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I am wanting to start clicker training my cat but unfortunately she almost never eats treats and is not food motivated. However she does really like catnip and attention. Does anyone have experience clicker training a cat that is not food motivated?

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    I haven't personally done any clicker training, but if the cat likes catnip a lot, they do sell cat treats with catnip in them. It seems to me you could probably follow the standard technique using catnip treats instead.
    – Kai
    Jun 23, 2023 at 12:50
  • Are there any brands of catnip treats you have had good luck with?
    – Ian Moffit
    Jun 24, 2023 at 12:09
  • Unfortunately, no. I've only ever used just regular catnip. Since I've never clicker trained a cat, using catnip treats wasn't necessary. But cats all have their different favorite treats anyways. I would just buy a few different ones and see if she seems to be obsessed with any of them.
    – Kai
    Jun 24, 2023 at 13:59

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Find something the cat will consider a reward. It can be as simple as attention and approval, for cats that are focused on their humans.

Your best bet, with any form of training, is to take something the cat does naturally and try to encourage it by making a game out of it, and then shape it by responding more selectively. I was able to get Hazel to say something vaguely approaching "hello" without treats simply by repetition and making it a game I would interrupt other activities to play on request. She trained me to throw a toy for her to chase...

Cats are cats. They are mostly less approval-driven than dogs, not being pack animals, but this varies from breed to breed (roughly) and individual to individual. You need to be prepared to work on what they want to work on.

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  • Also note that some of the squeeze-tube treats may excite cats more than the usual dry treats, because they can be more interactive and because the flavor and texture are different. Hazel likes to lick the tube as the goop is squeezed out. Just be careful who you're ordering from; over the years some less-reputable foods and treats have been found to be contaminated or just plain unhealthy.
    – keshlam
    Jun 29, 2023 at 2:37
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You can absolutely use both attention and catnip as rewards with clicker training (or any other type of marker-based training, like saying "Yes!" or anything else you want to use).

My recommendation would be to start with attention, as introducing catnip might be highly distracting and derail your training session.

Examples of attention-based rewards

  • Petting, rubbing, or scratching somewhere that your cat really, really likes
  • Getting excited and enthusiastic (if your cat responds well to that)
  • Brief amount of play

With cats, it's best to keep training sessions short (5-10 minutes) and build in a way for them to both indicate interest in the training "game" and to indicate they're done.

Starting the session Use a cue and create patterns so that your cat knows what's going on. For example, you might ring a bell to show that the session is starting, or you might bring out the clicker or a special toy. Maybe you have a place in your home where you will train, or some other routine. Cats love routine and they thrive when they know what to expect. Even better, if you leave the indicator out, your cat may start to show you that they want to have a training session now, which will increase their buy-in.

Ending the session Keep sessions short, within 5-10 minutes. Then, have a cue for the session being over, like putting down the clicker, saying "All Done!" etc.

Ideally, you'll end each session before your cat gets bored, but look for your cat's body language to tell you when they've had enough. They may walk away or start to look less interested and engaged. They might lay down or swish their tail.

Good luck and have fun!

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