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Society & Ecology
Sunday, June 22, 2003  
Clicker Training

I started yesterday with using clicker training with a housemate's cat. He is catching on quickly and can now sit on cue.

Some basic principles:

1. All positive reinforcement (no punishment)
2. Partner approach. Equal partners and free choice (the best is when the trainee initiates the sessions, as Parsifal - our previous cat - did, and my new trainee now is doing, after only a day).
3. Brief sessions. Keep it brief and fun. Stop while there is still a good deal of interest from both of you. It works better with brief and frequent sessions rather than long ones.
4. Appropriate reward. Use a reward that works with the trainee - food, praise, etc.
5. Follow nature. Help the trainee learn behavior that is close to natural behavior, especially in the beginning. Sometimes it may work well to just wait for the behavior you are looking for, and click when it occurs. Sometimes it can be induced easily. With a cat, an easy start is to bring food directly over its head so it sits down naturally, and click.
6. Clicker as communication tool. Use a click to communicate a desired behavior. The click is then followed by the reward (the click indicates the exact behavior, and acts as a bridge to the reward). Click whenever a desirable or interesting behavior occur - you can train several behaviors parallel with each other.
7. Keep it fun. If it is fun for both of you, that is a sign that you are on the right path.
8. I have found that it seems easier and quicker to train older animals. They tend to be more grounded and focused, while younger ones are have a more fragmented and shorter attention. With clicker training, old age is no drawback.

The general principles in clicker training are important principles for all learning - for all of us and in all situations...

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