Dakin Deploys Clicker Training Initiative for Fearful Cats

Clicker training was first introduced at Dakin in 2018 when the organization was selected to participate in Cat Pawsitive Pro, an initiative created by The Jackson Galaxy Project. Several staff members brought previous animal training experience to the table as they began to work with shelter cats.

The goal of training shelter cats during their stay is to provide sensory enrichment and interesting challenges to the cat’s daily life while increasing their appeal and visibility to prospective adopters.

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method used in training animals that involves using a clicker, a small device that makes a distinct 'click', which signals to the animal when they’ve performed a desired behavior. The click sound is followed by a reward, such as a treat, which helps the animal associate the behavior with something positive. This method is commonly used to train dogs, cats, horses, and many other animals. Clicker training can be effective in teaching new behaviors, shaping existing ones, and improving communication between animals and humans.

Recently, staff began clicker training work with a group of cats that came to Dakin from a hoarding situation. The cats were settled into a secure indoor room to keep them out of cages. They were rightfully terrified of the massive change in the life they knew. They didn’t understand humans or why they were in this stressful and confusing place. As time passed, staff and volunteers were careful to associate themselves with positive experiences for the cats. To lessen pressure, a person may enter the space, leave a variety of treats, and leave the area. The brief presence of a human became less scary because nothing bad happened and enjoyable treats were left behind.

These positive interactions became more and more frequent until finally, a clicker was introduced. Staff began with some simple target training. If the cat took the initiative to move toward a waiting hand, there was a click, followed by the swift delivery of a desired treat. In this case, it was Churu that had been generously donated to Dakin by Inaba.

Clicker training, especially in fearful cats with complex backgrounds, has allowed us to further our relationships with them, help them trust people, and adjust to difficult life changes with less stress.

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