My mother began training her cat to sit. Each night before bed, she would soak some freeze-dried chicken and use it to reinforce a sit. It was a lovely little ritual that lasted for a couple of months. Then one day, she called me to say, “I’m not training Misty anymore. I don’t like what it is doing to our relationship.”
“Umm, what’s it doing to your relationship?”
“Its destroying the equilibrium—its transforming her from my cat into a creature I am commanding—and I don’t like that. I just want her to be my friend. I don’t want to tell her what to do.”
Cats have no masters only friends. This is what many of us value about our cats. Perhaps most people that are attracted to cats (rather than dogs) are looking for the friendship of equals, rather than someone to boss around. We love it when a cat grants us its attention—or even better when it lavishes attention on us—it makes us feel deserving. This cat sees something in me. This cat has a relationship with me and chooses to headbutt me, knead at me, purr when I touch it. Is it unnatural to change that relationship into one of trainer and trainee?
I don’t know, but here I am at the Clicker Expo to learn all the ins and outs of Clicker training. Yes, it is very dog oriented. But Karen Pryor, the founder of clicker training, is actually a dolphin trainer—her positive reinforcement techniques are most popular with dogs, but they can be used on species as diverse as grasshoppers, fish, horses and, of course, cats.
In my experience, cat owners are resistant to suggestions of clicker training. They are happy to work with me on environmental changes and general behavior modification. But they don’t want to change the dynamic of the relationship by incorporating training. So why am I here? Because I am hopeful that there is a real place for clicker training in our complex relationships with cats. It is an effective, though labor intensive tool in a growing bag of tricks for coping with behavioral issues.
The conference officially starts tomorrow, but the clicker expo store was open this evening. Lots of very clever dog toys, problem solving toys that make great boredom busters. I bought some for our dogs. That is really the key—the explanation of why clicker training shouldn’t be discarded by cat lovers.
Just like our fenced in dogs, our indoor cats are bored—even our indoor/outdoor cats can be bored. These animals are predators who love to work. When I say this, most people laugh and assure me that their loungy cat does not like to work. But I counter that we all like to work. We don’t like being slaves, but we like accomplishing tasks. So do our pets.
For cats, clicker training is a game. Cats don’t respond to masters. But they love to have fun and they love to learn new skills. It is also a way to enhance their communication with us. One woman who had a lot of success clicker training her hand-raised kitten, explained that through the enhanced communication of their clicker training, her cat was able to communicate with her directly when he needed his litter box changed (rather than by pooping next to it, like many do.)
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.