Home » Library » Teach » Special Situations

Clicking Feral Cats

Trying to desensitize and tame a hissing, feral cat, whether kitten or adult, can be a slow business. You can speed it up immensely with the clicker.

Use a highly-preferred treat, such as canned tuna or any freeze-dried fish cat treat. Approach the cage, let the cat retreat, put a pea-sized treat in the front of the cage, click, and instantly back away. You are giving the cat two kinds of benefits: a) food comes and b) scary person backs off. Give the cat a minute or two to eat the treat. Even if the cat does NOT eat the treat, by the third repetition it will be learning that Click means you're backing off.

Leave the cat for an hour or more, then repeat the process; this time, watch for the cat to take a step toward the front of the cage. Click that paw movement as it happens, then place the food and step back. Repeat. The cat is now ‘controlling' both the arrival of food and the departure of person, by coming forward. This gives even the wildest cat great confidence and a feeling of safety. Soon you will not have to step back, and the cat will be on the way to learning what good company humans can be.

Outdoor to Indoor

I have had my feral cat, Trot, for almost five years and he has been fine. He can be aggressive and will hiss when he is threatened or uncomfortable but really has been just fine. This past month I moved and he had to transition from being an outdoor cat to an indoor cat ... and his personality has done a total 180. He hisses and swats violently at everyone - even me! He growls constantly and sometimes lunges at me when I do nothing to provoke him. He is so volatile he makes me nervous. I love this cat and giving him away is obviously not an option but I must figure out a way to stop this angry behavior from continuing. 

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Feral or scared?

I adopted a 6mo old kitty at PetSmart on 4/4/09. At first, all he did was run from me and hide under the bed. If he didn't want to be held, he'd hiss and bat at me. That stopped for about 2 wks, but he's hiding under the bed again. He still runs from me when I go towards him, unless he's on the bed, then he becomes loving. Now, if he doesn't want to be held, he growls and shows his teeth. He wants to be around our older, smaller dog and trusts her but she wants nothing to do with him.

The worst part is that he continually brings in field mice, sometimes 2-3 a day, but he brings them in and lets them go--we have to catch and kill them. We've also had to rescue a few baby geicos he's brought in.

I'd hate to re-home him, but it's beginning to look like a lost cause on many fronts.

Any advice? How do you use the clicker to stop him from bringing animals into the house when you're not always right at the doggie door to see if he is or isn't?

Evelyn's picture

Socializing feral foster kitties for adoption

Thanks for this info! I've done a lot of clicker training with my dog, but not with the cats. I'm working with several feral kittens, socializing them so that we can get them adopted out. I'm searching thru this site to see any input to work with kitties to help with the socializing process - the idea of ME "running away" is terrific!! One group of 3 kittens (we caught them at about age 3 to 4 months; I've had them for several weeks) is to the point where once in my hands, (especially if they come to me) they purr and snuggle, but my approaching them is still real scary for them. Most times, an approach sends them scurrying away. I've been confused as to how to individualize my reaction or treatment to any specific kitty, given that there are several of my own resident cats plus the foster kitties all loose in the house together. Any further suggestions would be welcomed!!

Evelyn in Cincinnati

Cat that Roams

I have a cat that I found as a stray 3 years ago. She is not as aggressive as she used to be but she wants to stay out and walk for hours. I see her in the street and am concerned she will get run over. Can someone tell how to train this cat to stay in the yard. I keep her in as much as I can but she goes crazy after a half day inside. She is not ferral just a little wild sometimes. She does sit in my lap and likes people a lot.

Feral kitten

Wish I would have read this a long time ago. I spent almost a year with a feral kitten. Just when she was purring and asking to being petted, she slipped out the door and disappeared. I had started clicker training after about 6 months, but got pnemonia for some time, so I didn't have the ability to keep it up regularly before she escaped. I was probably being too formal with the idea of clicker training, and should have started it from the moment I got her.

I did try "running away" from her, so she wouldn't have to run away from me. If she approached me, I would "run away" until she couldn't see me. This reinforced her approach to me. It also gave her a real sense of control over her environment. As a matter of fact, when I would run away from her, she'd hop up on the dining room table (off limits) to see if that would make me come toward her (it would). So, in effect, she had complete control of where I was in relation to her. Walking toward me would make me run away. Begging for treats or getting on the dining room table would make me come toward her.

This relaxed her to the point where she'd sit next to me on the couch as long as I didn't try to touch her, and I was allowed to pet her during treat time. I was getting the biggest purrs.

Pairing clicker training with the incredibly powerful reinforcement of backing away is sheer genius. I'll remember this and thank you.

Post new comment

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <embed> <object> <div>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readable fashion or (if JavaScript is enabled) replaced with a spamproof clickable link.

More information about formatting options

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.

<!-- Facebook Pixel Code -->
  s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,'script',
  fbq('init', '188981236281006');
  fbq('track', 'PageView');
<noscript><img height="1" width="1" style="display:none"
<!-- End Facebook Pixel Code -->