What is a target stick?
Target sticks are popular items in the animal training world. From zoo animals to domestic animals, they are a helpful tool to move animals through space without physically forcing them. For our purposes, it's a clear signal to move a cat from one place to another.
The Cat School target stick
The target stick we offer through Cat School has features that make it easy to train your cat. The clicker built into the body of the target stick allows you to quickly mark the behaviour without having to fumble for a separate clicker, while the telescoping stick allows you to change the length depending on the skill you're working on and the step you're at in your training. You can phase the stick out when your cat is ready for a visual signal instead.
Why should you use a target stick?
Here are five reasons why you need a target stick. 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
- 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
- Tire your cat out before bed. Grab the device and get your cat moving around the room like an agility course
Here are three different ways you can train your cat to nose target & then 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
Take a little ball with some holes, stuff some treats around it 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 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 getting up close 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.