The reason I started clicker training my deaf cats was simply to activate them. Cats who are bored start unwanted behavior as they are frustrated. So with two indoor cats I'm always looking for new ways of stimulated them and offer entertainment.With clicker training they have to be very attentive and use their brains to figure out how to get a treat! So I clicker train my cats to stimulate them and to bond with them. But clicker training is more than just fun and games and is a great way to teach your cat some manners, which we all know can be tricky.
One of the big challenges with cats as pets is educating them so that you can peacefully coexist. Deaf cats can make a lot of mess because they don't startle when they knock something over and perhaps they don't even know that they broke something. Most deaf cats are also indoor cats, so they have to use all their energy inside and sometimes that means trouble. People often ask me how you discipline deaf cats and I always laugh and say you don't. Cause I had a really hard time when we fist got Victor and he broke most of the decorations we had around, cause I was always too late.
But how do you discipline cats in general? Well, you can usually stop a cat in what it's doing by shouting out. But this doesn't stop the cat from doing it when you aren't looking. We all know the classic with the cat on the kitchen counter, where we might not want it. So you'll yell at it, when it jumps up and this works. However, you repeatedly catch it up there again, cause it will still do it when you're not around. The cat knows you don't want it there, but that's only a problem for it when you are in the room.
The cat keeps jumping on the kitchen counter because there's something to gain from it. It's interesting up there because the cat knows that it can sometimes find food there and it probably smells nice too. It could be that there's a great view from up there or maybe the cat simply jumps up there cause cats like heights. Maybe you caved in once and gave it a pet while it was up there or maybe it just enjoys getting the attention. Even if it means you are yelling, which it probably doesn't like. So simply yelling at the cat when it does something you don't want is frustrating for both you and it's draining your relationship. Punishment (yelling) isn't an effective way to teach cats something long-term.
You need to reverse the way you're thinking about this. Instead of trying to discipline the cat for bad behaviour, you need to reward good behavior. You can't stop unwanted behaviour but you might succeed in replacing them with better ones. With the kitchen counter issue you of course have to remove as much incentive for the cat to go up there as possible, so it's not so tempting going up there.
Secondly you need to teach the cat to sit somewhere else, where it will be much more rewarding for the cat to be. This is where clicker training comes in handy.
Clicker training cats
The idea behind clicker training is to teach the cat some tricks by using rewards. The clicker is used to mark the exact action that you want your cat to perform. I have been told that the click will later be reward enough for some dogs, but I doubt that this is the case with cats. They don't buy into the "good dog" reward idea, but will probably feel tricked. So don't even try skipping the real treat.
Once the cat has got the basic idea of clicker training, you can start using it as a "parenting" method and get rid of some bad habits. We will get back to this later in this post.
Is it possible to clicker train a deaf cat?
You can train a deaf cat according to the clicker training method, but obviously not with the use of sound. You'll have to replace the clicker with a small flashlight that you click instead. It is not always as efficient as a clicker as you have to angle the light proper, but it's better than nothing. In clicker training you can use voice commands as well (like when you teach a dog to sit, you say sit) and with a deaf cat you won't have that to accommodate the training. So it might not be as easy to clicker train a deaf cat, but it's definitely possible. One reason why it works with deaf cats is that they are very attentive. They are always paying attention to humans, because they rely more on their eyesight and on reading others behavior. They say that a deaf cat is better at keeping eye contact with humans and this is a plus when you are trying to teach them something.
What you'll need to get started with clicker training
1. Clicker/small flashlight
A clicker can be bought in pet stores, but you might want to look in the dog's department, as that's where you'll usually find them. If your cat is deaf you buy a small flashlight instead. The smaller the better. I use one of those that can go in your key chain (see picture). Both the clicker and the small flashlight are very inexpensive.
2. Target stick
A target stick is something to point with. This can simply be a pen or you can use a play wand. I used a straw. The important thing is that you put it away when you are not clicker training. You don't want your cat to get confused.
You'll need to find out what really motivates your cat. What will your cat work for? It's usually its favorite treats. For younger cats it could also be a toy. Only use this special treat or toy to reward your cat when clicker training and it will work even better.
How to clicker train your cat
Start training when your cat might be hungry, so it's very interested in treats. Show the cat that a click means it gets a treat. Simply do that by clicking and giving a treat. Repeat this a couple of times, so the cat associate the sound or light with the reward. When the cat gets this concept you can move on and use your target stick. Hold out the target stick and wait for the cat to touch it whether it uses it's nose or a paw. As soon as there's contact with the cat and the target stick you click and reward. Don't stick it in the cats face, just hold it steady and wait and let the cat figure it out by itself. When it smells like treats and you are remaining passive, the curious cat will investigate, so it won't take long. This simple exercise doesn't serve any other purpose than teaching the cat the basics of clicker training and it's very hard to fail. Here's some footage from our very first clicker training session.
On day 1 you don't need to do more than this exercise. A training session doesn't have to last more than 5 minutes as cats are not very good at keeping concentration for longer periods of time. 3 minutes it's plenty of time for the cat to catch on to something, especially if you do this daily. A cat can also eat a lot of treats in under 5 minutes and as the tummy gets full the cat looses focus.
One way to keep the cat interested is to change between different exercises. So here's some more things you can do when clicker training your cat.
Follow the stick
When the cat understands that touching the stick releases a reward, you can start moving the target stick around. First you just make the cat walk a few steps and then you can make it jump onto different surfaces. In this video we are jumping from chair to chair, after the target stick. I'm tapping the chair I want the cat to jump on and when he jumps I click the flashlight and reward him with a treat.
This is not a beginner exercise, but maybe something you can try a week into the training. By now the cat knows what is about to happen when it sees the clicker, target stick and bag of treats! So it's full of expectations and is just waiting to get started. So when you just stand there, ready with your clicker device and nothing happens, it will eventually extend a paw. That's when you carefully grab or touch the paw with your hand. Click and reward. Now offer your flat hand and wait for the cat to touch it. It doesn't have to be a full on high-five in the beginning. Reward any contact between your hand and the cats paw. Here's some clips from Victors first training session with high-five.
Not bad for a deaf cat of nearly 4 years who recently started clicker training, huh? If Victor can learn this, I'm sure you can teach your cat a thing or two as well. It only took a couple of training sessions with this and now Victor offers his paw all by himself.
Push the button
Ronja is better with the button than with the high fives. This button is part of a treat dispenser made for dogs. So unfortunately she doesn't push the button hard enough to release a treat from the dispenser. By using clicker training, Ronja has learned that pushing the button means she gets a treat.
Clicker training for better habits
I'm one of those people who don't mind cats on the kitchen counter, when I'm not using it myself. But I find it very irritating when they walk around there when I'm preparing food. Ronja also has a habit of lying in the middle of the kitchen floor when I'm cooking and I constantly trip over her.
So we have used clicker training to minimize these annoying habits. We have trained that the cats to sit on a chair when food is being prepared. They can still see what it going on in the kitchen from here, but they are out of my way.
To do this I have clicked and rewarded when they are sitting on the chair. Then I slowly increased the time between the clicks, so that they learn to wait and I can actually get some work done.
It takes some time and you should probably start when simply making a sandwich or something, cause you are going to have your hands full! I haven't been consequent enough with my training and still I've seen improvement. So if you stick to it, you can close to eliminating this unwanted behaviour with the aid of clicker training.
Victor use to eat all his meals from a plate on the kitchen counter. He simply couldn't wait for me to serve it. Now he sits and waits on a chair next to the counter. It makes it a lot easier for me to arrange the food, especially if I need to put medicine in. Also I'm not risking him pushing the plate over the edge when he is done. We lost a lot of plates this way.
Upsides with clicker training
There's many reasons to start clicker training your cats:
- By activating your cat with clicker training, you'll avoid a bored cat and the unwanted behaviours that comes with a frustrated cat
- Your cat will find you more interesting
- You'll learn a new way of communicating with your cat
- You'll realise how smart your cat actually is
- You can teach your cat tricks to impress your guests
- You finally have an effective way of teaching your cat better manners
If you want to know more about Clicker Training.
I hope that these instructions made sense to you, but of course I can't touch on all subject of clicker training in one blog post. So if you want to know more, I highly recommend the book "Clicker Training for Cats" by Karen Pryor.
Use YouTube as inspiration
There's many different clicker training video for cats on YouTube. Here's a video with Jane Pryor where she shows how to get started with training your cat.
You can check out my clicker training playlist as well. It's not instructional, but maybe you'll find it inspirational?
Beware of the fat cat!
Keep in mind that your cat will eat a lot more treats when you start clicker training. So you might want to cut down on something else or use treats that aren't too fattening, to keep the weight down.
I hope that you are inspired to start training your cat after reading this long post.
Have fun cliker training your cat![/mp_span] [/mp_row]