Clicker Training Basics


Clicker training is not your Grandpa’s obedience training. You don’t force the cat to do anything. You partner with your cats so they choose to do the behavior instead of being coerced, which makes them think and learn for themselves.

That’s why we call it Clicker Play. It’s not about obedience. It’s about learning. And fun!

If you’ve ever shaken a treat bag and your cat comes running, you already know the basics!

The click marks the behavior, telling the cat exactly what you’re paying them for, like capturing a moment with a camera. But it also stops the behavior.

If you click, you must treat: that’s the contract, even if you click at the wrong time.

The first step is to charge the clicker by giving the cat a treat and immediately clicking. In about 10 clicks, you can connect the sound to a reward, which tells them, That’s it! I’ll pay you for exactly that thing you just did!

Metal box clickers may be too loud for some cats. For shyer cats, try a softer plastic clicker. You can also make the sound with your mouth. A mouth click helps free up your hands for treats and props, but must be a different sound than any you use to get your cat’s attention.

Another big difference between training cats and training dogs is that most dogs are very food-oriented. Most cats, being free-fed, are not.

It’s a biological advantage for a solitary hunter like a cat to be suspicious of new food. Most modern cats are fed the same thing every day, so this natural tendency is reinforced. Most cats are also fed too much for their sedentary lifestyles.

We recommend simply letting the food run out overnight and training in the morning when the cat is more food-motivated, or vice versa. Putting your cat on a schedule for feeding can also make training more rewarding…and keep your kitty from getting overweight.

Finding the right treat is very important in training cats. You want your cat to really look forward to the treat, like you and your favorite dessert!

You can use commercial cat treats, but cats are carnivores so pure meat treats are best for them. Feed as little as you can get away with so your cat doesn’t fill up too quickly or have digestive upsets, especially when training a kitten. Remember to subtract some food from their regular meal so you don’t add too many calories!

Clicker trainers have 3 main ways of getting the behaviors they want: CAPTURING, SHAPING or LURING.

  • Capturing is the best way to get a behavior. Simply wait for the cat to do the behavior, like waiting for a standing cat to relax into a Sit, then click and treat the instant its rear hits the floor.
  • Shaping is used for more complex behaviors. You reward a succession of small behaviors that lead to a bigger one. If we were to train a Spin with shaping, we might click/treat for a glance in one direction, then a look, then a partial turn, then a further turn, then a full turn.
  • Luring is holding the treat so the cat can see/smell it and move toward the treat, into the behavior. This is great for jumpstarting a behavior but needs to be faded within a few clicks or the cat will just be following the food, not actually learning a behavior.

Clicker play is quiet at first. The click tells them what to do, not your voice. There’s no point in barking commands at someone who hasn’t been taught yet what the command means. When you know the cat is voluntarily doing the behavior 8 times out of 10, you can add a voice or visual command and fade the click.



  • chicken or turkey baby food (Beechnut is best–no cornstarch), fed on a spoon
    • cats must be taught to eat from the spoon
  • squeezable treats like Churu or Squeeze Ups (more additives)
  • bits of cooked chicken or fish
    • can be messy
  • DIY tuna or salmon jerky
  • bonito flakes for cats who like fish
  • freeze dried meat (if your cat loves this, check the dog section for more affordable buying options
  • commercial treats like Temptations, Luvsome or Greenies pockets, broken into small bits
  • bits of toasted nori seaweed
  • bits of cheese (may cause tummy upsets)


  • Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors through Positive Reinforcement /
    Marilyn Krieger
  • Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals / Karen Pryor
  • Animals Make Us Human / Temple Grandin

Here are more helpful how-tos:
Clicker Play for Cats

Clicker Training Behaviors for Cats

Clicker Training Cheat Sheet

Clicker Training for Shelter Cats

Tuna Jerky Recipe

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