Today my furiends is the first of our new weekly feature called “Motion Picture Monday” (I think we’ll shorten that to just “Movie Monday”.) The movies will document how I learn through clicker and target training to navigate various obstacles that are commonly found in an agility course. What is clicker and target training you ask? It’s a means of communicating with our humans in the form of a game, that not only shapes desired behaviour, but improves the quality of life for both of us, especially if you’re an indoors only cat. This is the method humans use to train dolphins. It’s is a science-based system called operant conditioning using positive reinforcement and a marker signal. It doesn’t have to be just for agility or cute cat tricks, (although I purrsonally think how much more adoptable a shelter cat would be if he/she knew a couple) it can also correct behavioural problems too by building new ones to replace unwanted ones.
Mom is still learning how to be a trainer and is figuring it out as she goes, but as long as she plays with me, I’m OK with that. First she had to figure out the difference in her own mind between clicker and target training, what the purpose of each was, and when to use them. She’s come to the conclusion that the clicker is the signal used to mark or shape the behaviour, and the target stick is used to lure me around…to follow it. Both are rewarded with treats at some point. The key is practice, practice, and more practice…. and don’t forget the treats! Eventually the target stick won’t be needed when I have learned the hand and verbal cues, but we’re not at that point yet. Verbal cues would be spoken words such as “sit”, “up”, “down”, “roll over”, “jump”, etcetera, and we’d follow their hands instead of the target stick.
When we first started clicker training, we’d sit on the floor facing each other. She’d click the clicker and give me a treat. Ok, it got my attention. Click, treat, click, treat. I liked it. Then after about 5 minutes she’d stop and get up. Hey, wait a minute, where are you going? Over the next couple of days, we’d repeat this scenario so I really understood what the clicker meant..oh I did, it meant treats! I get it! From there we had the foundation to learn some simple tricks which included sit, shake a paw, high five and sit up. There are several Youtube videos showing how each are done so I’ll just refer you to them because they are much more qualified, and unfortunately mom didn’t think to video our sessions back then.
On to target training. It’s best if the target is stick-like: a pencil, chopstick, or even a skewer with a large green pom pom stuck on the sharp pointy end. Although the green pom pom was a good idea at the time, I managed to grab the pom pom and pull it off the stick, so my human changed it to a small red pom pom and taped it on because apparently I wouldn’t respect the green one anymore after having had my way with it. The goal here is to get me to move towards and touch the target with my nose, or paw, and then eventually get me to follow it. Again we’d start out by sitting on the floor facing each other and mom would point the pom pom stick in front of my face. I have to smell everything so as soon as I did, mom clicked and gave me a treat. Then she’d moved the target to my left, then she’d move it to my right, and each time I walked over to touch it, she’d click and give me a treat. The uses for this extends to learning how to navigate through various obstacles in an “agility course” Once I know each obstacle, then I will put them altogether in a sequence to complete before I get my treat, but each time I complete each obstacle, mom will click so I know I did it right and will be getting a treat after.
According to ICAT (International Cat Agility Tournaments) the obstacles for their beginner and basic course are:
- Fence Jump
- Weave Poles
- and Hoop Jump
For the TV show Battle Cats, the obstacles are:
- Catapault (Jump down from high up)
- High Jump (Jump as high as possible up a wall)
- Hammer Paw (like wack-a-mole)
- The Smash (Square plexiglass tunnel with paper dividers)
- Obstacle Course:
- Podium Jumps
- Balance Beam up to the Crows Nest
- Jump down into The Tunnel of Pain
- Balance Beam
- Teeter Totter
Here is this week’s short video showing the foundation basics of “charging” the clicker and target stick. Next week I will show you how well I’m doing with the tunnels! =^,,^=
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