Cat Training: Finding the right reinforcer

IMG_20141029_171605Cats, like dogs, can be easily trained. It is all about finding the proper motivator for your specific cat. What can you give your cat that will reinforce that behavior, or cause that behavior to increase in frequency? Some cats may be very motivated by food while others may be more motivated by play, praise or physical attention. In my house, Cecilia is motivated by food (especially cooked chicken and hard food treats) and play while Macy is motivated more by praise and attention.

In order to determine what motivates your cat consider their personality. Is your cat extremely affectionate? If so, try reinforcing behaviors with praise and petting. Is your cat high energy? If so, try reinforcing behavior with short bouts of play. Does your cat often break into bags and steal treats? If so, try reinforcing with their favorite foods. Considering what your cat enjoys will help you understand what motivates them. Often new trainers focus too much on reinforcing behaviors with food treats, but some cats can be picky about food and many cats seem to be more motivated by activity, such as play.

IMG_20150717_114321In fact, while I was leading a recent kitten clicker training class we found (after a personality assessment) that 75% of the kittens were more motivated by play than by food. Next time you have issues training your kitty with treats try reinforcing with short bouts of play or petting instead.

Raising the bar: Cat training made simple!

Check out this video oDSC_0027f my cat, Cecilia, learning how to jump over a bar. Training cats (or any animal for that matter) is extremely simple!  I used principles of positive reinforcement to train this behavior. The behavior was trained in approximately 15 short sessions (lasting 5 minutes or less). Below is a list of terms used in the video. Cecilia also knows how to sit, stand on her back legs, follow a target, give me a high-paw (high 5!)… and more in progress! Feel free to ask any questions!

Raising the bar: Teaching a cat to jump over a bar using operant conditioning 

Terms used
Operant conditioning: Learning through consequences (I jump the bar, I get a reward)
Positive reinforcement: Adding something to the environment (positive- in this case food & praise used as reinforcers) to increase a behavior (reinforcement).
Clicker: A conditioned reinforcer (conditioned= classically associated with reinforcers before training).
Hand cue: A conditioned stimulus that Cecilia knows to target.
FR 1: Fixed Ratio 1, for every 1 bar jumping behavior she receives 1 reinforcer
VR 5: Variable Ratio 5, she receives 1 reinforcer an average of every 5 times she performs the behavior (better for maintaining a behavior).