Cat School: Critical Skills for Safe Adventures with Cat Explorers

Updated: Mar 8

You may have heard the term “reliable recall” in the context of training a dog to reliably come to its owner when called. In reality, you can also teach your cat to come when called. And there’s no question, while recall can be useful indoors, having “reliable recall” when your cat is outdoors on an adventure is critical. And this skill can be lifesaving especially if your cat gets spooked and wiggles out of its harness.

Cat School

Since we live in Canada, where we experience cold temperatures during the winter months, we use the time when it's too snowy or cold to venture outside to do clicker training. And to kickstart Fox and Frankie’s learning, we ordered the Cat School Cat Training Kit. In “Cat School,” you and your cat work together on skills such as following a target and recall.

Clicker Training

The Cat School Cat Training kit comes with everything you need to get started with training: one clicker and one target stick. See the picture to the right. All you need to supply is your cat and their favourite treat!

According to Julie Posluns, the applied animal behaviourist who created the Cat School program, clicker training is a “science-based method of animal training that has been proven to result in quicker and easier training” because it takes the guesswork out of communication between you and your cat through the use of a “clicker.” In simple terms, you essentially “click” when your cat performs a behaviour you want them to repeat and immediately reward them with a treat.

Before you even begin to teach your cat recall or even following a target, you need to know the basics of “clicker training.” Here’s a great video by Albert & Mia who show you the basics of “clicker training.” Once you understand the nuts and bolts of what clicker training is all about, you can follow Albert & Mia’s next tutorial on recall.

As with any skill, the key tip is to practice, practice, and practice. We try to do recall training everyday with Fox and Frankie. They have mastered the skill inside the house. For our kittens, we find Greenies or Churus to be the treats of choice.

Target Stick Training

The Cat School Cat Training Kit also comes with a “Target Stick” which is a clicker that has a retractable target stick. It also has small yellow ball at the end of the retractable stick that serves as a “target.” We’ve found the target stick to be especially helpful for reinforcing the “follow” command or any other directional command such as “up” – as in “up” onto this chair or table…or soon, their backpacks.

Like the clicker, the target stick takes the guess work out of communication for your cat. For Fox and Frankie, when they follow the target stick and then touch their noses to the target, they know they will be rewarded.

Since they have mastered both recall and following the target stick inside, we began to take it outside on mild days and either on quiet areas or in our backyard. What we're finding is that when there are no distractions and the cats are calm, recall is easily performed. However, we have yet to take them to more noisy areas to test the true mastery of recal

(Video: Fox working on following and recall skills. Fox started from sitting. I walked away and then called him. Then, I proceeded to walk a bit further. Once I stopped and he came right to me, I gave him a pat and a treat.)

Early on, we took the target stick out to help the kittens learn how to follow. Here’s what we did at the beginning of their outdoor target stick training: We found a quiet area, away from dogs and other potential distractions. Then we let go of their leashes and walked ahead a few feet with the target stick. (NOTE: Through our previous experiences and understanding Fox and Frankie’s personalities, we know that in a quiet area, the probability of the cats getting spooked and running away is very low). And just like how we had practiced inside, when they touched the target with their nose, we gave them a Greenie or a lick of Churu.

They continue to improve every time we go out. Now Fox and Frankie no longer really need the target stick to follow us. Instead, they simply use the audio cues and regular treats we provide when they follow for a certain distance. (See the above video.)

Continuous Learning

Humans and animals are similar. We thrive when we are in a state of continuous learning. Training is a fun bonding exercise for you and your cat. Training also enables your felines to skill up on critical skills they need to stay safe when they’re adventuring.

So, pick up the tools and try clicker and target stick training. And in no time, you’ll have greater piece of mind knowing that your cat has mastered the skills of recall and is able to follow you with confidence and ease.

Happy adventuring!

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