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Dear Ms. Kitty: Clicker play for cats

May 13, 2013 Updated: May 13, 2013 at 7:30 am
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Dear Readers,

In the last column, I answered a question from a cat guardian who was worried about her kitty being bored while she was at work. I suggested several ways she could keep the cat amused and emphasized the importance of dedicated, interactive play time together.

Now let's continue that discussion and focus on clicker play for cats - a fun training tool for kitties and their guardians. Simply put, clicker play not only enriches your cat's life, it gives guardians a way to deepen the partnership between human and cat.

The three basics of clicker play involve your voice, a clicker (the quieter the better, such as the I-click at store.clickertraining.com/clickers.html) and your cat's favorite treat. For cats, treats are more reliable if they are hungry so it is recommended to train first thing in the morning or shortly before dinner. Wet food works well as a treat (a lick off a spoon) or you can try freeze-dried tuna. Every time you click, you must reward or the learning process stops.

Remember that you aren't forcing behaviors that you want to see - you are reinforcing good behavior that is being offered. All cat people know that you can't push a cat to do anything they don't want. But by using proven techniques, clicker play will give you the tools to reward kitties who stay off the counter, don't sleep on the dining room table and don't dig in the potted plants. Plus, it will help share tricks such as 'sit pretty ' or 'high five. ' How cool is that?

The first step in clicker training is to charge the clicker to let the cat know that the click is connected to the reward. You give the cat a treat and then immediately click so the two are associated. You should only need to do this a few times before the cat understands.

The second step is targeting. Find a small stick, such as a long chopstick or end of a cat teaser, and place it in front of the cat. Most adult cats naturally will lean to sniff the stick. The instant you have nose-to-stick contact, click and treat. You also can include a verbal clue by using the word 'touch ' prior to the cat touching the stick. Do not reward for paw touches, only for nose touches. Targeting is especially useful for persuading cats to move where you want them.

Next, teach 'go to mat. ' Pick any medium-sized, round piece of fabric. Place the mat in front of the cat and as soon as the cat steps on the mat with one foot, click then feed the treat away from the mat by using your target stick. You want the cat to choose to go to the mat, so don't feed it on the mat at first. Then work on two feet, then three and then all four. Once the cat is standing on the mat with all four feet or sitting on the mat, you've learned how to shape a behavior! Mat-trained cats can be moved around by simply moving the mat. You also can add the verbal clue 'go to mat. ' End the session by saying 'release ' and slipping the mat from under the cat.

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Albertson co-manages Happy Cats Haven, a rescue and adoption center at 1412 S. 21st St. Call 635-5000 or visit happycatshaven.org. Email questions to AskingMsKitty@gmail.com.

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