By Jacqueline Munera
So many people still believe cats cannot be trained, when in fact most cats respond extremely well to positive reinforcement based techniques!
Cats in a shelter or rescue type situation particularly crave the enrichment and empowerment clicker training can provide. However, I have found that many of my novice shelter volunteers have a difficult time managing the training paraphernalia during sessions with the cats. The Clik Stik is the perfect solution!
The Clik Stik is a telescoping target stick that has a clicker built into the handle to make training sessions fun and easy. The telescoping feature makes it extremely useful when working with shelter cats that you can’t get very close to, either because they are fearful or because they are likely to become aggressive.
For these cats, you can start with the target stick fully extended for a bit of distance work through a kennel opening or while safely standing up. Retract the target stick as needed to fade the target out or to make it easily transportable. The Clik Stik also has an attached clip that can be used to hook it on your pants or bait bag to keep it accessible while moving between activities in the shelter.
Additionally, the plastic and metal material makes the Clik Stik easy to clean and sanitize between sessions with different cats. This is extremely important for infection control in a shelter or rescue environment. It also makes it simple to clean if we put a bit of soft food on the end of the target for a fearful cat to taste. One of my favorite features is that the click sound is less startling and scary than many other clickers, which makes it great for working with sound sensitive, anxious or fearful learners.
So what do we actually teach the shelter cats to do with the Clik Stik and targeting? Just about everything! Most cats are naturally inquisitive and will sniff a new object, such as the target stick. When the cat sniffs the little green ball target, click and then give the cat a reward such as a delicious treat, a few strokes of a brush, play with an interactive toy or some scratches in their favorite spot. Find out what reinforcement the cat will appreciate before beginning the training sessions and the cat is always allowed to dictate what the payment is.
Start target training in an environment as distraction-free as possible and not so soon after mealtime that the cat is not interested in working.
- Present the target ball about nose level and approximately an inch away from the cat.
- Click when the cat approaches the target with his nose; remove the target as you give reinforcement.
- Deliver the food treat in a manner that builds on the behavior you want from the cat.
For example, you can toss the treat a little bit away from the target so that the cat learns to re-approach the target from different directions. This is also a great way to deliver a food treat and relieve social pressure on an anxious or fearful cat by guiding them out of your proximity. The cat can then choose to approach the target again while feeling secure that an escape route is always open. Or you can deliver the treat directly to the cat’s mouth while they keep their body in the position you want, such as curving towards the right in the beginning stage of a spin behavior.
Be sure not to try and “help” your cat out by moving the target towards him once you have presented the target. This can actually sabotage your session and make it harder for your cat to learn the goal behavior. Keep your initial sessions short and try to stop while the cat is still interested in the target so that he is more motivated to participate in the next session.
When the cat is reliably touching the target with her nose, you can gradually increase the difficulty by presenting the target at a variety of distances and heights, as well as training through assorted distractions in the environment. When you and the cat are both ready, build your foundation target into more complex behaviors such as jump, spin, and sit-pretty.
Sit-pretty is one of the easiest and cutest behaviors to introduce after the basic nose target is solid. Hold the extended target a bit above the cats head while she is sitting. Then click as the cat raises her front feet up into the sit-pretty pose. Practice a few times before you start to shorten the target stick, and add a verbal cue or introduce the preferred visual cue when the cat is reliably performing the sit-pretty.
A creative cue can change the simplest behavior into a spectacular display of the cat’s intelligence, thereby increasing the cuteness quotient and potentially helping the cat get adopted!
The Clik Stik is the perfect tool for training an endless variety of behaviors that allow cats to be active participants in their own care. This is a great way to reduce stress on humans and cats!
What behaviors have you taught your pet with a Clik Stik?
Jacqueline Munera is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and is co-instructor of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute’s Diploma of Feline Behavior program. Jacqueline presents nationally and internationally on a variety of cat training and behavior topics. As owner of Positive Cattitudes, Jacqueline Munera coaches human clients on how to live in harmony with their cats and dogs, while encouraging people to push the boundaries of what they think cats are capable of. She is especially interested in promoting positive attitudes about cats and is passionate about using operant conditioning techniques to improve the lives of cats everywhere. You can see some of her cat training videos on her channel at www.youtube.com/user/PositiveCattitudes .