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The Cat Training Rosetta Stone: Charging the Marker

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Before you start training your cat, it’s important to establish a communication system with them. In one of our CatBossTV Guides, “Introduction to Training Terms” (available here or on our CatBossTV Cat Training app), we discuss the four basic reward markers when training: a clicker and the words “yes”, “good”, and “get it”. But how do we teach the cat what those markers mean and establish a concrete communication system with them? We “charge the marker” - we establish a specific meaning with the marker in your cat’s mind - usually a treat! We use these sounds and words in our training, but you can use whatever words or sounds you like. The important thing is CONSISTENCY. Consistency is the key to your cat’s success. Don’t change your marker words or sounds to ours if your cat is already responding well to the ones you use.


When teaching marker words, the majority of the training and expectations are on YOU. Teaching markers is all about YOUR timing and consistency. Your cat does not yet understand what those sounds mean or what you want from them. You need to pay close attention to your timing: keep what you are teaching clear to avoid confusing your cat. When teaching new markers, do not expect them to immediately respond to this new sound -

it will take time for them to pair the noise with the promise of a reward. It is your job to set them up for success by practicing in the right environment, at the right time, and with their favorite treats. Do not ask them for new behaviors until you have “charged your marker.”


If your cat is struggling or you aren't sure if you are doing it right, practice with a friend. Instead of using cat treats, use candy as a reward for your friend and practice your timing on someone who can give you verbal feedback.



 


Our Favorite Markers


1. Clicker


The clicker is the main marker we use. We use it as a terminal marker to tell the cat they have accomplished the desired behavior. Clickers come in many shapes and colors and are relatively inexpensive. (Pro tip: buy more than you think you need and place them in different locations because you WILL lose them or not have them when you want them - a lot! 😅).


Steps to charging a clicker:

  • Gather your treats and a clicker

  • Get your cat's attention

  • “Click”

  • Hold still and wait for a half-second

  • Hand your cat a treat

  • Repeat until your cat is anticipating and looking for the reward during the half-secondafter the noise

The half-second between the noise and the reward is extremely important. Sound is not the primary mode of communication for many animal species and this is true for cats: their primary mode of communication is done through subtle body movements. If the treat is given before or at the same time as the click, they won’t associate the clicker with the treat - they would only see you moving to give them a treat. We want them to associate the marker with a reward and nothing else, so stay aware of your movements and remember that most of this is about your timing.


2. “Yes”


“Yes” has the same terminal meaning as the clicker, and unlike the clicker, it’s always available. . If you ever find yourself needing to reward your cat and no clicker available, you can use your verbal “yes” marker to mark the behavior instead.

When using verbal markers, remember to keep the way you say it consistent as much as possible and avoid changing your pitch and tone. When we talk to our cats they pay much more attention to how you say things - your tone of voice, facial expressions (smile!), and rhythm rather than the words themself.

Steps to charging “yes”:

  • Gather your treats

  • Get your cat's attention

  • Say *”yes”*

  • Hold still and wait for a half-second

  • Hand your cat a treat

  • Repeat until your cat is anticipating and looking for the reward during the half-second after the noise



3. Good


Good is a duration marker and unlike the clicker and yes, it tells your cat they have not finished the desired behavior, but they are doing a great job and should keep going! With this marker, not only do you need to watch your timing; it’s also important to watch your cat's movement and try to only reward them while they are holding still. Practicing this while your cat is on an elevated surface makes it easier to keep them still.

Steps to charging “Good”:

  • Gather your treats and an elevated platform

  • Get your cat's attention while standing right in front of them, as close as possible

  • Ask for a “sit” if they know it or just practice in whatever position they are in

  • Say “good”

  • Hold still and wait a half-second

  • Hand your cat a treat, making sure they don't move to get the reward

  • Repeat until your cat is anticipating and looking for the reward during the half-second after the noise

  • Once they are anticipating the reward try taking a step back. Slowly start building duration one step at a time so you can use the “good” marker at any distance from your cat without them moving from position.


Once your cat knows both a duration marker and at least one terminal marker, try playing a game to test how well your cat understands them. Put your cat on an elevated surface, then tell your cat “good and reward. Next, click or tell your cat “yes” and allow them to get off the platform or move around to get the reward. Give your markers at random times and to determine how well they are associating the marker with the reward placement. If they keep getting confused, go back and make it easier for them to earn the reward.


4. Get It


The “get it” marker is used to move your cat away from you, reset them for another repetition, or to create speed and enthusiasm.


Steps to charging “get it”:

  • Gather your treats and an elevated platform

  • Get your cat's attention

  • Say “get it”

  • Hold still and wait for a half-second

  • Throw the treat for your cat to chase (wet treats not recommended here…)

  • Repeat until your cat is anticipating and looking for the reward or crouching getting ready to run after the treat during the half-second after the noise


Now you have another marker to add to your marker game and are ready to start training your cat!


 

For more tips and tricks on clicker training and beyond, check out our CatBoss TV Cat Training App available on the Apple App Store and Google Play!


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