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The Behavior Department: Clicking with Shelter Cats

This rewards-based interaction can bring even skittish cats out of hiding

This rewards-based interaction can bring even skittish cats out of hiding

Using a clicker to change the behavior of animals is a bizarre idea to some people, but the clicker is a powerful new tool in many modern shelters. Don’t think of it as traditional training, with its emphasis on dominance and control. Clicker work is more like a two-way conversation. Unlike human words, the click is always the same, and it always means just one thing: “That’s right, and you win the prize.” Animals understand that right away.

A handful of shelter volunteers, armed with clickers, fresh treats, and a few simple instructions, can calm the dogs, stop the whole kennel from barking, wake up the cats, tame the rabbits, and reduce fear and stress all around. Adoption rates go up, retention rates improve, and staffers are happier too. All it really takes is clickers, treats, and a willingness to try something new.

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