Breaking News! Cats Are Not…

I had my very first cat-training breakthrough yesterday. It was pretty earth-shattering. Are you ready?

These:

Are not these:

That’s correct. Cats are not dogs. Are you as shocked as I am?

All joking aside, it really is a concept I need to drill into my head if I am going to make any progress teaching my cat new behaviours. I guess I assumed since cats respond to clicker training as well as dogs do, that my other methods could be exactly the same. Not so. For instance, ignoring behaviour you don’t want in a dog, usually helps reduce that behaviour. However, if you ignore a cat for doing something you don’t like – say, jumping on the counter – the cat is going to just keep doing it. Their motivations are almost entirely different. A cat only ever behaves to please himself and what pleases himself often has very little to do with you.

Or should I say always has very little to do with you?

Furthermore, if you think dogs require a lot of patience, cats beat that trifold. Dogs you can rev up or verbally encourage. Cats, at least my cat, respond better to calm silence. If I start jumping around and making crazy noises, my dog thinks it’s party time. If I do the same with my cat he looks at me with disdain, turns up his tail, and walks away. In order to encourage him it is much better to sit very still on the floor, calm my breathing, and look away. Kind of like working with a fearful dog.

Another way they are different is that my dog is ready to train all day, every day. I could wake her up at two am, treats in hand, and she’ll offer a thousand different behaviours. My cat, on the other hand, is only willing to work with me at very specific times and for very specific intervals. If I went downstairs right now where he is sleeping on the bed, he’d make it very clear interacting with me is not on his agenda. All of the open tuna cans in the world wouldn’t convince him it was time to train. Any work with cats needs to be done on their terms. I find mine is most likely to learnΒ between eight and ten at night, which is when he usually comes looking for treats. I am more than happy to take advantage of his munchies!

Lastly, and this one is just annoying, cats are not dogs in that no one seems interested in writing books on how to train them. Walking to the pet section of my local book store I see shelves upon shelves of books on dog behaviour and training. Do you know how many cat related books I see? Five. As in, five books in total. This includes the one about Dewey the Library Cat and one that is just a collection of cute photos. So really there are three that actually have something to do with cat training and care. Fortunately, one of those three turns out to be a winner. Every night for the last week or so, I’ve curled up with my lovely copy of Bruce Fogle’s Complete Cat Care: What Every Cat Owner Needs to Know.Β A veterinarian, Fogle seems to understand the cat brain – as much as any human can – and explains their needs and motivations very well. The book even includes a terrific section on cat tricks. Perhaps less selection in books means there isn’t a lot of fodder to sort through. No doubt the dog section could do with some weeding out.

But I digress. The last time I talked about cat training, I attempted to show off my cat’s ability to sit on command. But I realise now I was getting way ahead of myself. I am back to foundation stuff. Right now it’s all about making him comfortable taking treats directly from my hand. Once he is cool doing that, I will be able to lure him into a proper sit. I have also been working on a simple hand target. It’s slow going but after investing just a few minutes every night, I already feel like our relationship has changed for the better.

Cat agility here we come?

ETA: Oops! I should have added that this is NOT my video, though the cat in it does look quite similar to The Cat. But this video is actually the result of someone else’s very hard work and not my own. I just found it while browsing on Youtube and thought I would share it here. We’ve got a long, long, LONG way to go before we are ever this much of a team.

27 thoughts on “Breaking News! Cats Are Not…

  1. So after watching the video, it appears that cat agility is the only sport calmer than chess. At least chess has the players hitting the clock.

    You do realize the major thing most people interested in cat training do is teach their cat to use a toilet. It fits in with what a cat wants to do–keep its home area clean.

    Of course, after reading Jan on the superiority of cats, I’m not sure we want to teach them to be any smarter. If they can fool us into thinking they’re obeying us, it will make it that much easier to suck our brains out when we’re not watching. πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks! When it comes to cats, luck is definitely needed!

      I also wanted to say, I’ve been having troubles commenting on your blog all week. Blogger seems to dislike what I have to say and it keeps erasing my comments when I click the button. I’m wondering if it’s my browser. Anyway, I wanted to let you know I loved the photo of the insect you posted yesterdary. Very cool.

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        • Kate and Kristine–

          I have been having the same trouble over at Peggy Frezon’s site, and I used to have it with Kari’s Dog is God in Reverse. Check the security settings, or try a a different browser, or give up commenting. πŸ™‚

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          • Kristine – are you using IE 8 or 9? Blogger is notoriously glitchy with both versions. It might fix itself if you click the “compatibility” button at the end of the address bar, whenever you are on a blogger post.

            People were having this problem on Kol’s Notes a few months ago, so I installed Intense Debate on my blog and took the blogger native comment system out of the picture.

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  2. I think I almost died watching that video. Sooo funny. I feel like the cat was swearing at you. (I feel like my dog does that sometimes, too.)
    I’ve never trained a cat to do agility before, but I have trained a bunny. Hilarious when she doesn’t get an anticipated reward (because she didn’t complete something) and she THUMPS her back legs down. ^-^;;

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  3. I’m not even attempting to train the cat; I have my hands full with Delilah. Although Bob is getting pretty good at the “Bob Come” command. However he totally stinks at the “Get the EFF out from under my feet” command. 😦

    Bruce Fogle also wrote a book and I can’t think of the name of it now (I do have it at home) about understanding the dog’s mind. I should go back and look at that.

    Keep us posted on your progress Kristine, maybe you can help me with Bob.

    Oh and Pamela, when I was a kid we had a cat that used the toilet…..but when my father saw him he was quite surprised and must have said something startling, because the cat never did it again.

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  4. You cracked me up, as usual. What seems like such an obvious thing would be a HUGE revelation to many, many trainers. I think training your cat will keep you challenged in a different way than working with Shiva does, which is great for you. And the video? Priceless.

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  5. HAHAH I didnt know cats could even be trained until one day on tv there was a cat whisperer person and it helped owners train their cats. I dont know anything about cats – we didnt have them growing up and now my dogs have shown their pure hatred for them πŸ™‚

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  6. Yeah, cats and dogs require different approaches. Like dogs, cats are a bunch of very different individuals. Froufrou, who sits and jumps on command, is the most doggie cat I’ve ever really interacted with, and I’ve still only got a couple of tricks out of her over 5 years!

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  7. I’m thinking viral video here and a whole new approach to being a cat owner. Your cat may have blown it for all the other cats in the world by completing the course.

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  8. Um…I think you shoulda talked to me cuz I coulda told you kittehs are WAAAAY different than doggies. For one thing, they’re allowed to jump up on the coffee table. Now, just what do you think would happen if I tried to do that? Well, it wouldn’t be good, I can tell you that!

    But I like that you’re training your kitteh. Mom says she always wished she had worked with Cap’n Ripley cuz he was super food motivated. (I mean, you’ve seen pictures of him, right?)

    Wiggles & Wags,
    mayzie

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  9. When I had a cat, it never occurred to me to train him (beyond the litterbox and not scratching the furniture!) and I wish now that I had. I’ve heard that cats clicker train as well as dogs, but again, I haven’t put it into practice.

    So, it’s good to know. That cats aren’t dogs. Sometimes I forget!

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  10. I love how you are training the Cat. It’s seriously awesome. Our cat? Not a chance. He pees in the toilet which is NOT something I taught him and it totally creeps me out. Can’t wait to see what you and the kitty achieve. If anyone can do it. You can.

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  11. So very well said! I am discovering all the same things with my training of Muesli. Although I have to say, having a dog with “very low drive” has perhaps helped me a bit because I don’t expect to have instant attention or interest in training at any time of day or high motivation to please me or keenness to repeat the same exercise over and over or any of those other things you said – because I never had that with MY dog – ha ha! It has always been hard work with Honey and so I guess the cat is just an extension of that.

    Nevertheless, you are absolutely right – it is MUCH harder work to train cats and I think that is one reason why there are so many fewer books on the subject. A lot fewer people have the patience and dedication and persistence to see things through and therefore a lot less are successful – and so a lot fewer can write about it. With a lot of dogs of a certain type of temperament and drive, almost anyone with half a brain can train them and achieve some kind of respectable result. Just look around at all the lousy pet owners who still manage to have a relatively nice dog! Whereas you just can’t be lazy/incompetent like that with a cat and get any kind of result – unless you are very lucky and the cat’s own agenda happens to coincide with yours! πŸ™‚

    I do tend to treat my cats the same way as my dogs overall – in that I don’t make too many allowances for them, I expect them to follow the same house rules and I don’t just give in like many people do on the excuse that “it’s a cat”… But having said that, I have had to adjust things when I am training Muesli. The main thing is keeping sessions MUCH shorter because, as you said, her attention span and motivation to please is a very very low.

    I am quite lucky in that – perhaps it is her age and because I introduced clicker training so young – but Muesli seems relatively interested in training most of the time, as long as she is awake! She is very treats-orientated – although I think we created this attitude by a) not allowing her to free-feed all the time so food becomes a valuable resource and b) teaching her the association between being rewarded with treats for her actions from a very young age– in a sense, she has been “brainwashed” from a young age to enjoy and value training time. She actually gets very excited when I get the clicker out and if I’m doing anything with Honey, she immediately comes over and tries to worm her way in and keeps throwing tricks at me to try and earn a treat herself. (Unfortunately, the only trick she knows so far reliably is “High Five” – ha ha! She is a bit of a one trick pony at the moment and only offers that, which is quite funny but also quite frustrating. It’s my fault for not investing more time in her training – I’ve just been too busy travelling and other stuff and haven’t really persisted with any of the new things I started teaching her.)

    Anyway, I am really pleased to see that you are persisting with the Cat Training! By the way, did you see the post we did a while back about Honey’s daily walk and there was a video which shows Muesli’s Recall training? That is one thing I am very proud of having achieved – it is so useful to have a reliable recall in the cat that goes outside!

    Hsin-Yi

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  12. “Right now it’s all about making him comfortable taking treats directly from my hand.”
    If you can do that, before you know it, you will be head over heels with each other. πŸ™‚ So excited for your breakthrough!

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  13. Pingback: Tricks ARE Treats | Rescued Insanity

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