Touch sticks are available to buy, and used a lot by dog trainers, but they can be expensive. Instead, I use board pointers; these are like extending pens, and often have a magnet on the end. Alternatively, you can use an old feather stick but put something on the end to make it obvious to your cat, tin foil will do. I do use a touch stick originally for dogs because it has a ball on the end and makes things so obvious to the cat and the trainer.
Your Cat is Never Wrong
The golden rule with clicker training is that the cat is never wrong, so if you make a mistake or cause the cat to make a mistake it is your fault, stop training and think about how you can put things across to the cat easily. The best way to learn is never fail, failure causes problems to all animals including humans, get it right every time and you and your cat will improve quickly.
You will see in the action clip that Goldie touches my hand instead of the stick when it is moved to the cupboard door, but I still rewarded her, this was my fault for trying to rush the learning process.
Cats do Not Understand English
Taking many training classes every week helps me to understand a lot more about our pets, and their owners. I find most dog owners have no idea how their dog thinks or how to communicate with them. Owners say things like “I pointed to the spot I wanted the dog to go and he ignored me” or “I keep telling him to sit and he ignores me”. Dogs and cats do not understand English nor are they able to decipher our gestures. How would you respond if someone was yelling orders at you in Japanese?
The best way for our pets to learn is by giving the command and hand signal as they make the correct action. For example I will put out my hand flat when the cat puts her paw on my hand, I give the word Paw. It is possible in this way to teach many different words because they learn to associate the action with the word.
The touch stick should be put through the fingers so the only part the cat can see is through the fingers, this way the cat always touches the end and never makes a mistake, only when your cat is following and touching happily would you put the touch stick a little further through your hand.
Every time the cat touches the end of the stick click and reward.
When the cat is confident with the touch stick it is simple to get you cat to do things, like shutting a door or putting a paw on a button, such as a kettle, but placing the touch tick on the spot you want to cat to touch.
Most training exercises are taught from the end. In technical terms this is referred to as ‘reverse chaining’, this method works really well with people and adapts well to our pets. So bearing in mind that you do not want your cat to fail, you teach the end of shutting a cupboard door first.
Let’s imagine we want to train the cat the shut a cupboard door. If we start with the cupboard door open the cat not only has to reach up to touch but also to push, you are inviting failure by expecting your cat to do two things at once. So the first step is to start with the cupboard door closed, and put the touch stick on the door at the right level for your cat to reach up with paws. Most cats take to this action really quickly and confidently put paws on the door. I start with a light weight cupboard door, and then open the door slightly an inch at most so the cat gets used to slight movement when she touches. From that point it is slowly opening the door an inch at a time.
Rules to Remember When Clicker Training Your Cat
Never set your cat up for failure. Stop talking when you are training, you only need to give one word commands just once as the cat is carrying out the action you require.
The big problem with most cats is they are very sensitive to surroundings, for example you may have your cat touching the stick in the kitchen but moving to another room will usually set you back, so always train in the most familiar area, then try in different surroundings.
This article was originally published on the popular Siamese Cat Breeder Blog. As the article is equally relevant to any breed of cat we decided to publish it here on UK Cat Breeders.