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How it’s done: A marker signal, most often a clicker, is used to pinpoint the exact moment the cat does a desired behavior. The marker signal is followed with a reward. Behaviors that naturally occur, such as a down, may be reinforced in this way and, over time, put on cue. A more complex behavior can also be shaped, or taught in a series of small steps. In some cases, a target stick may be used with the clicker to get specific movement and positioning — for example, when teaching a cat to roll over. Clicker training is generally more hands-off than lure-based training and encourages animals to think out their actions.
Benefits: The precise timing and careful planning of clicker training enables cats to learn more complicated tricks, like turning off the light switch or fetching a particular toy, by breaking them into small, easily mastered steps. Clicker training can also be helpful with fearful or shy cats, as it does not require close contact between human and feline.
Drawbacks: Some cat owners are reluctant to use a clicker for training because they assume that they will need to carry it around with them all the time. But the clicker is used only for teaching new behavior — once the behavior is learned, the clicker can be replaced with a signal, like a word or gesture. Some cats may be fearful of the clicking noise; in this case, quieter options, like a ballpoint pen, can be used in place of the clicker — or you can skip the click entirely and use a verbal cue, like “good” or “yes,” to mark the desired behavior. Some pet owners use the clicker in ways that are not constructive, such as over-clicking and treating the clicker as a toy, not following up every click with a reward or using the click as a form of punishment for unwanted behavior. Any of these uses decreases the clicker’s value and undermines the training. It is important to use the clicker only to mark desired behavior and to follow the click with an immediate reward, in order to reinforce the behavior.
Lure-based training and clicker training can be used used in combination or separately in training, depending on the goal. Whatever style or combination of styles you chose, reward-based training can lead to an increase in communication and bonding between you and your cat.
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