Allison's Book Bag

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If you’re looking for new ways to enrich your cat’s life, start with these six books on training cats.

Cat Training in 10 Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is the first book I encountered on training cats. The majority of the chapters are dedicated to teaching obedience, start with an overview and then include clear steps for the lesson to be taught. For example, in talking about sit, Babineau explains that sit is a base behavior for many more complicated behaviors. Because cats also have an inherent inclination to rest on their haunches, sit is also a quick command to teach. Second, a reason the guide engaged my cats and I is that Babineau also provides a numerous variations for each obedience procedure. For example, in talking about jump, Babineau suggests one teach to jump onto various surfaces and those of varying heights. Following the multiple chapters on obedience, there is a hodge-podge of chapters that includes information on tricks, misbehavior, and other ways to work with one’s cat such as therapy and shows. The most life-changing chapters for me were those on obedience and trick.s Using the step-by-step procedures, I’ve successfully taught my cats sit, jump, twirl, stay, down, and kiss. We’re still working on come and fetch. Miriam Fields-Babineau has been a professional animal trainer since 1983 and has taught pet owners how to work with and understand pets of all species. In Cat Training in Ten Minutes, she draws on all this expertise to show how anyone can find the time to enrich the lives of their cats.

The Clever Cat Trick Book by Steve Duno is an easy-to-read book that covers a lot of tricks. Cat owners will learn how to teach their cat to chase, sit, spin, shake, kiss, come, beg, down, fetch, and over. For many of the tricks such as sit and spin, cat owners simply have to reward their cat for doing what comes naturally to cats for the tricks to become part of their cat’s repertoire. Other tricks such as shake and kiss might depend on the cat having an outgoing personality, as the cat will need to accept being touched. Some of the tricks will prove more difficult but Duno offers ideas for simplifying them. For example, he recognizes that teaching the trick down will require a cat to take a submissive position, and so suggests teaching it on a table where cats will feel less threatened. In addition, he notes that teaching a cat the first part of fetch is relatively easy, but the retrieve part will require a cat to know how to come when called. Duno is a veteran pet behaviorist and his knowledge shines not just when he’s teaching readers how to do tricks, but also when he’s explaining why cats need the stimulation of tricks and how to account for individual needs based on breed, age, health, gender, and background. Novices to training will love this book.

In the book The Trainable Cat, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis discuss not only how cats should be trained but why cats need to be trained. I applaud the book’s structure. The authors first present key skills. Then as new training skills are introduced, they refer back to those key skills. In this way, the content builds on itself, and complex training tasks can be understood as edible chunks.
Thanks to The Trainable Cat, I’ve started to develop a whole new training mindset. I’m beginning to generalize my training efforts to include behaviors that my cats need. For example, when Andy and I bring home new purchases, I place them where our cats might discover them but I also allow them the freedom to discover these purchases on their own cognizance. If our cats indicate a dislike or fear of something, such as small spaces or loud noises, I help them gradually bring up their confidence. Or if our cats act in a displeasing way, such as growling over and stealing food, I teach them to wait. At three-hundred pages, with minimal illustrations, The Trainable Cat can feel overwhelming if one is starting out. Even so, I highly recommend that all cat owners take the time to read, study, and apply The Trainable Cat ideas. It’ll positively change your relationship with your feline companions.

Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor is a classic by the founder of the clicker training system. In the first chapter, Pryor overviews the reasons for training a cat, what clicker training is, and how to do it. She also provides alternatives to using a clicker and/or treats. The subsequent two chapters are divided into useful and fun behaviors cat owners can teach their cat with a clicker. One useful behavior that we’re working in our household is an alternative to begging during food preparation. So far, I’ve taught our youngest cat to sit on a stool to wait for her meal. Next, I need to work on having her wait on the stool while I work in the kitchen. One fun behavior we’re working on is building a repertoire of tricks to perform in succession, instead of repeating the same trick over and over. In the fourth and last chapter, Pryor address problem behaviors, for which a program of positive reinforcement can make a difference. She covers litterbox issues, aggression, biting, ambushing, scratching, yowling, fighting, getting stuck in trees, to name a few. The one we’re working on is counter-surfing, and it remains a work-in-progress. Although I’ve read Pryor’s book more than once, I’m still learning new skills from it.

What do elephants, killer whales, and the family pet have in common? Training with zoomility! Or so says Grey Stafford, who contends that training animals is as much about having fun as it is about helping them succeed in our world. Zoomility is divided into two parts. The first part is intended for anyone who is starting to train a new or young animal or “clean slate” animals that haven’t yet learned undesirable behaviors. Stafford spends forty pages covering his philosophy of positive reinforcement, and then another forty applying it to common behaviors. Some of those behaviors fall under obedience training such as sit, stay, come; other behaviors are practical such as crate training, leash training, and visits to the vet; and some are just for fun such as jump, balance, and fetch. The second part is intended for anyone who works with animals and has already made mistakes with them or for anyone who is starting to train an animal with an unknown or unpleasant history. Stafford focuses mostly on those animals with aggressive and destructive behaviors and so, while you might find ideas on how to work with bullies, you’ll need other resources for working with the shyer animals. Stafford adds lightness by beginning each chapter with a personal tale of his experience as a zookeeper, but his writing style relies heavily on training language, and so this book is most-suited for those immersed in the training world.

Naughty No More by Marilyn Kreiger is my newest purchase. In the first chapter, Kreiger defines clicker-training, explains how to use it, and shares its benefits. In doing so, she explains two terms relatively new to me: Shaping is act of breaking down a complex behavior into tiny steps and then rewarding the cat for each correct movement that gets the cat closer to the goal behavior; Luring is the act of tempting a cat to perform an action by offering some form of reward. The next seven chapters address problem behaviors: counter surfing, door darting, scratching, matchmaking, aggression, vet visits, and litter box issues. Some of these behaviors I’ve encountered prior to purchasing this book, such as how to deal with counter surfers and so have already read about. Kreiger overviews ineffective aversive methods, potential persuasive methods, and the effective positive reinforcement methods. The chapter is readable but also thorough, in that she explains the various reasons cats might surf and how to individually train cats to meet their unique needs. Some behaviors I’m just now encountering as a foster parent such as door darting and so need all the ideas I can find. Providing toys, puzzle feeders, and scheduled interaction time were a few options Kreiger suggested, in addition to using a clicker to train dashers to sit. The final chapter covers tricks, all of which could use a chapter in themselves, and so serve simply as an introduction. Kreiger’s book is colorful, uses an abundance of side bars, and includes several case histories. I recommend it for cat owners of all levels.

 

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I’m so proud of Rainy! In April, she received her certification as a therapy cat. And in May we were able to take her to a studio photo shoot at JC Penny as a reward.

Rainy and I began her certification process back in January. Our first step was to have a Control Evaluation form completed by our vet. The form asks eleven questions. Some are about health, others are about temperament, and the rest are related to Love on a Leash (LOAL) regulations. For example, is Rainy house trained, will she be on a leash, and can I control her. Temperament is by far the most important. Aggressive cats are automatically disqualified. Our veterinarian described Rainy as: “social, inquisitive, and sweet”.

Our second step was to undergo ten supervised visits at a facility. If there is a local LOAL chapter, a graduate of the program can act as supervisor. Normally we would have been supervised by a graduate of the Omaha LOAL chapter’s cat program. But there were no such graduates. I would be the first. Therefore, we were instead supervised by the activity directors of the two senior residences where we visited.

The third step was to fill out the LOAL application for cats. The application is three pages. The first page asked for basic information about me, Rainy, and our vet. I also had to sign a declaration that states Rainy has never been aggressive. The second page was a fee checklist. A new membership is $50. The third page contained a pet agreement. Among other things, it stipulates that we’ll continue to train and that we’ll be clean and well-groomed for each visit. In addition to filling out the three-page form, I had to submit a headshot of Rainy for her photo ID and two full-body photos for LOAL’s records.

On April 8, I received an email from a LOAL National representative informing me that my application had been received. The representative asked a few follow-up questions and then told me my application would get forwarded to the Membership Chairman. I was, and I soon also heard from the Membership Chairman, who asked a few questions and then told me that Rainy’s certification was approved. I received my therapy cat certification packet on April 14. It included an ID for me, photo ID for Rainy, bandana, plastic ID holder for both IDS, retractable lanyard, LOAL pet tag, and LOAL certificate.

Rainy_LOALAs a reward, Andy and I took Rainy to a studio photo shoot on May 9 at JC Penny. We wanted Rainy photographed wearing only her LOAL cat therapy bandana, without the clutter of her collar or harness, and the photographer graciously blocked off the studio door so that Rainy couldn’t escape once off her leash. Customers are encouraged to bring their own props to add personality (and comfort for babies/pets) and so I brought Rainy’s favorite toys, bedding, and treats. Naturally, I dressed Rainy up with her therapy cat bandana.

Then began the challenge of having Rainy pose for a photo. I used every trick I could think of. I directed her to “Sit!” and held up a treat. Rainy complied but only for a couple of seconds. Next, I tried directing her to “Stay!” Unfortunately, she’s yet to become proficient with this command. I also tried directing her to “Pose for the camera!” while holding up a treat. Again, Rainy complied but only for a few seconds. I started having flashbacks of my parents’ efforts to photograph my brother and sister when they were energetic toddlers. The photographer made clicking sounds, which caught Rainy’s attention for a few seconds. Andy also tried to help by directing Rainy’s attention towards the camera, and by repositioning Rainy when she moved. Fortunately, the times when Rainy posed for even just a few seconds were enough for the photographer to take some great shots.

We had selected two backdrops for the shoot. The first was a blue sky with clouds. After several shots with it, the photographer then switched to the second backdrop, which was plain white. We wanted Rainy to stand out in her photos.

The photographer also added some of her own props. She selected ones that fit Rainy’s name: yellow galoshes and a yellow umbrella. She also added a bouquet of yellow flowers. We tried to get Rainy to sit on a stool or to stand with her front paws on it, but Rainy wasn’t having anything to do with the stool. She did however pose with everything else. At times, she crouched or flopped, but several times she sat upright and a few times she looked upward. And so once again, the photographer was able to take some great shots.

Over all, we were pleased with the visit. Rainy acted friendly and curious in a new place. She also somewhat followed our commands. Near the end of May, we’ll have two 8×10 photos to frame, along with two sheets of wallet-size photos that I can hand-out to people whom Rainy and I visit.

If your cat enjoys people and is comfortable with unfamiliar places, please consider cat therapy. For more information, please email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom and/or join I-Cat.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

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This post is one in a series of three being reprinted for the Companion Animal Psychology Train for Rewards Blog 2018, which will officially run June 14-16. Although training methods are directly referred to here, training is an essential part of cats both receiving and keeping their certification.

“Rainy’s come to visit again!” I hear this excited cry as Rainy and I start our therapy cat rounds. Since I last posted about Rainy’s therapy cat adventures, Rainy and I have completed four more supervised rounds. Although Rainy continues to have her off moments she’s growing in her role as an ambassador of happiness.

At one senior residence, Rainy and I pick which seniors to see and how long to stay. We started with just one senior, now we we’re up to four. One lady is very familiar, as we’ve been seeing her regularly since January and we’ve swapped many stories. She grew up on a farm with cats, but then got dogs when she got married. On our most recent visit, I heard several personal and sad stories about her family but also the happy news that one of her daughters was moving back to town. Two other ladies are less familiar, as we’ve only been visiting them since March. The first time we dropped in on one lady, she smiled at Rainy but barely talked. The second time, I came prepared with more stories and questions, with the result that I received longer answers. As I left her room the last time we visited, I encountered a man who expressed delight upon seeing Rainy. I asked if he wanted us to come by his room, and he said yes. As we entered his room, he told me that he misses his cats and wishes that he could have one now. While he held and petted Rainy, we talked more about cats. He expressed sadness about the homeless cats, and shared memories of his own cats. I promised that we’d return. On our way out of the building, we met the activities director. She told me how popular Rainy is, and how she’s all anyone can talk about the day after we come.

At another senior residence, those interested in meeting Rainy sign up for a 15-minute time slot, and the visits take place in a common room. There are three regulars, along with a few who sign up occasionally, and always one or two new folks. A visit early in March went particularly well. One lady proudly shared that after seeing the tricks Rainy can do, she’d taught her cat to sit. She invited me to come to her room, so I could see for myself. Another lady said she almost didn’t come because of her migraine.” Rainy allowed the woman to hold her close during the entire visit and, by the end, the woman’s migraine was gone. Such is the therapeutic power of cats! A third lady had just celebrated her birthday and wanted hugs from Rainy. Finally, a gentleman who used to own cats before moving into the senior residence might now want to pay the hefty pet deposit so that he can have a cat again.

On my most recent visit to the senior residence with Rainy, we had more positive experiences. One lady shared that she really wanted to adopt a cat, but she couldn’t afford it, and so we talked about the alternative of fostering a cat. As Rainy and I stroll the hallway between visits, a gentleman passing by expressed admiration for a cat on a leash. I invited him to spend time with Rainy, which he did until the next scheduled visitor. Later, as I prepared to leave, I ran into a lady who wanted to share stories about her cat. As we talked, another lady stopped to see Rainy. She then expressed an interest in signing up for Rainy’s next visit. The first lady then extended an invitation for the second lady to meet her cat too. When I left, the two were making plans to get together!

In additional to our official cat therapy rounds at the senior residences, we sometimes get asked to visit people not on our list. For example, at one of the senior residences we were asked to see a patient who was about to check-out at the end of a week-long stay. The lady shared details of her cat and asked for stories about Rainy. Her senior cat’s name is Little Bit. She’s adopted her cats from The Cat House. After we swapped cat stories, she asked me about my interest in cat therapy and how we got started. When time came for me to leave, she thanked me for bringing Rainy and said: “You made my day.”

Rainy and I have now completed twelve supervised therapy rounds. I love that our cat therapy work is strengthening our bond. Just as much, I value the opportunity it gives us to show how amazing cats are and answer questions about cat care. Rainy does more than make people happy–she’s an ambassador for cats! Cat therapy is a win-win on all levels! Stay tuned for future updates, and email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom if cat therapy interests you.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

2018-train-for-rewards-butt

This post is one in a series of three being reprinted for the Companion Animal Psychology Train for Rewards Blog 2018, which will officially run June 14-16. Although training methods are directly referred to here, training is an essential part of cats both receiving and keeping their certification.

Rainy and I have started our therapy cat visits! We alternate between two senior residences, for about an hour each Friday morning. My tote bag is always packed beforehand and ready with treats, toys, blankets, sanitary pet wipes, and camera. The morning of a visit I clip Rainy’s nails and brush a dry shampoo through her coat. When it’s time to head out, I put Rainy’s harness on her and load her into a crate. After we arrive at our destination, I load Rainy into her pet stroller. Then we spend an adventurous morning visiting seniors.

Rainy and I began our visits to one senior residence back in mid-January. Each time, we pick who to visit and how long to stay. We’ve gone four times, and Rainy has continued to improve.

On our first visit, Rainy started out shy but eventually relaxed. When I took Rainy to meet one of the activity directors, Rainy immediately hid under an office desk. Shaundra and I ignored her while we carried on our business. I handed Rainy’s medical records to Shaundra and swapped cat stories. Then Shaundra explained that the cat therapy program would mirror the dog therapy program: The apartment of each resident participating in the therapy dog program has a dog magnet at the top of its doorway. Naturally, cat magnets will now be used to signal which residents would like a visit from Rainy. After we finished deciding the details of our visits, Shaundra gave us a tour of the facility. At one point we paused to visit a cat-loving resident. By this point, Rainy felt comfortable enough to greet people and be petted. A successful start!

Shaundra encouraged us to not rush our progress. For that reason, we made only one stop on our second visit, and it was to the cat-loving resident that we had met previously. At first Rainy just stayed in her stroller while Jan and I chatted. Jan asked Rainy’s name and her age. She also shared some of her life story with me. During a lull in our conversation, I gave Jan treats to entice Rainy out of her stroller and into a chair. Rainy soon relaxed enough that she agreed to perform some tricks. Then she wanted a break and so I took her for a walk on leash in the hallway. When we returned to Jan’s room, Rainy allowed me to place her on Jan’s lap and for Jan to pet her.

It was on our third visit that Rainy showed how comfortable she had become with Jan. Upon entering Jan’s room, Rainy jumped out of her stroller, flopped onto the floor, and rolled her scent into the carpet and onto Jan’s feet. Then while Jan and I chatted, Rainy lay on a nearby chair and ate treats from Jan’s hands. At the end of our visit, I took photos of the two.

Our fourth visit did not go as smoothly. Rainy’s comfort level fell when I challenged her by taking her to visit additional residents. Our first stop was a quick one. We started with a lady who had just returned from breakfast and was bundling herself in blankets. She smiled at us and I exchanged some stories with her, but then she drifted off to sleep. The next stop lasted longer. The lady smiled and bubbled with conversation. She used to own a cat and wanted to know everything about Rainy. Despite the allure of treats, Rainy mostly stayed near me. Our last stop was to see Jan. Rainy snuggled with her while I share photos, but then Rainy hopped into her stroller and turned her back to us. Enough excitement for one day!

Rainy and I began our visits to the second senior residence in early February. Those interested in meeting Rainy sign up for a 15-minute time slot, and the visits take place in a common room.  We’ve gone three times, with mixed results.

On our first visit, six residents had signed up to meet Rainy. She mostly ignored the first visitor, preferring instead to explore the room. After that, she amazed me with her aptitude! Rainy seemed to figure out that the residents needed her and that her job was to provide comfort. She sat in the lap of the subsequent residents, let them pet her and talk to her, and gave them her full attention. One of those residents had lost a dog a few months earlier and still felt sad. She talked to Rainy the entire fifteen minutes. Finally, after six visitors and 90 minutes of socializing, I put Rainy back into her stroller for a well-deserved rest.”

Two weeks later, Rainy and I returned. During the first time slot, Rainy again mostly explored the room. After that, in contrast to our previous visit, Rainy remained restless. Her ears perked and her tail twitched at every little sound from the hall or parking lot. Her attention was clearly elsewhere. She even refused to sit with two of the residents. I left feeling as if the visit had been a disaster, and even questioned whether I was making the right choice in asking Rainy to be a therapy cat.

As soon as we got home, I posted my concerns to I-CAT. One member reassured me that it might simply be an issue of maturity. Rainy isn’t even three years old and so is still a “child.” Another member pointed out that it could simply be an issue of experience. Rainy has only been a therapy cat for two months! Several members recommended that I proceed more slowly with Rainy and to not push Rainy to sit in people’s laps. They advised that most residents will be happy simply to pet Rainy, and they suggested that I allow her to stay in her stroller or that I put her in a basket or on a chair. They also encouraged me to take more of a leadership role during our visits. If I’m nervous Rainy will pick up on those feelings. In addition, if I want Rainy to stay close to me, or if I want residents to let Rainy make the choice to sit with them, then I need to communicate this clearly through my words and actions. Members also agreed that I should reduce our outings from 90 minutes to 60, the latter being the average length of therapy pet visits.

To my relief, our most recent visit was a positive one. On our way to the senior residence, I took Rainy to the pet store. I did this so Rainy will associate car rides with all kinds of outings. Then when I set up in the senior center’s common room, I gave Rainy several options of places to lay: her stroller, a bed on the table, and a basket next to the resident. I also loaded up her basket with toys. I did these things to maximize her comfort. The next part of my strategy was to provide each visitor with a dish of treats so that Rainy would view strangers positively. Finally, because Rainy had shrunk back from a man in a wheelchair during our last visit, I initially held Rainy to reassure her but then gave the man a tube of squeezable food. As soon as Rainy smelled it she sniffed his hands and purred. Finally, I explained to each resident that we would respect Rainy’s choice of where to be, whether it was on their lap, in her stroller, or elsewhere. Being curious, Rainy ultimately did explore the table, basket, and even the laps of residents. When she got into people’s laps, I praised her and stayed attuned to her reactions. At the first sign that she felt discomfort, I offered her a break. During that time, I invited her to do tricks with me or simply let her chill out in her stroller.

About nine months ago, I decided to post timely updates about my training with Rainy. I knew this was a risk. We were inevitably going to make mistakes and those less-than-successful moments would be in print for anyone to read. But I also believed that sharing our ups and downs, and what we learned from them, would benefit others. Some might learn from our mistakes, while others might take comfort in knowing that pet training doesn’t require perfection. Stay tuned for future updates and email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom if pet therapy interests you.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

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Graphic novels have grown in popularity over the past decade. In some libraries, the hottest children’s books are often graphic novels. Here are three graphic novel recommendations for different ages groups.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard features a young boy who finds himself whisked back to the 16th century England while exploring an abandoned theater. He emerges on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the middle of a performance, much to the chagrin of William Shakespeare himself. A chase erupts, wherein the young boy frees and then befriends both a caged bear and an imprisoned baron. Kids and their parents will want to study the detailed illustrations to get the most out of this wordless paneled graphic novel.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first title in the Lunch Lady series, introduces an uncover hero who assumes the guise of a lunch lady. A group of school friends who call themselves the Breakfast Bunch take a stand against bullies, agonize over what clubs to join, laugh at each other’s food choices, and debate who should win Teacher of the Year award. One day they follow the Lunch Lady home to see what she does when not serving meals. This leads to them teaming up with the Lunch Lady, her sidekick, and their crime-fighting gadgets against a suspicious substitute teacher. Mayhem abounds in this fast-paced madcap adventure, which has been a hit with both boys and girls.

For older readers comes the autobiographical novel called Smile. It tells of Raina who just wants to be a normal sixth-grader, but one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, damaging her two front teeth. This seemingly simple incident leads to years of agonizing over braces, headgear, surgery, and even a retainer with fake teeth. As if all this wasn’t already enough, Raina must maneuver her way through the confusion of changing friendships, dating, and self-identity. Although Smile takes place in the 1980’s, it still feels fresh. Anyone who has experienced the pain of dental work and adolescent angst will relate. Just as important, the novel will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find their creative voice.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.


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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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