Clicker Training a Cat to Use the Litterbox

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains why clicker training a cat to use the litterbox can be problematic.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: May 6, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: Can you use clicker training to solve litterbox issues? It makes sense to me that all you need to do to retrain the cat to use the litterbox is to click and treat the cat as he is using it. You offer many resolutions for litterbox avoidance, but I’ve never heard you suggest clicker training as one of them. Why can’t you click and then treat while the cat is using the box?

A: Before answering your question, I will give a brief description of clicker training for those readers who are not familiar with the technique. Clicker training is a science- and reward-based method of training animals. It is also an effective technique for changing behaviors. After pairing a device, like a clicker, with something positive, such as a treat, the click signals that the behavior the cat is doing is the preferred behavior. The click becomes a communication tool, reinforcing whatever behavior the cat is doing at the time of the click. For instance, if a cat is scratching a scratching post, clicking the clicker as he is scratching it, followed by a treat reinforces the cat’s use of the scratching post. 

Clicker training is a powerful tool, but the way it’s used can vary, depending on the behavior challenge or new behavior that is being trained. Using clicker training to help solve inappropriate elimination, if done incorrectly, can escalate the original problem and create others instead of solving the initial challenge. Clicking the cat while he is using the box can be problematic since it will interrupt the business at hand. Because cats do not want to eat where they go to the bathroom, he will jump out of the box for the treat. Another problem with clicking the clicker while the cat is using the litterbox is that, depending on the situation, some cats might associate the use of the litterbox with the clicker teacher. The cat needs to be in the habit of using the litterbox consistently, whether there is someone around to reinforce him or not.

Although clicker training should not be used to reinforce the cat as he is using the litterbox, it can be used at other times and in other locations, increasing his feelings of security, helping eliminate stress and strengthening the bonds between him and his favorite person. Additionally clicker training the cat on the areas he’s targeting outside the litterbox, after they have been thoroughly cleaned with a good enzyme cleaner, will help change his association with the area. Instead of the targeted area being a place to urinate, it becomes place where other fun activities take place.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Clicker Training a Cat to Use the Litterbox

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Reader Comments

0OI    -O, MA

5/12/2011 4:32:34 AM


Anon    City, CA

5/10/2011 5:54:11 PM


Bill & Lorraine    Manhattan, NY

5/10/2011 2:37:56 PM

Nice Article

Cathy    Hubbard, OH

5/10/2011 5:15:04 AM

Good advice. I never have had litter box problems, Thank Goodness!

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