People often ask when to start puppy training, and training a kitten or cat training is no different. Pets can learn at any age. January is “Train Your Dog Month” so it’s a great time to revisit clicker training. Clicker training pets offers a great way to teach pets to learn, think, and please you. Pets—and people—will repeat behaviors that reward them and naturally avoid behaviors that offer no benefit. Owners don’t have to be master dog trainers to use this technique, and dogs and cats learn quickly how to behave. You can even trick train cats!
Everyone wants a polite puppy. But how does it happen? Polite behavior doesn’t develop overnight, and what’s cute in Junior-Dawg can become a problem when that 10-pound baby turns into a 60+ pound dynamo. Just imagine the potty accidents from a hundred-pound adult dog! (House training tips here.)
It may be cute for a little pup or dog to jump up. But if jumping up knocks down and hurts a kid (or Grandma!) that needs to be addressed. Learn about dealing with jumping up here.
Many folks delay training until it becomes a problem. But actually, puppies (and kittens) are little sponges that soak up lessons with little effort. Clicker training pets turns it into a game! An added benefit is the puppy or kitten figures how that HE controls the outcome. That’s empowering for the baby (or adult pet) and encourages him to think of ways to get you to do what he wants by guessing the good behavior you’ll reward. It also teaches your dog or cat to enjoy and eagerly look forward to training lessons because they become a game and way for you to communicate with each other.
When to Start Puppy Training, Kitten Tricks & Adult Pet Training
My dog Magic learned using clicker training very quickly. By ten weeks of age, he performed “puppy push-ups” (sit-down-sit-down) on the local TV station. Bravo-Dawg also learned very quickly.
Seren-Kitty and Karma-Kat also learned to come when called, sit on command, and wave (and walk nicely on a leash!). Learn more about cat training here. Your puppy or kitten can learn just as easily, and in fact, dogs and cats are sponges eager for new things to learn. Give them a constructive way to spend all that energy.
What Is Clicker Training Pets?
Clicker training lets your puppy or kitten stumble upon the behavior you want him to do. He will perform many “wrong” behaviors before he accidentally sits—and gets a reward. The pet figures out that he’ll get a reward if he can guess—and perform—the behavior you want. The more wrong behaviors he tries, the better he learns what won’t work. You don’t use commands or physical direction with clicker training, it’s all pet motivated, so the puppy or kitten never gets punished—but he’s only rewarded for the right choice.
Here’s how it works. Instead of waiting for your puppy or kitten to do something wrong, catch him doing something right. Mark that behavior with a distinctive signal so the pet understands that action (the sit, for example) is what you like. You can use a special word like YES! or a signal like the click from a clicker. The clicker simply explains to the pet he was right. Then reward him with praise, treats, a toy. Choose whatever floats your pet’s boat and reserve the most prized reward for these training sessions.
Explaining the “Click” When Clicker Training Pets
To speed up the process, trainers recommend you load” the clicker so that the pup quickly identifies the sound with a forthcoming reward. Here’s how to do that.
- Fill a saucer with smelly treats. Liver bits, cheese, slices of hotdog or other strong scented morsels work best. My cats love cream cheese. Here are some other safe people foods for dogs. This isn’t about filling his tummy, so the tidbits shouldn’t be bigger than the tip of your little finger. You want the pup to appreciate the smell and taste and want more.
- Get comfortable on the floor with the dish within reach but so the pup can’t access. Get a treat ready in one hand with the clicker in the other.
- CLICK the clicker, and when the pet’s ears twitch or he otherwise comes to investigate, immediately give the treat. He won’t know why or care at first—it’ll be all about getting that next taste.
- Repeat the sequence over and over. Always click first, then treat. Click-treat. And click-treat. Again, click-treat. Be sure he has a chance to swallow before proceeding to the next click-treat.
- Very quickly, pets should look at your treat hand as soon as the click sounds. Eureka! That means his furry little brain has connected the dots and he understands that CLICK signals a treat coming for him.
Pet Communication: Saying YES!
Once the pup understands what the click-treat sequence is about, you can use the signal to point out the behavior you like and reward with the treat. You simply wait for the puppy or kitten to plant his tail in a sit, for example, and immediately click-treat.
NOTE: Some sound-sensitive pets may find the clicker too loud. You can use the “snick” sound of a ball-point pen, or use your tongue to “click.” The sound should be unique and used specifically for training to cue your pet.
The pup may look confused. He’ll come to you, perhaps paw your leg, run around, trying to figure out what made the “click” sound. When he again sits, click/treat . . . and watch the wheels turn. After only two-to-four repeats, many pets figure out they control if they get a treat by their behavior.
Pets understand cause-and-effect (their action makes you click-treat) very quickly. Before long, your baby will volunteer all sorts of behaviors in an attempt to make you click and give a treat. He figures out that he can turn you into a treat-dispenser once he figures out what you want.
Pets trained using clicker training spend time doing just that–trying to please you. Don’t you perform better when you anticipate being paid for a good effort?
Your turn–how do YOU train your pets? Do you use clicker training? Do tell!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!