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.