This column highlights some of the great training you and your cat can do together. We’ll start with how to train a foundational behavior, and build up to showing off some of the fun and useful tricks that build on that groundwork. This issue we’re looking at targeting.
Foundational Behavior: Targeting
Targeting is one of the most important foundation behaviors you can teach your cat, because it’s incredibly versatile.
A target can be anything, and your cat can use any part of their body to perform a targeting behavior, but one of the most common examples for cats is using their nose to target the end of a stick. Here’s Lisa Stemcosky’s introduction to using a target stick.
She’s using a clicker to mark every time the cat touches the stick, and then gives them a tiny piece of a favorite treat as a reward. You can find an extendable target stick at almost any pet supply store—some even have built-in clickers.
Other kinds of targeting
Here’s a great example of using shaping to teach a different kind of targeting behavior. In this case, Adi Hovav is training Meep, a visually impaired and deaf cat, to high five, which is just targeting a hand with a paw!
At the beginning, Adi rewards Meep for any movement of her paw, even small ones. As Meep starts to reliably raise her paw when Adi puts out her hand, Adi raises the criteria for getting a reward—Meep now had to raise her paw higher to get the treat. This is shaping the behavior by successive approximations of success. Shaping can be used to teach just about any behavior to any animal, from basics like going to a mat and targeting, to complex heelwork to music routines and circus tricks. To learn more about different kinds of shaping, there are lots of great videos on youtube (most of them feature dogs, sadly!), like this one from Kikopup.
Targeting as communication
Targeting can also be used to help your cat communicate! Here’s Jennifer Catpurr’s video showing how she used targeting to train her cat to ring a bell.
Teaching a cat to ring a bell can be a useful tool as well as an adorable trick; reward your cat with access to an outdoor catio or a favorite wand toy and soon they’ll be ringing anytime they want to express their desires….which has its downsides as well as its benefits!
Got a question about training cats? Something you’d like to see in a future issue? Or maybe you’d like to be featured with your kitty? Leave a comment below!