Clicker training with play as reward

srpjuly

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Hello all,

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with clicker training using play as the reward. I have an extremely play motivated cat (more so than food I would say) and am trying to clicker train her to accept having her claws trimmed. I have a "jackpot" toy that I try to use with her — she is absolutely obsessed with it, meows for it all day and best of all is not aggressive with it so she's not usually too amped up to touch when playing. I've seen multiple articles on clicker training mention that you can use play as the reward instead of food, but there are surprisingly little resources that explain this further!

I try to load the clicker with 10-15 second play sessions, then do 10 seconds as a reward for each successful click. However, regardless of her not scratching me in between play sessions, she is still in "play mode" and bats at me when I try to touch her paws. I also fear she might not understand what I'm trying to teach her when she's in this mindset. Does anyone have tips for how to better load the clicker, differentiate between play and training stints, and make sure she understands what we're doing? Or is it better to just play with her to get her energy out and try to use food once her play needs have been satisfied?

Thanks!
 

iPappy

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Personally, I pair the clicker with food so I don't have much experience in using toys. If you can clip her nails using food, how about having a big lengthy play session after her nails are done as a jackpot? That way she can get as amped up as she wants, and learn to remain calm while her nails are being done. (I would start by clipping one or two nails with food, then release and play, then gradually build up to clipping all 4's.)
 
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srpjuly

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Personally, I pair the clicker with food so I don't have much experience in using toys. If you can clip her nails using food, how about having a big lengthy play session after her nails are done as a jackpot? That way she can get as amped up as she wants, and learn to remain calm while her nails are being done. (I would start by clipping one or two nails with food, then release and play, then gradually build up to clipping all 4's.)
That's good advice! I think she would like that as a reward for "ok we're done for now". Wish me luck, haven't been able to get past a very gentle paw hold this whole time so hopefully she'll eventually let me press out the claws and then clip.
 

daftcat75

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This sounds entirely too confusing for the cat to shift her from play to calm to play to calm.

Using play as a reward seems antithetical to clicker training. I thought the whole point of the clicker was to focus your cat. Whereas play is focused, it is focused on something other than the behavior you are trying to teach her; namely remaining calm long enough to clip a claw or three. Most cat guardians will tell you that if they can clip two or three claws before losing their cat's patience, then that's a success. They simply make it a regular part of their love and fuss and eventually all claws get trimmed in their own time.

I'm no expert on training. But it was my understanding that the jackpot reward is used infrequently to motivate them to try harder. "What did I do to earn that?" Also, I would expect a jackpot to be more effective at the end of a session than in the middle of a session. Once they've hit the jackpot, I would expect them to be less motivated for that session. I would use kibbles or treats to reward within a session and use play for the reward at the end of a session. So maybe you click, and she comes and that's a treat. Put the clippers down in front of her and teach her whatever "ready" behavior you want before you begin the nail trimming--maybe that's laying down or maybe that's getting into your lap. Whatever works for the both of you. But this would be a step that I would work on before moving onto nail trimming itself. Get her used to the idea that when the clippers come out, she needs to go to her calm space for however long she can remain there. I would not expect her to stay calm for an entire paw's worth of claws much less four. But that's something you can work on over her lifetime. When you've gotten about as many claws clipped as she's going to allow, you can end your training session with a play session. In between, you might do a click-treat reinforcement each time you clip a nail. As she gets better at this, you may make that reinforcement more intermittent, e.g. sometimes she gets a treat with each claw clipped and sometimes only after the second or third. Intermittent rewarding can be even more useful to training as jackpotting. If you reward each claw clipped, you're going to have a fat Garfield at the end of each session. Intermittent rewards tell them they have to work for it.

So yeah, I would use food or treats to keep her focus during a training session. Then you could certainly use a play reward at the end of a session when you no longer need her focus and she can let loose.
 

Margot Lane

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The Netflix movie “The Mind of a Cat” has a long segment on clicker training. I personally think clickers are annoying and cats are cats, but can see why people might need to do this.
 

iPappy

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That's good advice! I think she would like that as a reward for "ok we're done for now". Wish me luck, haven't been able to get past a very gentle paw hold this whole time so hopefully she'll eventually let me press out the claws and then clip.

If you're familiar with your vet staff, a tech might be able to give you a crash course on nail trimming too. Some of the technicians are nail trimming ninjas!
I haven't worked with my cats much anymore, but when Lila was a kitten I really had fun doing clicker stuff with her. I've seen people teach a lot of cool stuff to cats. My Papillon that just recently passed away achieved performance championships using mostly clicker. It really amazes me how well it can work, but learning my job in the mix was hard at first.
I'm working with my current Papillon on some training and I found out that using toys to teach was not working with her. She gets too amped up and can't think. I used food to actually teach her what I wanted, and once she understood and was doing it reliably, I'll bring out a toy to encourage her to do it faster. I really think saving the toy as a final reward might be your best bet.
 

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Personally, I pair the clicker with food so I don't have much experience in using toys. If you can clip her nails using food, how about having a big lengthy play session after her nails are done as a jackpot? That way she can get as amped up as she wants, and learn to remain calm while her nails are being done. (I would start by clipping one or two nails with food, then release and play, then gradually build up to clipping all 4's.)
I'm going to try this with my Lulu. Ash will let me trim his nails no problem but Lulu is a squirmer...and she loves food, so...:runningcat:
 

lucyrima

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Hi, it bothers me a bit... if the cat's used to playing with a special toy and then it gets taken away or only used on 'clicks', doesn't that take away the fun? Training a dog to do a new behaviour is one thing, but I'm not sure about this one - wouldn't want the cat to feel tricked or something, or do I have the sequence wrong?
 

iPappy

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Hi, it bothers me a bit... if the cat's used to playing with a special toy and then it gets taken away or only used on 'clicks', doesn't that take away the fun? Training a dog to do a new behaviour is one thing, but I'm not sure about this one - wouldn't want the cat to feel tricked or something, or do I have the sequence wrong?
Not necessarily :) Everyone has their own training "style" and finding what works for you and the pet you're working with is a big part of the equation.
My older house cats don't really play with toys, but will sometimes get into a wand, but only if I pick it up and make it move. Lila will still play with all her toys and carry them all through the house. But she especially loves it when I toss her toys for her, so that's a great reward for her. With Livie, my dog, she lives with a toy in her mouth but nothing is better to her than when I start a game of tug or fetch. The toys are available to them at all times, but the real reward to them seems to be when I grab up the toy and start a game between us. So I think a cat who loves a toy but enjoys the owner playing with them with that toy could keep their toy all the time, and the owner could use that game of fetch or toss as a high value reward. This has just been my experiences, though.
 

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I gave away my clicker, along with the training book.. I just wasn't any good with it. My friend that I gave it to, well his cat does the neatest things on her own. She can climb a step ladder, sit up like a prarie dog (DH and I call this sitting up like a ground hog, but it's the same). Daisy is offended if someone enters the house and doesn't give her a kiss-kiss (touch noses with her). Elsie will meow if I say, "Did you say meow?" I didn't teach them any of this. They picked it up on their own by habit. Most all my cats know something special, especially since they get praised because we think it's cute, but I was hopeless with the clicker. :disappointed:
 

iPappy

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I gave away my clicker, along with the training book.. I just wasn't any good with it. My friend that I gave it to, well his cat does the neatest things on her own. She can climb a step ladder, sit up like a prarie dog (DH and I call this sitting up like a ground hog, but it's the same). Daisy is offended if someone enters the house and doesn't give her a kiss-kiss (touch noses with her). Elsie will meow if I say, "Did you say meow?" I didn't teach them any of this. They picked it up on their own by habit. Most all my cats know something special, especially since they get praised because we think it's cute, but I was hopeless with the clicker. :disappointed:
Don't feel bad. :) Goof taught himself to come when called, I could recall that cat from clear across the yard and he'd stop on a dime, turn to me and come running. I didn't train this, and I didn't use a clicker or any treats, he just did it and all I offered him in return was lots of pets, picking him up, "good boys", etc. I never used a clicker with him but he taught himself to sit up after watching Lila do it, and Lila was trained with a clicker but that clicker has been faded out for sitting up for years. It's obvious you and your cats know what you're doing.
Oh, and Sarah trained me to shake a treat bag in panic if I can't find her. She's almost 15 and to this day I have no idea where she hides, but she materializes out of thin air when I pick up a bag of treats. I'm not the only trainer in this house. :lol: :lol2:
Edit: Tag was taught a lot things as a puppy with a clicker. He loved that sound because it meant he won a prize. Until his last weeks, if I would click him for randomly doing something, he would do this incredibly cute little hop into the air, then sit and gently take a treat from my hand. I wasn't training him. I was just making him happy.
 

Meowmee

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Hello all,

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with clicker training using play as the reward. I have an extremely play motivated cat (more so than food I would say) and am trying to clicker train her to accept having her claws trimmed. I have a "jackpot" toy that I try to use with her — she is absolutely obsessed with it, meows for it all day and best of all is not aggressive with it so she's not usually too amped up to touch when playing. I've seen multiple articles on clicker training mention that you can use play as the reward instead of food, but there are surprisingly little resources that explain this further!

I try to load the clicker with 10-15 second play sessions, then do 10 seconds as a reward for each successful click. However, regardless of her not scratching me in between play sessions, she is still in "play mode" and bats at me when I try to touch her paws. I also fear she might not understand what I'm trying to teach her when she's in this mindset. Does anyone have tips for how to better load the clicker, differentiate between play and training stints, and make sure she understands what we're doing? Or is it better to just play with her to get her energy out and try to use food once her play needs have been satisfied?

Thanks!
I used clickers years ago with my beloved four kitties who passed now. I had started training them just with food to do many things, touch my paw, hi5, give a paw, touch my nose, sit, lay down, and Byron even jumped through a hoop.

I don’t remember how I used the clicker then but it was in combination with food treats. It really didn’t seem to work if I just tried the clicker by itself and rewarded with praise, so I stopped using it.

I know people use them for training but I have never really understood what the point is. None of my cats who were not really food motivated were able to be trained.

I have not tried with my current kitties, although I bought another clicker and I had planned to train Quinn. He however is a very dominant Siamese and he has no interest in it. I did train him to fetch mousies etc. when he was a kitten. All I did was show him a few times, the mouse threw it and I said bring it to mom. At first he would not do it so I gave up but then about a month later he did it on his own, so he must’ve remembered. I should probably try with Merlin Encina especially Merlin because he’s very food motivated. I should probably try with Merlin and Zena, especially Merlin because he’s very food motivated. I did train Merlin not to bite and to sit and stay and I trained Zena just sit and stay, but they won’t do it consistently.
 

lucyrima

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That's the thing - consistency, but then cats have always been more to themselves than us... very much not dogs, tho' I often wonder about the trained cats on TV that I've seen and wonder if they've had lobotomies!
 
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srpjuly

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This sounds entirely too confusing for the cat to shift her from play to calm to play to calm.

Using play as a reward seems antithetical to clicker training. I thought the whole point of the clicker was to focus your cat. Whereas play is focused, it is focused on something other than the behavior you are trying to teach her; namely remaining calm long enough to clip a claw or three. Most cat guardians will tell you that if they can clip two or three claws before losing their cat's patience, then that's a success. They simply make it a regular part of their love and fuss and eventually all claws get trimmed in their own time.

I'm no expert on training. But it was my understanding that the jackpot reward is used infrequently to motivate them to try harder. "What did I do to earn that?" Also, I would expect a jackpot to be more effective at the end of a session than in the middle of a session. Once they've hit the jackpot, I would expect them to be less motivated for that session. I would use kibbles or treats to reward within a session and use play for the reward at the end of a session. So maybe you click, and she comes and that's a treat. Put the clippers down in front of her and teach her whatever "ready" behavior you want before you begin the nail trimming--maybe that's laying down or maybe that's getting into your lap. Whatever works for the both of you. But this would be a step that I would work on before moving onto nail trimming itself. Get her used to the idea that when the clippers come out, she needs to go to her calm space for however long she can remain there. I would not expect her to stay calm for an entire paw's worth of claws much less four. But that's something you can work on over her lifetime. When you've gotten about as many claws clipped as she's going to allow, you can end your training session with a play session. In between, you might do a click-treat reinforcement each time you clip a nail. As she gets better at this, you may make that reinforcement more intermittent, e.g. sometimes she gets a treat with each claw clipped and sometimes only after the second or third. Intermittent rewarding can be even more useful to training as jackpotting. If you reward each claw clipped, you're going to have a fat Garfield at the end of each session. Intermittent rewards tell them they have to work for it.

So yeah, I would use food or treats to keep her focus during a training session. Then you could certainly use a play reward at the end of a session when you no longer need her focus and she can let loose.
You're so right! Now that you say that, it makes total sense. I will definitely try that instead.
 
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srpjuly

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Hi, it bothers me a bit... if the cat's used to playing with a special toy and then it gets taken away or only used on 'clicks', doesn't that take away the fun? Training a dog to do a new behaviour is one thing, but I'm not sure about this one - wouldn't want the cat to feel tricked or something, or do I have the sequence wrong?
Hm, that's a good point! I knew something didn't feel quite right with it, I just so badly wanted a no-food involved way of training that would actually help her get more exercise rather than gorge on treats! After all the awesome responses in this thread, I'm going to use the treats she responds to the best (cut into quarters) and then reward her with play at the end.
 
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srpjuly

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I used clickers years ago with my beloved four kitties who passed now. I had started training them just with food to do many things, touch my paw, hi5, give a paw, touch my nose, sit, lay down, and Byron even jumped through a hoop.

I don’t remember how I used the clicker then but it was in combination with food treats. It really didn’t seem to work if I just tried the clicker by itself and rewarded with praise, so I stopped using it.

I know people use them for training but I have never really understood what the point is. None of my cats who were not really food motivated were able to be trained.

I have not tried with my current kitties, although I bought another clicker and I had planned to train Quinn. He however is a very dominant Siamese and he has no interest in it. I did train him to fetch mousies etc. when he was a kitten. All I did was show him a few times, the mouse threw it and I said bring it to mom. At first he would not do it so I gave up but then about a month later he did it on his own, so he must’ve remembered. I should probably try with Merlin Encina especially Merlin because he’s very food motivated. I should probably try with Merlin and Zena, especially Merlin because he’s very food motivated. I did train Merlin not to bite and to sit and stay and I trained Zena just sit and stay, but they won’t do it consistently.
Yeah, I imagine it's not for every cat because nothing is. One-size-fits all advice about how clicker training is foolproof is just not helpful in my opinion! Most of the advice out there presumes that your cat immediately picks it up with very little info on how to troubleshoot. I find that Henrietta is responding really well with food, taking it in veryyy incremental steps. She used to bite when I even moved towards her paw, and now she lets me hold it for 3 seconds ish before pulling away! Still have to work up to actually pressing her claws out, and also the back paws, as she immediately sits to eat her treat rewards and I can't get to them. At first it seemed like she wasn't getting it, but the more consistent I've been we've made some progress! It seems to also increase her trust in me. I hope it's true what people say about clicker training also being mentally stimulating as she is a little energy ball and as much as I want to play with her all day (I work from home) I often have to just pet her and get back to work :( Hopefully these sessions keep her mind busy for a few minutes as well.
 

Meowmee

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Yeah, I imagine it's not for every cat because nothing is. One-size-fits all advice about how clicker training is foolproof is just not helpful in my opinion! Most of the advice out there presumes that your cat immediately picks it up with very little info on how to troubleshoot. I find that Henrietta is responding really well with food, taking it in veryyy incremental steps. She used to bite when I even moved towards her paw, and now she lets me hold it for 3 seconds ish before pulling away! Still have to work up to actually pressing her claws out, and also the back paws, as she immediately sits to eat her treat rewards and I can't get to them. At first it seemed like she wasn't getting it, but the more consistent I've been we've made some progress! It seems to also increase her trust in me. I hope it's true what people say about clicker training also being mentally stimulating as she is a little energy ball and as much as I want to play with her all day (I work from home) I often have to just pet her and get back to work :( Hopefully these sessions keep her mind busy for a few minutes as well.
I know this may not be an option but if you can get her a cat companion they will play with each other and not bother you when working as much maybe. I say maybe because as soon as I go into the room that I do virtual work from my cats especially Quinn and Zena come in to see what I’m doing lol. 😹 But overall it helps.
 
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