What are common mistakes to avoid when using a target stick in training cats?

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Many cat owners make the mistake of starting out with target training by backing too far away from the cat. Work close to your cat in the beginning. You are catering to his native curiosity. At first, all you want is for him to touch the end of the target stick with his nose.

When he does so, click and reward. There is no need for verbal praise, although it can certainly be used, but never admonish your cat for making a “mistake.” In fact, if you want to most effectively shape his behavior, reward even attempts at the desired sequence.

Do not over train. Cats get bored easily and once they lose interest in something, or develop a negative association, it’s very hard to get them re-engaged. Keep initial sessions down to about 10minutes, and keep the tone one of play and loving interaction. The hallmarks of good animal training of any kind are patience and consistency.

With cats, you cannot successfully remove the treat from the training sequence and expect the animal to continue the learned behavior. Dogs will continue to exhibit learned behaviors for no other reason than to please you because they are pack animals. Their genetic makeup tells them they need to serve their pack leader to survive. Cats, on the other hand, are solitary predators. If your cat sees no return on his time and effort, he’s going to stop the behavior altogether — and be mightily annoyed with you in the process.

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