Clicker with treats
Everyone knows cats are independent — and, for the most part, unconcerned with what the people in their lives want them to do. The word “untrainable” comes to mind.

But with an easy-to-learn technique called clicker training, your cat can learn to listen to you — and do tricks. It’s great fun for both you and your cat. And the training can strengthen the loving bond between you. Plus, the exercise training provides the mind and body of your cat can make him healthier, too, especially if he’s a bored indoor cat.

Ready, Set, Click

Here’s what you need:

  • A clicker
  • A target stick
  • A plate of tiny moist treats, such as bits of deli turkey
  • A hungry cat
A clicker is a small plastic box that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s an inexpensive little gadget you can buy at many pet supply retailers. To make the noise, you press down on the metal strip inside the box and quickly release it — click, click!

A target stick helps you focus your cat on what you’re trying to teach him. Targeting is the basic ingredient of almost all cat training. You can buy a target stick online, but it’s easy to make one by attaching a ping-pong ball firmly on the end of a chopstick.

Choose a relatively small, quiet place to work, without too many distractions, and a time when your cat is hungry and active. Start small, with a couple of very short sessions a day, less than five minutes or until your cat loses interest.

Start by teaching your cat that a click means a treat. In the beginning, just click and treat. One click, one tiny treat. Repeat. Again. Soon, your cat will learn that a “click” means a treat and will look to you when he hears the noise. This is the foundation of clicker training. And now you’re ready to move on to three easy tricks.

Touch the Stick

Get your tiny treats, your clicker, and your target stick. Start with the stick very near your cat, just a few inches away, and click and treat for anything that shows movement toward the stick, even just a curious glance as you wave the stick.

Then do it again. And again. Soon, your cat won’t look at the target stick accidentally or out of curiosity but rather to earn that click and treat. When that happens, just wait. Your cat will look and look again. She’ll be confused (where’s my click?!) and then she’ll try something else, such as turn her head toward the stick or even move forward toward the stick. When that happens, click and treat. You’re on your way, shaping your cat’s behavior to get the trick you want.

As each small behavior is understood, let your cat work a little further. Soon she will touch the target for the click. Keep clicking and treating. Once she’s touching the target stick reliably, name the behavior. Call it “touch” or “target,” and then, the second before you click because your cat is going to touch the stick, say the word and click and treat as usual. Do it again and again. Your cat will put the pieces together and soon will touch the stick when you say “touch” or “target” for the click-treat.

At that point, you’ve done it! You’ve taught your cat his first trick. Time to build on that success.


Once your cat knows to follow the target stick on request, you can teach him to twirl.

Get your cat to twirl left by following the target sick, in small increments with each stage rewarded with a click-treat, as before. Add the cue “left spin,” and when that trick is established, do the same thing to the right, cueing “right spin.”

High Five

Start by holding the target stick just a little above your cat’s nose. If you hold it too high, your cat will sit up, but if you put it right above her nose, she’ll naturally reach up with a paw. Click-treat.

Once she’s extending a paw reliably for the click-treat, you can withhold the click until she holds her paw high (or low), and then extend the behavior until she touches your hand with her paw. Add the verbal cue “high five” and you’re done!

Quick Clicking Tips

Things to keep in mind about cat training.

  • Be patient. Different animals work things out at different speeds, depending on their intelligence, confidence, activity level, and the skill of the trainer.
  • Never punish. You can’t teach a cat to work with you by making him fear or dislike you.
  • Keep sessions short. Cats get bored, stressed, and distracted easily.
  • Don’t get frustrated if your cat isn’t interested. Cats will wander away, groom themselves, or generally just blow you off sometimes. Try again later.
  • Have fun! That’s the most important thing of all.
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