavior when, in fact, clicker training provides enrichment. It becomes a brain game for them with tasty rewards.
First, you need a clicker that is designed for clicker training such as the Clik-R Pet Clicker ($4, store.petsafe.net). Ideally, your pet can be motivated by food. Posluns says that animals are sometimes not food-motivated when their food is left out for them all day. You may need to change your feeding routine to get your cats into the right mindset, such as only feeding them at set times a day. "Once your cat is food-motivated, it's easy," she says. "[Clicker training] is all about positive reinforcement. Make it a game for them."
In addition to a clicker, you want to have high-value treats on hand for training. You'll also want to have other supplies relevant to the training game that you are going to play. Some games, for example, use cups to hide the treats and give your pet a new challenge.
Know when to click.
Clicks should be associated with the desired action. "The click tells your cat when they've done something right," Poslun explains. One click equals one treat. So, when your dog gives you a "high-paw," for example, reward him with a click and yummy treat. He will associate the action with good things, the treats, and your praise.
Keep it positive.
Animals don't respond well to negativity. Poslun says that you never want to chastise your pet if she doesn't get the trick or doesn't follow the rules of the game. "They want to win," she says. "So make it easier for them." Otherwise, if the game is becoming too frustrating, your pet might give up and wander off to do something else. Be patient.
Clicker training does not happen overnight. It may take a while before your pet understands that a treat will follow a click, so be consistent with your clicker training. If you can devote an hour or so to clicker training every day, your cat or dog will eventually catch onto the significance of the sound. Your first goal is to train Fido or Fluffy to follow the clicker.
You're not likely to command your pet to do advanced tricks like rolling over or the "meerkat" stance when you first begin training. Like you, your pet will think this whole thing is new. Start with the easy games and work up from there. Take this time to bond with your pet and make it an enjoyable experience.
Increase the difficulty.
Once your pet has mastered the basics, you can increase the difficulty of the challenges. Can he find the treat when there are four cups instead of three? Can he fist bump with each front paw in turn? When you think your pet is ready for more of a challenge, you can modify the games to present more of a challenge. You can also start working on intermediate level puzzles. Your pet will love the attention from the training sessions and get a physical and mental workout that will benefit his overall health.