Teaching Your Cat To Touch A Target Stick [And Why You Should!]

Teaching your cat to “target” is one of the most useful skills they can learn. The end goal is to have your cat touch their nose to the end of the target stick whenever the stick is presented.

After your cat knows how to target, you’ll be able to get them to follow the stick around, up, and over objects making it easier to train more complex behaviors like a hurdle jump. And because you’re training with positive reinforcement, training is fun and your cat will be clamoring to train with you.

Below I’ll go over the simple steps for training a targeting behavior with your cat. Lets begin!

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How To Train Your Cat To Target

Before you jump into training, there are a few basics you’ll need to know first. Be sure to read the Clicker Training Basics article and pay special attention to Priming the Clicker before continuing on here.

Supplies:

I prefer using a clicker/ target stick combo for cats since it’s easier to hold, but you can use a separate target stick if that works better for you.

Training Steps:

  1. Hold the target stick out in front of your cat at head level with the ball a few inches away from your cat’s nose. Wait for your cat to move their nose or face to touch the ball at the end of the stick. As soon as they do, click the clicker and give a treat.
  2. If your cat doesn’t come over to sniff the target, rub a treat onto the end of the target stick and try again.
  3. Hold the stick a few inches away from your cat. Wait for your cat to touch their nose to the target before clicking and giving a treat.
  4. Keep repeating this process, moving the stick a greater distance away inch by inch. You can also move the target in different directions. Click and give a treat for each successful target.
  5. Over time, increase the distance and height of the target. Your cat should follow the target stick and touch their nose to it. Click and give a treat.
  6. This behavior is considered trained when your cat reliably follows you and touches their nose to the end of the target stick.

Troubleshooting

If your cat doesn’t go over to the target at first, you’ll likely need to place the target stick closer to them. Make sure to remove the target stick completely (put it behind your back for a second or two) and then bring the target back out at a closer distance.

This acts as a reset and will prevent you from accidentally training your cat that if they wait, you’ll eventually move the stick closer to them.

If your cat is afraid of a fully extended target stick, get an adjustable one that you can make smaller. Skittish cats may prefer to have the stick fully extended so they can keep a farther distance from you yet still train. Do whatever feels most comfortable for your cat.

If your cat tries to paw the target stick, do not click. Instead, try putting the target closer to your cat and quickly click before your cat has a chance to raise their paw.

Why You Should Teach Your Cat To Target

Target training opens up a wide realm of training possibilities. Once your cat knows how to follow you around, you can use the target stick to direct them to climb shelves, run through a tunnel, leap over a hurdle, and more.

Here are some fun behaviors that you can train using targeting:

  • Leaping from shelf to shelf
  • Running through a tunnel
  • Spin
  • Rolling over
  • Figure 8 leg weave
  • Harness training
  • Leash walking

Some practical behavior you can train include:

Final Thoughts

While targeting won’t take much time to train, the training opportunities it opens up are endless. How else would you train your cat to weave around your legs?

Is it possible to train without your cat knowing how to target? Yes, but you’ll have to be creative and it will likely take longer to train the same behavior.

Instead, take the time to easily train your cat so you both can be in on the fun of clicker training.

Stephanie Mantilla curiosity trained header logo holding black cat
Stephanie Mantilla

Positive Reinforcement Trainer & Enrichment Specialist

Stephanie has over 12 years of experience training and enriching exotic animals as a Zookeeper. During this time, she received a certificate in Behavioral Husbandry from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is an expert in animal behavior.
In her free time, she uses positive reinforcement to train her numerous pets at home and is always thinking up creative ways to prevent her pets from getting bored. On Curiosity Trained, Stephanie now helps people make their pets’ lives better by giving them easy to follow tips and science-backed information.

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