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Archive for August, 2012

My days tend to be crowded with “productive” things to do: preparing for the upcoming teaching term, going to PTSD treatment, working out at the gym, paying the bills, picking up cat food, revising my new book. So I decided August would be the month I would finally get myself a “fun” project: clicker training.

Clicker training is something I’ve tried once before – a few years ago, as a volunteer at the Animal Rescue League, I went to a one-time seminar on the subject, specifically geared towards training cats for adoptability: acceptable behavior as well as cute tricks. Dogs are known for doing quite well with the clicker; cats are a little more difficult to train, but it’s done. At the time, I brought home my complimentary clicker to see if I could train Hannah to sit on my lap. As soon as I depressed the clicker, however, Hannah flinched at the sound. Some cats need a few clicks to get used to it – pair the sound with a delicious treat and they’re supposed to associate pleasure with the clicker. Not Hannah. So I tossed the clicker, and let Hannah be.

This past June, one of my writing mentors in Washington, D.C. emailed to tell me she was successfully clicker training her two cats. She taught them not only to sit and “come here,” but to do tricks such as standing on their hind legs and raising their front paws. She described how much fun it was for both her and her cats. I thought about Sam, how he cries for me to feed him an hour before mealtime and tries to steal Hannah’s food, and how he gets territorial and aggressive at times when I’m brushing Hannah. I’ve tried to ignore him, put him in a “time-out,” and otherwise not reward the behavior, to no avail. So I thought I could train him and as a result alleviate a growing tension in the garret household.

I bought a new clicker and the training book Naughty No More!, a publication put out by Cat Fancy, which my writing mentor recommended. (Of course when I typed in the title on Amazon, it came up with rather pornographic literature before I finally realized I ought to type in the additional word, “cats,” along with the name of the book.) I also bought two bags of treats, which I tested out on Sam before the arrival of the clicker and training materials – he thought they were scrumptious.

Once the clicker and book arrived, I read the instructions from cover to cover, excited to begin. The book’s foreward discussed the idea behind changing unwanted behaviors through positive reinforcement: “”Clicker training is actually fun for both you and your cat. …It’s a win/win situation for the cat and [his] human family.” Unfortunately, Sam did not make it even to the first trained behavior titled “Please Touch The Target,” because he was terrified of the clicker. When I clicked the clicker and tossed him a treat, he ran faster than I’ve seen him run since he was a kitten, and hid under my bed for the next hour. I thought, ok, perhaps he needs to get used to the sound. No – Sam’s reaction got worse. After the fourth total click (spread out across three days), he acted as if I’d administered an electric shock. As a sort of post-script, the book does say one can use a retractable pen for a more gentle “click” sound, should the cat be “shy” around the clicker, however when I took out a pen Sam took one look at it and ran away to hide for another hour. Hannah, on the other hand, simply sat there watching, as if she was bored.

The next time Sam began to cry for his dinner, I took out the clicker and clicked once. His crying ceased for thirty minutes after that. So I decided to keep the clicker and to use it for the complete opposite reason for which it was made: to deter behavior, not to reward it. I’m not sure how long this will last. Honestly, I hate depressing the clicker, because Sam seems so chagrined when I do.

I have trained Sam to sit, but not with the clicker. When I’m carrying a dish of kibble, Sam meows and quacks and dances around my feet. I tell him “sit” and he circles my legs and taps my calves with his tail. I say it again, “sit” and he lowers his rear and looks up at me, continuing to quack. “Shh,” I say, “no meowing or quacking.” He can hardly contain himself. Finally, when he’s sitting and quiet and almost bursting with delight, I deliver his reward: dinner.

– TLS

Have you tried to train your pets? Share your experiences and other thoughts in the comment box below.

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