If you are starting your cat training journey, you are probably wondering the best approach to clicker training multiple cats. Is it better to train them separately, or should you train them together? While either option works, there are benefits (and obstacles) to both. Keep reading for tips to make the process easier!
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Separating Your Cats
Trying to teach one cat can be challenging enough, but when you start to add more cats into your "classroom" it can get chaotic, especially if all your cats are eager to participate.
When you start working with your cats, I recommend separating them (if possible). This will allow you to give each cat the time and patience they need to learn the rules of training.
If you have a home with natural separations, like rooms, try to separate your cat by working in a room with one cat at a time. However, if separating your cats causes them lots of stress (for example, one cat is scratching at the door or vocalizing, and the other cat is getting distracted), you will need to explore other options.
As a side note, I encourage everyone with very bonded cats to help their cats learn to be independent. We don't want our cats to panic when they are separated but to be well-adjusted to independent time and time spent away from other cats working with you.
A good starting point to encouraging this separation is with meal times. Pairing feeding times with separation can help each cat see that separation is good because it equals getting fed.
Easy Ways to Introduce Training with Two Cats Together
If separating your cats is a no-go, here are three easy ways you can get started with two students:
Start with food puzzles
Give each cat a food puzzle to work on. You can start by doing this in the same room and placing yourself between your cats, each on either side of you. Gradually start to put the puzzles further apart until eventually, each cat is in a room working on their puzzle and not concerned about the other cat. The end goal is to train with one cat in a separate room while the other cat works on a food puzzle or snuffle mat on their own.
Troubleshooting: If one cat tries to get to the other cat’s food puzzle, click as soon as they look up and put a special treat in their puzzle to entice them back to it. You can also sit between them or use a doorway/gate to create a barrier.
Sit at a doorway
A doorway can be a great barrier. Sit at the doorway (with the door slightly open) and use treats to try to encourage each cat to stay at their respective sides. You know this training works when the cats start waiting for you to give them another treat instead of trying to get past the door to see their “classmate.”
Introduce the ping-pong kitty game and start tossing treats further away for the cats to search for them. When one cat is searching for a treat, try teaching the other cat simple basics like sit.
Sit on the floor and use your body as a divider
Another easy introduction to training two cats is to sit on the floor and have each cat sit on either side of your body, using your body as a barrier. Feed each cat treats at their respective sides. Once you've set the pattern of not crossing over, you can try to introduce a bit of training with each cat like the cups game. Scattering treats on a snuffle mat (beside you) can help occupy one cat while you work with the other.
Next Steps: Training Cats Like Children in a Classroom
Once you've successfully created some distance between each cat with puzzles (or ping pong), it's time to take your training to the next level by teaching your cats to stay at their spots like children in a classroom. The goal is for each cat to be comfortable at their place (e.g., a chair or an ottoman) and earn treats for waiting patiently while another cat gets a turn. Work on these skills with each cat, using the methods above (food puzzles, at the doorway, or sitting on either side of you).
Step 1: Teach each cat to jump on and off a platform. You can use a chair for this or something more cat-specific, like a pet cot. Using treats (or a target stick), guide one cat on and off the chair.
Step 2: Work on sit. Click and reward your cat for sitting on their spot.
Step 3: Introduce some distance. Take steps away and return to reward at this spot. The goal of this step is to build value at the spot where you want your cat to stay. They will not want to leave once they learn they get treats for staying there.
Step 4: Once both cats understand to stay at their places, walk back and forth in between them, rewarding for staying at their spots.
Step 5: Guide one cat on and off the chair while rewarding the other cat for staying at their place. Repeat the same exercise with the other cat.
Step 6: Now that you can manage both cats in your classroom – so one cat is always staying at their spot while the other cat gets a turn – introduce more training challenges.
What if I have more than two cats?
If you have more than two cats, you can continue with the parking spot method by training each cat to stay in their chair, or you can try putting all except the cat you plan to train with in a room behind a closed door. You can add some enrichment to the multi-cat room (like puzzles or toys) so they barely even notice that one cat is missing. This will allow you to train independently with one cat at a time.
Whether you're clicker training two cats or clicker training multiple cats, it can be a bit to juggle, but the end results will be well worth the effort! If you run into any trouble with your training, Cat School Teacher Julie Posluns would love to help you out. By joining Cat School, you'll have access to our course on training multiple cats, as well as access to Julie to be able to ask her any questions or get personalized feedback on your training.