My Cat From Purgatory

He clearly thinks he runs this house. His reign is about to collapse. Mwahaha!

Sometimes television can actually be inspiring. All those of you out there who don’t watch, you don’t know what you are missing.

I have no idea how long this show has been on the air in the US but Animal Planet Canada has recently started running episodes of a cat training, yes cat training, show called My Cat From Hell. My first reaction was suspicion. I rolled my eyes and made a sarcastic remark about cat whispering. Regardless, I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised.

Don’t get me wrong, the show is unquestionably cheesy. The host drives up to the home in a muscle car. He proudly displays a shaved head and tattoos, guitar case in hand as if he intends on lulling the cat into obedience with his song. If you’ve seen one episode you have seen them all. It’s usually a couple. One of whom loves cats, the other would rather have a dog. Jackson Galaxy, host and cat behaviourist, is incredibly patient and soft-spoken. All problems are usually solved with the purchase of some cat furniture and toys. The owners always seem amazed to learn that cats actually like to interact with their people.

But I am not writing this to rip on clueless cat owners. In fact, one of these owners, a man who claimed to hate cats, has inspired me to take my relationship with my cat in another direction. After two weeks, this man not only had the cat happily walking on a leash, but he had also taught him a few tricks. Two weeks! The cat used to hiss at the guy as soon as he entered the room and all of a sudden he was giving him a high-five! It proved to me that no matter how old or how grumpy, cats are clearly just as capable of working with people as dogs are. If this cat who hated his owner could learn, than my cat who at least tolerates my presence, can too.

Maybe, just maybe, he will learn to like me. Maybe he’ll even start to seek out my presence. Maybe he’ll even purr when I pick him up instead of act like being near me is a torture he has learned to endure.

It’s all about finding my cat’s currency. As the stores are always stocked with a variety of canned meat and fish, I don’t think this will be a problem. The cat can be fast asleep on the bed and if I open a can of tuna in the kitchen upstairs, he’s by my side in milliseconds. It doesn’t get any simpler.

I’ve started at the beginning –  working on getting him to sit. He’s already trained to jumped to the top of his cat furniture when he wants a treat. So I’ve been working on shaping him to sit before I give him the food. With a cat, I think it’s vital to keep all training sessions brief. I don’t have his attention long. As soon as he gets what he wants, he’s out of there. So I have to do what I can in the thirty seconds I have his focus. So far it’s going pretty well. He’s sitting within five seconds. The key now will be getting him to sit not just on top of his furniture but on the floor and on cue.

It may be time to find that old clicker of mine. Before long I hope to show off my very first cat training video!

Have you ever trained a cat to perform tricks or walk on a leash? Do you know anyone who has? Any words of wisdom to share?

52 thoughts on “My Cat From Purgatory

  1. I don’t know if you read Honey the great dane’s blog, but she has done some clicker training with her kitten, Muesli.

    Good luck!

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    • Yay! That’s fantastic. Cats are definitely pickier about what they will work for but I think once you find the right motivator, you are gold.

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  2. I knew someone who taught his cat to fetch. And I see no reason you can’t teach a cat with a clicker. If you can clicker train a chicken, you can clicker train anything.

    Thinking about the changes one can experience with their pets…

    Years ago I saw a show on Animal Planet that focused on small animals (guinea pigs, rats, ferrets). The person complained about the animal’s behavior and the tv specialist came in to solve their problems. For the little animals, it was mostly about providing a stimulating habitat.

    I recall some rats who bit everyone who came near them. When tv host dude built them a cool habitat that gave them places to dig and gnaw and hide, they became very friendly when they were picked up.

    I have no idea what the show was called. And I’ve never known anyone else who had heard of it. But it offered hope for improving relationships with all kinds of animals.

    I wonder how many problems people have with their cats are related to the cat not getting enough stimulation. Many people adopt cats because they are “low maintenance” but that may not be quite fair to the cat and what he needs to be happy.

    So I think it’s great you’re going to be working with Hell Kitty. Your already formidable training chops will grow even more.

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    • LOL. Good point. Our cat used to play fetch when he was much, much younger. Back when my husband lived in an apartment alone and I was only visiting. Maybe it’s my fault he stopped. Out of spite.

      I am going to have to look up that show. Maybe there are old episodes on Youtube. I have never heard of the hamster whisperer before and am now intrigued.

      Heh, he’s not really a hell kitty. Actually, he’s very well behaved and only bites in play. He never hisses, except at pushy dogs. He just isn’t my biggest fan. But I’ll win him over yet!

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  3. I really don’t do cats. I mean, they might be ok if they didn’t make my eyes swell shut and my nose stuff up and give me hives, LOL. But I have watched that show several times.

    I agree, once you’ve seen one, you’ve kinda seen the solution to everything. Give you cat something so they can get off the ground, play with them, give them a clean litter box (and more than one in a home of multiples).

    One episode these people had the nastiest litter box! Seriously, they didn’t realize their litter box was the equivalent to a truck stop bathroom in the middle of no where. No wonder the cat didn’t want to use it!

    Good luck cat training.

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    • Yuck! That’s just wrong and there is no reason for such laziness. I’d pee on the bed too.

      It’s interesting how many more people have allergies to cats than have allergies to dogs. There must be something different in their fur.

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  4. I’ve seen that show on Animal Planet here in the US before. I haven’t actually watched it, seeing as I have zero interest in cats, but I have seen it on the guide when I’m perusing for something to watch.

    Anyway, it should be interesting to see what all you can teach the cat! My friend said her childhood cat could fetch and knew a few tricks. Did y’all ever get rid of the fleas on the poor cat (from purgatory)?

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    • Yes! I haven’t wanted to say anything just in case, but the cat’s butt fur has now almost completely grown back. He is no longer the bare-assed cat. I still call him that anyway. Just to be nice. 😉 Thanks for asking!

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      • LOL, no wonder kitty isn’t you biggest fan. His feelings are hurt! We’d love to have a kitty (the other half wants one of those ugly naked cats, but I am NOT convinced) but Kolchak is *deathly* afraid. My sister’s cat jumped him as a puppy.

        Can’t wait to see what you do with your kitty. I bet it’ll be fab!

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  5. I caught that show once too… I agree the guy was cheesy and it’s funny how clueless some people are. Some people have these really neat breeds of cats and don’t realize that they need more stimulation and play than the “run of the mill cat”.

    At age 8 I asked for a dog or a cat… naturally my parents picked the easier of the two and got me a cat. I tried to walk him on leash but he was not having it. He was a cool cat though, I could call him over.. get him to leave food alone on command… and he was not overly needy, and was a beast. I loved him, and probably will never own another cat because it wouldn’t be like him and the Mr. i allergic.

    Good luck with training! can’t wait to see.
    Anna
    http://www.akginspiration.com

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    • Totally cheesy! Nice, though, and I’d rather watch his boring show than a certain Canadian dog trainer’s…

      Most cats need some sort of stimulation. Some of these people haven’t even been in a pet store, haven’t even thought of buying a simple mouse on a string. I don’t get why they own animals in the first place.

      Awww, I wanted a cat when I was a kid as well but my mother was not a fan. I probably wouldn’t have been the best owner anyway.

      Thanks for the support!

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      • you know what’s funny… my dogs play with cat toys… Luna would eat numerous little mice if I would let her, especially the furry ones.. I sometimes use them as a show toy. And the cat toy that has the mouse that goes around and around inside.. the plastic one they can bat. Both of our dogs love it. Wyatt was going insane over it the other night when I showed him it. Maybe I will take a video of it. they also would chase the feathers on a string etc. Prey drive is in all predators, just some more than others.
        Anna

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  6. check this site out: http://www.cultofotis.com/ … they also have a blog of otis, but on their non-blog site, they’ve got all these clicker-training videos of their cat, and it is hilarious! they taught him to ‘play dead’, and he flops down on his side so quickly, it is so funny!
    definitely curious to see how you’ll do with your cat and his clicker training 🙂 good luck!

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    • Awesome! Thanks so much for passing this on! I am always open to new inspiration and new ideas. I don’t know if I’ll ever teach our cat to play dead, but it’s good to know that it’s possible!

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  7. people may think they’re training their cats, but I will ALWAYS believe, the cat is doing the training… even if it appears otherwise. The cat has adapted his/her training methods to to fit the circumstances.

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    • LOL. You are probably right. Knowing my cat, he would absolutely agree with you. It’s not that he’s sitting because I asked him to, he’s sitting because he is shaping me to give him more pieces of chicken. 😉

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  8. Each of my four cats has their ownw “trick” they have to do to get their treat. Blade has to sit (he’s older and was much more resistant to clicker training), Tajka has to sit up on her backc legs (affectionately term prairie dog) and my other two have to either spin or do a really biiiig stretch. It is definitely about finding out what kitty wants. Mine go crazy for freeze dried chicken. Or just any chicken, really. Most cats are receptive and GOOD at target training so teaching “touch” might be a good way to start encouraging affection and closeness 😀

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    • You have taught your cats to spin? That’s so cool! Our cat has had it so easy in his seven years. He’s gotten lazy. The times, they are a-changin. He’d better be ready!

      A hand target is a great idea, thanks for making me think of that. It’s one of those canine fundamentals that is so useful and I bet it would make such a difference with the cat. So basic but so important! And so simple to teach with a clicker.

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  9. Haha! This must be the same cat trainer who was recently on The Daily Show! Clip here: http://watch.ctv.ca/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/episodes/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-ep-16087-july-11-2011/#clip499417
    My favourite part is where Aasif calls the guy out for carrying things around in a guitar case – even he is ashamed of his so-called ‘cat whispering’ status.

    I’ve never ventured to teach our cats a trick, though their recall is actually decent. I’m not sure either party would have the patience to work on ‘sit’, though I can see possible entertainment in attempting it!

    Though, we did work on teaching a previous cat to use the toilet instead of a litter box. It went well but we never did achieve 100% success. At the time we lived in a one-bathroom apartment downtown, and our own bathroom use eventually overcame cat training as a priority. Not saying it can’t be done, just saying you need 2 bathrooms.

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    • Yes, at the end of the clip – hilarious by the way – is Mr. Galaxy, that’s the guy. At least he acknowledges somewhat the ridiculousness of it all. I do think he is doing a good thing. He is sticking up for cats, not many people do that that aren’t crazy looking, unfortunately. And I am glad his show exists. I just wish it could all be taken a little more seriously. Cats are brought to shelters in hundreds of thousands every single day. He has an opportunity with his show to change this.

      Our cat does respond to the name “Kitty.” He won’t come when I call him unless I have a bag of treats. He will generally come for my PH.

      I’ve read a lot about the toilet training and have no doubt it works. Just not sure I am ready to take that on. Yet…

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    • Do you want to know how long it took me to get Shiva to go through the bloody weaves? Even now she doesn’t do it reliably. Maybe if my PH would build us a full set…

      Dang weaves. I hate those things. But I am glad I can entertain!

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  10. I had a cat who would retrieve a certain toy that she liked me to share with her, but it was a fluke.

    Have you ever seen Jet’s Furkid Palace blog? She trained her cat with a clicker not long ago, and some of the videos were pretty cute!

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    • I haven’t seen that blog. But I will have to check it out, thanks for the recommendation!

      With a cat, it’s never a fluke. That I have learned. 😉

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  11. I think I caught that show once. The couple had a hairless cat that I thought was cute 🙂 There was another show I saw too about college students bringing their pets to school with them that was sorta different.

    Good luck with the cat training! I wonder how it will compare to training Shiva 🙂

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    • Kids were bringing their pets to school? Really? That would be so… Distracting and cool at the same time!

      Thanks. I suspect I will learn how it is to work with a low-drive dog. 😛

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  12. What to say…what to say [tapping fingers]

    Have you seen this today??? http://www.pawcurious.com/2011/07/one-is-the-loneliest-number/

    I’ve never trained a cat to do “tricks”; I barely have the patience to train an intelligent dog. But, I know it can be done. Maybe it will help you and your kitty bond; just try not to get your hopes up too high.

    A roommate of mine had an exceptionally aloof cat who – although never grew a new personality – became much less antisocial when my cat I came along. He was a quiet sweetie who just preferred to be in one’s company, rather than all over one’s lap.

    I do wish you much luck with this new challenge, though. There is great reward in relationship with the cat species – and I so hope you find it! 🙂

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    • Are you saying we need a second cat? I don’t entirely disagree. The thing is, I thought if I wanted to train a cat, we would need to get a kitten. But now I don’t think that is true at all. Our cat has it in him, somewhere, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

      Thanks for the encouragement! I hope I can persevere!

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  13. Looking forward to the cat training video:)

    Don’t know anyone who has trained a cat, but as they appear in films we know it can be done.

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  14. Dude. You. Rock.

    Also your cat is wicked cute. I know he’s fiesty, but I like that about an orange cat. They are supposed to be fiesty. It’s the hair, I swear.

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  15. Your kitty has the sweetest face! I hope all of your training goes well. If I could train my tuxedo kitty not to stick his cold nose in my face at 5:00 am, life would be good 🙂 Keep us posted!!

    I have one kitty that plays fetch – she is self trained and the only kitty that will sit politely (on the dining room table) to receive her treats! Kitties are fascinating little creatures!

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    • They are definitely fascinating, I agree. I wish there were more books written on the behaviour of domestic cats. It seems to be a fairly untapped genre, unfortunately.

      Good luck with the cold nose alarm clock situation. If I figure that out I’ll be sure to let you know!

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  16. Apart from Honey’s little sister, Muesli, I don’t actually know of any cats that are trained. But I think it would be fun to do some clicker training with a cat. I saw a Youtube video on rabbit agility a while ago which was awesome. Youtube would be the first place I’d go looking for ideas and inspiration:)

    Good luck and looking forward to seeing how it goes!

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  17. I’m always surprised at what Milly and Poppet will do…without any training -they always come home when called even if there’s no treat at the end and no where to go and wait when the can of food is opened. They are just creatures of habit really 🙂 I think I’ll give ‘My cat from hell’ a go and look forward to your video too 😀

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  18. Oh! You must have missed our posts about training Muesli! 🙂 You should go back and check them out – I’ve put videos showing how we did it.

    So far, I’ve trained Muesli to Sit on command, Come when her name is called (recall) – she is very good about this and will come shooting in from the garden when I call her – and also “High Five” (this is very cute!).
    Here are some of the links to the blog posts:

    – how I clicker-trained Muesli to “Sit” on command: http://bighoneydog.com/clickertraining-muesli-sit/

    – training Muesli to “High 5” (scroll to the bottom) http://bighoneydog.com/autumndays-high5/

    – early Recall training (I used a lot of conditioning for this)+ other daily life training: http://bighoneydog.com/2011/03/muesli-week4/

    In addition, we also have general house rules that I have always taught all our cats – which is to keep off the dining table & kitchen counter – and they all respect this. I have also taught her to play with her claws sheathed when we wrestle so that she doesn’t scratch me.

    I don’t personally think there is anything you can’t train cats, if you put in the time & effort. People always make such a bit deal of training cats but I actually think it’s not that hard if you just do it very matter-of-factly and don’t make any special allowances for them. I don’t – I’m very much “tough love”! 🙂 Cats get away with things because people let them!

    I have personally always treated our cats exactly like dogs and expected the same things from them, especially when it comes to household rules. I have interviewed several animal wranglers for film and they all say that there is no reason why cats can’t be trained – people just EXPECT them to be untrainable and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure, you might have to do things differently to a dog but there is no reason why they can’t be trained – it’s all about motivation & reward (and in my case, I use a bit of correction/punishmshent for certain things in the house). For the specific tricks like “High Five” and “Sit”, I used clicker and Muesli caught on REALLY fast. But their movements, thinking, etc is a bit different to dogs and you have to get used to that. Also, you really have to keep sessions VERY short coz cats demotivate really easily. There isn’t the inherent need to please you like dogs have = especially a high drive one like Shiva. (I don’t have such a difference with Honey – ha! ha!)

    Speaking of motivation, if your cat is freefeeding, you may find this difficult for clicker training as that relies on food motivation and if your cat can feed itself anytime it likes, there isn’t much motivation there. The first thing I did with Muesli was stop freefeeding her (well, she is on the raw diet now anyway, which can’t be left down all day) – this makes her appreciate food/treats more and we saw a real difference in her keenness to work for treats, I also only use specific treats for clicker trainign that she doesn’t get any other times (eg, tiny bits of roast chicken).

    But once I have taught her a command, I vety quicky phase out the clicker & swap her over to “life rewards” – so for eg. if she wants to go out to the garden she has to SIT before I open the door to let her out…just like dogs, really! 🙂

    Hsin-Yi

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  19. Oh – I forgot to add that we have taught Muesli to walk on leash too (on a harness) – and even taken her out to a local park but again, it’s very different to walking a dog! 🙂 With cats, it’s more about finding security in strange places than interest in socialising & sniffing new places!

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  20. When were were kids we taught the neighbourhood stray cat to sit and stay. His currency was icecream. In all honesty, we didn’t really have to teach him, we just told him to “stay” and he did it. SPOOKY.

    Good luck with your training!

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