Why should I provide food rewards and praise during training?

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What does your cat respond to? Unlike dogs, who are pack animals and whose sole motivation is to please leader, cats are motivated by something of high value to them, such as a food reward, a new toy or some extra attention or affection. It’s not that they don’t care about their humans, but that they aren’t pack animals—so they learn and motivate differently.

Like anything, cats respond much better to positive reinforcement than punishment, so you want to reward with a food, praise or toy. Negative reinforcements, such as shouting or punishing, just do not work and may possibly even make the problem worse. Your cat will become frightened and hide, she may become confused and unresponsive, or she may decide to retaliate, eliminating on the floor.

Giving your cat a reward of food, praise or a toy:

• Builds a strong rapport between you and your cat, especially when you constantly stroke and pet her to get her to recognize your voice and her name.
• Underscores your authority (your cat has to do what you want to get what she wants), so it helps to curb dominant behavior.
• Keeps your cat’s mind active and stimulated.
• Is a great interactive play, and teaches good social skills.
• Calms and soothes anxious cats. (The repetition and routine helps, but it also tires them.)

A WORD ABOUT CLICKER TRAINING

Clicker training is a highly effective form of training that uses positive reinforcement.

A form of operant conditioning, the animal is taught to form a conscious association between a specific behavior and a result. The clicker, a small mechanical noise-maker much like a toy, is used by the trainer to create a short, distinctive noise and is clicked at the precise moment that the cat performs a desired behavior; for example, during ‘sit’, the clicker is clicked at the very instant that the cat’s bottom touches the ground. Then it’s immediately followed with a small and tasty treat. With repetition, the cat grows to associate the click with the food, and recognizes her own ability to earn treats by performing the desired action on command.

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