Cat training has often been considered an elusive goal by pet owners who've been conditioned to view cats as "untrainable." Yet many cat owners have found an enjoyable way to train and interact with their pets through the process of clicker training.

So what is clicker training? Clicker training is an easy and fun way to help shape your cat's behavior. The scientific term for the method is operant conditioning - simply put, it means you can take advantage of your cat's natural tendency to repeat an action that has a positive consequence. With clicker training, punishments are not used. You "mark" a desirable behavior with a click, and then reward it with a treat.

The clicker is a small plastic device with a metal strip that makes a clicking sound when it's pressed. The value of the clicking sound is that it is completely distinct within the cat's environment. Unlike the sound of your voice, which your cat hears all the time, the sound of the click becomes a clear form of communication. The click is something that he can uniquely associate with the desired behavior. The treat then immediately follows the click, reinforcing the positive consequences of the behavior.

Cat clicker training definitely requires your patience. Before you begin, look for examples of clicker training videos on the Web, or go through your local bookstore to find guides full of clicker training tips and tricks. Set your goals for cat training, and decide which behaviors you want to encourage, which ones you want to replace, and whether you want to teach your cat a few simple tricks.

The first step is to get your cat used to the sound of the clicker. When you have your cat's attention, give the clicker a click, and follow it immediately with a small morsel of something he loves to eat. Commercial cat treats are ideal for this process. It's important to give just a small taste of something yummy so your cat is left wanting more. You can either toss the treat to the cat, or hand-feed it to him.

Be patient. Some cats will associate the click with the treat almost immediately, while others may be slower to catch on. This process is sometimes referred to as "charging the clicker." Once the clicker is charged, and your cat readily makes the association between click and treat, he's ready for more advanced cat clicker training.

Perhaps the easiest command to teach your cat is to "come" at the sound of the clicker - wherever he is, he'll come out of hiding to retrieve the treat. It's the same principle by which cats learn to come running at the sound of a can opener. And if you have a new kitten that hasn't yet acquired an aversion to the cat carrier, you can use clicker training to get him to enter his carrier on demand.

Some cat owners have successfully replaced clicks with voice commands or visual cues. Once a behavior has been learned, it doesn't have to be rewarded with a treat every time, but should always be accompanied by praise.

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