Clicker Training for Rehab Behaviors!

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Feta Cat is continuing along about as before. Increasing her dose of Gabapentin has reduced her toe-biting tendencies (thank goodness), and we are continuing to work on heat therapy (quality time with a heating pad) and massage/stretching to loosen up her gimpy back leg.

Talking to the fabulous Nurse Jenn, who helped with Feta’s initial PT appointment, we are indeed going to try “hydrotherapy” with Miss Feta. In other words, I want to teach my cat to swim.

Like most cats, Feta is NOT a fan of water. So, rather than cart her off to PT and completely traumatize her by introducing her to the whole idea all of a sudden (in a loud and dog-smelling environment, no less!), I am working to train her to be less afraid of water and, if possible, associate water with Good Things Happening.

When working with fear and anxiety, I believe very strongly in using positive-only training methods. (I think corrections can be great if used carefully and kindly in certain situations, but areย  counter-productive when dealing with fear-related behaviors, where the key is to cultivate calm and trust.)

So, since there’s not a ton out there on training cats specifically, I’m primarily brushing up on dog training techniques! In particular, I want to train Feta to accept water (and eventually swim) by using clicker training.

If you’re new to the idea of clicker training, this is a silly but informative video explaining what it is and how it works:

This is a great tutorial on how to get started (and using a cat, no less!):

For more detail on how to be the most effective clicker trainer, this video is great (if not especially exciting!):

This video is specific to training to overcome fears. I haven’t figured out the exact protocol I’ll use with the cat + water, but am going to do something similar to this. I think first approaching the bathtub bravely, then being calm in the dry bathtub, then being calm with a trickle of water, etc. I sure am glad this cat is food-motivated!

What I love about positive reinforcement (like clicker training) is that you can really get it to work with any animal! Modern zoos use clicker training to teach their animals how to do things that are needed for their “doctor visits.” I love this video, as an example:

Some people say, “You can’t train cats!” I say, nonsense, if you can train a rhino, you can train a cat!

Do any of you have any training tips to share?

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4 thoughts on “Clicker Training for Rehab Behaviors!”

  1. You are a wealth of information! I really have no training tips. I was able to get my tripawd Mona to sit up on her hind legs like a meerkat. It took her to go up and down twice with a bowl of food, then she grabbed the bowl. She does it all the time now: while I’m preparing her food, to get up higher for a head scratch, for a better look over tall things. She probably figured out that it was a useful skill to have while I did it to exercise her core.

    My other cat loves to go into the bathtub after I shower. Her licks the drops of water. Her also goes into the dry tub to sing. Okay, it’s more of a wail/howl. He must like the echo sound.

    So I have a suggestion in your stages of training that some point you could start with just drops of water. Maybe later with a bit more water for the feet to get wet in case the sound of the trickle of water is scary. Do the PT folks have some ideas?

    I look forward to hearing about Feta’s progress.


    1. Cute! I would love to get Feta doing the “meerkat”! ๐Ÿ˜€ Good idea with the drops of water, maybe as we progress we can have a “wet side” of the tub and a “dry side” and get her to volunteer to walk towards the wet. This will certainly be an adventure…!

  2. I have wanted to clicker train a cat since I went to my first Clicker Expo. I keep adopting dogs that aren’t cat safe so that’s been a no go.

    Clicker training is great. I used to train therapy dogs and shaping is such a great tool when dealing with scary objects. Convincing a cat that water is not lethal might be easier than you think. There are cats out there that do like water. I had a cat who enjoyed swimming with my dogs but I started him in water before he was weaned by “flooding” him. I don’t advocate flooding now as a means of getting over a fear but more of an approach and retreat method with the clicker.

    I look forward to following your adventures.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it’s one of the few things that has increased the confidence of my scaredy-dog who has phobias including spoons, plastic, ceramic bowls, and The Top Stair (all the others are okay though). In fact, my dog enjoys it so much that when he heard me clicking with the cat in another room, he fought his way through the door and over a babygate to come join us! We then did a whole session for DOG KIBBLE (which he usually only eats if he thinks he is in danger of starving to death). I’m a pretty bad trainer and make all sorts of mistakes, but the animals enjoy it, so worst case scenario it’s just one more crazy thing I do to keep them happy ๐Ÿ˜€ I’d love to see pics of your cat swimming with your dogs! That sounds amazing!

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