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Clicker Training for Cats (5/6)

By Paula Garber and Francine Miller

Introducing Cats to Each Other

When introducing cats to each other, clicker training helps boost positive associations between them. © Can Stock Photo/DragoNika
When introducing cats to each other, clicker training helps boost positive associations between them. © Can Stock Photo/DragoNika

In a nutshell, cats should be gradually introduced to each other one sense at a time: first by scent, then by sight, and then physically. Throughout the process, positive associations are built up with the scent, sight, and physical presence of the other cat using food, play, brushing, low-key play—anything the cats enjoy.

When introducing cats, you can use clicker training to help boost positive associations between them and keep them focused on you instead of each other. During scent introductions, click-treat each cat for calmly investigating items with the other cat’s scent on them. You could also have the cats nose target the items. Click-treat for all positive interactions with the “scented” items, including playing with, sitting on, or sleeping on them.

The visual and physical introduction processes are similar in many ways. The visual introduction involves using a physical barrier, such as a baby gate, and a visual barrier like a blanket or large piece of cardboard that is lifted for brief periods. During the physical introduction, the physical barrier is removed for brief periods.

Visual and physical introductions can be tricky because cats communicate using body language, and something as benign-appearing as the cats looking at each other can actually be a sign of impending aggression. Clicker training both cats to play the “Look Game” can prevent this, and it is super easy to do. Simply click-treat the moment one of the cats looks at the other cat. This allows the cats to briefly “check on each other” while ultimately looking to you for reinforcement. If one of the cats stares at the other cat without orienting to you, she is over threshold and you need to make adjustments to help his feel more comfortable, such as moving the cats farther apart.

Also click-treat the cats any time they are calm and relaxed in each other’s presence.

Taken from the article Clicker Training for Cats, first published in BARKS from the Guild, November 2017, pp. 16-23.

About the Authors

Paula Garber holds a master’s in education and is a certified animal training and enrichment professional and certified feline training and behavior specialist. She is also certified in low-stress handling, and pet CPR and first aid, and is pursuing a diploma in feline behavior science and technology from the Companion Animal Sciences Institute. Based in Ossining, New York, she owns and operates LIFELINE Cat Behavior Solutions, is currently chairwoman of PPG’s Cat Committee and is a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also serves on the Cat Protection Council of Westchester in her community.

Francine Miller is an applied animal behavior counselor and associate certified dog behavior consultant (IAABC certified associate) who has 13 years experience treating dogs and cats with behavior problems. She currently offers house calls for behavior consultations throughout San Diego County, California under the business name, Call Ms Behaving, and overnight pet sitting in the area around Carlsbad, California where she resides. She is also the vice chairwoman of the PPG Cat Committee.

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