Enrich the Lives of Shelter Cats with Clicker Training

by Sharon Kutsop

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If your shelter is looking for fun and different ways to keep volunteers interested in providing enrichment for your cats just as much as your dogs, consider clicker training for your shelter cats! Clicker training is easy enough for inexperienced volunteers and versatile enough that the seasoned folks will be interested, too. Clicker training can teach shy cats to approach the front of the kennel when visitors come by (vital to increasing their adoptability) as well as willingly walking into a carrier or even giving a high five. Think of how impressed your potential adopters will be!

Simon available from Michigan Humane Society MI67

Simon from Michigan Humane Society, which runs the Pawsitive Start program.

Michigan Humane Society has a program called Pawsitive Start which doesn’t target physical fitness, but rather it places focus on the mental health and stimulation of the animals. The idea is that the pets in this program will not only be more attractive to adopters but the animals will be healthy and well-focused, therefore forming a quick bond with their new families.

When an animal is well-stimulated, they also tend to be more engaged with their environment and crave more opportunities to explore, learn and bond – and that can lead to an easier acclimation into the new home.

MHS is kind enough to post some of their Pawsitive Start training videos on YouTube. This video demonstrates a cat who, to the best of their knowledge, has not been introduced to clicker training before. Both “Go to the Mat” and “Look at the Straw” are demonstrated in that video.

As you’ll see, the cats quickly learn that a CLICK means a highly valued food reward is coming. They just need to figure out what they are doing to trigger that treat. For the cat who was being taught to stand on the mat, every time he walked toward the mat he got a treat. The treat is given away from the mat, giving him the opportunity to approach the mat again and have that behavior reinforced.

Mrs. Purrs at Michigan Humane Society MI67

Mrs. Purrs is an adoptable cat residing at Michigan Humane Society.

No matter what trick you choose to teach an animal in your care, the key with clicker training is to break the trick into small, manageable steps. As with all training, this won’t be ideal for every cat in your care. For some cats, the best enrichment you can provide is a quiet, comforting lap to sleep on or a light brushing.

No one knows your adoptable pets better than you, so make your decisions on a case-by-case basis and be sure to have fun. Let us know your experiences and tips for clicker training your shelter cats!