August 14, 2018
Categories: Research, Animal Behavior
White cat standing with raised paw looking up.

When shelter staff and volunteers talk about clicker training for cats, it’s mostly as a way to get the kitties to put their best paw forward for adopters. But what if it can be something more — even a tool to fight suffering and disease?

That was the theory of researchers at Colorado State and North Carolina State Universities, who saw clicker training as a way to both “enhance cats’ well-being while they are housed in shelters… (and) make them more desirable to adopters.”

Stress is behind the most common ailment of the shelter cat: upper respiratory infection (URI). The stress cats experience in confinement has many triggers, with housing — quantity as well as quality — being the most critical. But even in a shelter still working to improve its feline housing, a simple program of daily interaction and training can reduce stress and help cats adjust to their new surroundings.

In their study, the researchers worked with 100 shelter cats of all kinds: strays, friendly community cats, owner surrenders, or cats transferred in from other shelters. They taught the cats to show a number of behaviors that they thought might make them more appealing to adopters:

  • Touching a target
  • Sitting
  • Spinning
  • High-five

They worked with the cats over a two-week period, in short 5-minute sessions once or twice a day, four days a week. They used clicker training, and found that cats who were very interested in food learned the behaviors better than cats who weren’t.

Because clicker training is popular for dogs, many volunteers are likely to already know how to use it. Why not head over to the canine side of the building and see if some of the dog volunteers want to try clicking with kitties?

The complete study is available free at the link below.

Kogan L, Kolus C, Schoenfeld-Tacher R. Assessment of Clicker Training for Shelter Cats. MDPI. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute; Animals 2017, 7(10), 73; doi:10.3390/ani7100073