Ready to start clicker training your cat? Along with your cat's favorite treat, you'll need a clicker and a target stick. They are both versatile training aids that serve many purposes.
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What is a target stick?
A target stick is a long lightweight stick with a small ball on the end. They are usually foldable or extendable and can fit inside your pocket.
Target sticks are popular items in the both the pet and animal training world - even with zoo animals! Especially popular with dog training, they are a helpful tool to move your pet through space without physically forcing them. For our purposes, it's a clear visual target to move a cat from one place to another.
The target stick we offer through Cat School is both a clicker and a target stick in one! It allows you to quickly mark the behavior without having to fumble for a separate clicker. It also has a extendable stick that allows you to change the length depending on the skill you're working on and the step you're at in your training.
The cat target stick is extremely helpful when you first begin clicker training certain skills and behaviors. Eventually for more advanced training you can phase it out, once your cat is ready for a visual signal instead.
Why should you use a target stick?
Not sure if you need the target stick for your cat's training? We'd argue that you absolutely do, for several reasons. Though you can use your finger as a target stick, the telescoping wand of an actual target stick can come in handy for various training situations.
Using the target stick, you can:
- Have a clear signal to move your cat from one point to another
- Guide your cat willingly into a carrier or backpack
- Teach fun tricks such as the food stall, jumping on and off objects, going around objects, and more
- Help a shy cat overcome their fear of strangers. You can use the target as an icebreaker with strangers by providing a constructive way to interact
- Begin agility training with your cat
Tire your cat out before bed by getting your cat moving around the room and jump on and off things
Target Stick Training Methods
There are 3 main ways to train your cat to touch the target stick with their nose and learn to follow the target stick.
Method 1: Pointer method
This method aims to show your cat that they will find a piece of food whenever they approach the target stick. With your cat slightly distracted or a few steps away from you, place a treat on the floor. Point to the treat with the target stick. When your cat approaches the target stick to find the treat, click and place another treat down close by.
Now PRETEND to put a treat down. When your cat approaches the stick, click and then place a treat down right in front of them. Do several sessions and repetitions of this.
If your end goal is to raise the target stick, you can slowly raise it at this step. If they are having difficulty "seeing" it, place your hand near it or behind the ball end to help them recognize it.
Method 2: Treat ball
For this method, you'll need a toy ball that has holes in it. Stuff some treats around the ball and then place it on the end of the target stick.
Present the target stick with the ball on the end to your cat. As soon as they touch the ball with their nose, click & reward with a treat from your hand.
Once they are confident touching & following the big ball on the end of the target stick, fade out the big ball, so they follow the smaller ball on the end of the target stick.
Method 3: Lickable treat
Dab a small amount of a lickable treat or wet food to the tip of the target stick.
As your cat approaches the tip of the target stick, click and reward them by letting them lick the treat from your hand. Repeat until your cat is confidently and consistently approaching the target stick.
Gradually reduce the amount of treat you put on the end of the stick until there is no treat and your cat is following the stick in anticipation of the treat from your hand.
My cat is biting the target stick: in this case, you need to click sooner as your cat approaches the stick instead of waiting for them to get up close enough to bite it.
My cat thinks the target stick is a toy (pawing, playing with it): Go back a step and build their food motivation, finding a treat they LOVE. You can also work on jumping using the target stick - use the target stick to point to a chair or platform you want your cat to jump on, which forces their paws to be on the ground when they are near the target stick.
My cat is losing interest in following the target stick: The ability to follow a target stick for an extended period will come with practice and reinforcement that the target stick leads to treats and fun games. Don't go too far too fast! Take your time with smaller distances, so your cat is reinforced a lot at the beginning.