Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

SPCA Suncoast's clicker training makes a fearful cat a friendly cat


Fergie leapt to the front of her cage when her visitors arrived. As the cage door opened, the excited feline jumped down to enjoy the tuna feast on the fingers of trainer Cassie Matthies. Then she greeted SPCA executive director Gail Armstrong with a nudge, and Armstrong stroked the sleek black and white coat of the American short-haired kitty.

A warm welcome from a cat might seem unremarkable, but Fergie wasn't always this way.

"A couple brought her here because she wasn't friendly, and they were afraid she was going to bite," Armstrong said.

Fergie was extremely timid when she arrived at the shelter on Congress Street a couple of months ago. She would stay in the far corner of her cage and hide. When anyone would come near her, she would hiss and swat at them.

"She didn't want to interact with anybody," Armstrong said.

The trick to making her more sociable — and more likely to be adopted — was clicker training.

Clicker training is a reward-motivated technique used on animals to help them become comfortable around people. When Fergie responds to a command, Matthies sets off the mechanical clicker. Then Fergie is rewarded with her favorite snack, tuna.

"Fergie loves food," said Matthies, the shelter's behavioral specialist. Other animals are rewarded with other treats.

SPCA Suncoast always has used positive reinforcement with its animals, and the staff has been working with clicker training for a few months now.

The method is similar to the training used with killer whales at SeaWorld. When Shamu completes his trick, the trainer blows a whistle. That whistle signifies that Shamu will be rewarded with a fish.

Matthies uses another variation of the technique with Flower, a dog who is deaf. Instead of a clicker, she uses a laser pointer to reinforce good behavior and signal a treat.

"The concept of clicker training can be very powerful," Armstrong said. "But it isn't easy. You can't just hand someone a clicker and say go at it. It's a skill."

Both timing and reinforcement are very important keys to clicker training, and it takes patience to learn it.

"After I began the training, it took about a week to see a response," said Matthies, "and a few weeks to see actual results."

She has used the clicker training with Fergie for about a month and a half, and said the results in such a short time are remarkable.

"It's incredible when people think I'm showing them a different cat," Armstrong said. "They say, 'That can't be the same cat.' That's when you know it's worked wonders."

Fergie, who is about 2 years old, needs an adoptive home. Her future owner would be encouraged to continue clicker training, as it would make a much easier transition for the cat. As she becomes comfortable with people, she can be weaned off the clicker method.

"We'd like for her to move from the association that people are good things because they give me food, to people are just good things," Armstrong said. "Her turnaround in fortunes is an amazing story, and I'm looking forward to her being someone's forever pet."


Want to adopt?

For information about Fergie and the other animals available for adoption, call SPCA Suncoast at (727) 849-1048. The shelter is at 7734 Congress St. in Port Richey.

SPCA Suncoast's clicker training makes a fearful cat a friendly cat 04/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 11:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility


    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia


    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]