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Posts Tagged ‘cat agility

It was a perfect agility outing. On June 4, Andy and I made our second drive to Hearts United for Animals to train Rainy on the shelter’s agility equipment. Other than facing the humidity of a hot spring day, everything went well.

In contrast, when we first visited back in early May, pretty much everything had gone wrong. Rainy is a curious cat, but she still gets nervous around new people and places. On our first visit, she encountered sensory overload: We visited on a stormy day despite knowing that noise frightens Rainy; we brought her into the agility room normally used for dogs; we invited her into it while a dog and three people were still in the room; and we encouraged visitors to come by and watch her. There was no way she could feel comfortable or concentrate while all that was going on. To make matters worse, I made the mistake of bringing low-incentive treats (ordinary treats she received every day) instead of high-incentive treats (such as cheese or meat)”. Rainy therefore had no reason not to simply retreat instead of choosing to explore. And finally, although cats can go without water and litter box for several hours, I realized that bringing these might have added to her comfort. That first day was quite the learning experience!

On June 4, we were so much better prepared. We brought water, litter box, and goat cheese. We visited on a day when clear skies ruled. We ensured there were no strangers or dogs in the agility room. Rainy showed her appreciation. She didn’t try to retreat to the nearest wall or tunnel, but instead rolled around on the floor to leave her scent. Positive start!

Andy and I then allowed Rainy time to get her bearings. With Rainy in a harness and on a leash, I encouraged her to sniff tunnels, weaves, and other obstacles. When Rainy ducked into a tube and exited on the other side, I immediately gave her goat cheese. Even if she might not have been trying to do agility, I was going to reward Rainy for being inquisitive rather than afraid.

Then, like a mother bird pushing her young to fly, I pushed Rainy to try some of the contacts. I carried her to her favorite obstacle—the dog walk—positioned her at one end, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. As soon as she moved forward to sniff the cheese, I began walking along the dog walk while holding the cheese in front of her. Happily, Rainy followed. All the way to the end!

From there, I led Rainy through a series of other obstacles. We tried the table and a jump. I got her to do the tube again by throwing cheese through it to the other side. By now, the dog walk was nothing, and so getting her to “Walk It” again was not a problem.

After doing these obstacles a few times, I once again pushed Rainy to new heights. I brought her to one of her least favorite obstacles—the A Frame—positioned her at the start, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. Except I didn’t simply lure her by holding cheese in front of her. Instead I sprinkled cheese at the start, on the up side, on the down side, and at the end. After she successfully completed it, I brought her to another of her least favorite obstacles–the tunnel, and positioned her at the start. Here, I got her started by going in a few paces with her. All the while, Andy stood on the other end and called to her. As soon as her ears perked at his voice, unlike our previous visit, I stopped and let her finish on her own.

Once Rainy had attempted all obstacles except the weaves, Andy advised: “Let’s end on a positive note.” We’d been at it for less than 30 minutes, but that was enough for her second time. To wrap up, I ran Rainy through a mini-course. When she refused the A-Frame and tunnel, I didn’t push her but simply let her proceed to the jumps. At the grand finale, I rewarded her with plenty of goat cheese, praise, and caresses. We loaded everything into the car and began our one-hour drive back home where Rainy could look forward to a well-deserved nap with her sisters.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

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Training rule #6: Take precautions.

Training rule #7: Praise baby steps.

Last month, to better prepare Rainy for doing agility, I decided to expose her to as many new situations as I could. I started by introducing her to the great adventure of our front porch and then encouraged her to explore the stairs and sidewalk. I also began inviting more visitors over to see her. With the start of a new month, I decided it was time to venture beyond our yard.

Day #1: I took Rainy to a nearby park in a pet stroller. When we got there, I clipped a leash to her harness and took her out of the stroller to let her explore. Despite my feeding her treats, Rainy immediately found a bench to hide under. I picked up both her and the treats. Then I sat with her on a bench. Rainy nibbled at treats in my hands, all the while staying alert to the world around her. She’s a cautious cat, which isn’t necessarily bad; her caution keeps her near me and the stroller While we sat, a man strolled by, then stopped to glance back at us. “Is that a cat?” he asked. When I said yes, he told me that he takes his cat to the park too. His cat is old and loves the outdoors. He left and a family came along. The two children pointed and exclaimed, “A cat!” No one came over to pet Rainy, the way they would have if I’d had our dog with me, but from their excitement I could. Next another man walked by. He stared and then laughed, but he said, “Have a good day!” And you know what? We did. Rainy and I soaked in the sunlight and enjoyed the glorious bright and warm day.

Day #2: One of my training rules is to build on success. For that reason, I headed back to the park with Rainy. We were assaulted with a lot of chatter even before we reached the park entrance. Two large families passed us, with kids who once again acted happy or perhaps amazed to see a cat at the park. At the first bench, I took Rainy out and put her on my lap. Another of my training rules is to provide high incentives. Today I brought goat cheese. I didn’t even try to hand feed her, but just let her stick her tongue into the container. Although her body trembled at all the commotion going on, Rainy did relax enough to eat her treats. And while she ate, I caught up on phone calls. When I was done, I put Rainy on the grass. She just sat and looked at me. I tried multiple places and got the same reaction. I respected her stress and brought her back to the bench. Unlike the day before, however, this time Rainy didn’t dive under the bench. Instead she climbed up on it and looked around. I smiled and sat beside her. Baby steps!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

This month has been an adventurous one for our Rainy girl! She has been introduced to the great outdoors, our porch, and the sidewalk in front of our house. She’s also met one of our neighbors. We wrapped up May with more visitors and outings.

Day 1: When a visitor stopped by today, Rainy came strolling into the living room. I picked her up and brought her over to see our visitor. Greetings done, I left our visitor to get something. When I returned, I found that Andy was giving treats to Rainy and having the volunteer give her treats as well. He told me later that Rainy was frightened by our visitor. This surprised me because she had been fine in the living room. Cats are territorial. Did she not like our visitor having access to other parts of the house? Pets bond with their owners. Was Rainy timid because I wasn’t there? I don’t know, but her reaction makes me realize I need to be less casual about our new activities. Rainy is no longer a desperate stray kitten, and there are situations in which she’ll need time to adjust, and I should respect that as her guardian.

Day 2: Years ago, as a naïve new cat owner, thought that my years of experience with dogs and the insights from other cat friends was enough. Now I am not content to settle, and so I read lots and lots of cat books, the latest being Adventure Cats. In it, I learned a little tidbit. If one decides to introduce an indoor cat to the great outdoors, one should carry them out. Why? To avoid teaching them that it’s okay for them to go out the door, and thus decrease the chance that they’ll run away. Today I carried Rainy outside and I like that strategy a lot better. When I was coaxing her walk out the door, I was sending her mixed messages: When she’s on leash I encouraged her to walk out the door, otherwise I would shoo her away from the door. By carrying her outside for training, I can give her the consistent message that she’s never allowed to walk out the door.

Day 3: Last week I tried to build on success by encouraging Rainy to explore outside a little more each day. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how people and animals often get comfortable with each other simply by spending time together. For that reason, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Rainy and I just spent casual time together on the porch. I read a little from a book and researched a little on my laptop, while Rainy checked out the sights and sounds. One day there was rain and wind; another day there were bikers, kids, and dogs. On both days, after settling into the porch territory, Rainy searched for the treats I had scattered. In addition, Rainy tugged on her leash when she reached the stairs. I asked her, “Do you want to go for a walk?” Then I packed up my stuff and headed into the world with her. We walked one way and then the other on the sidewalk outside our house. I kept watch for dogs and other potential dangers. Both days, after about five minutes, Rainy calmly returned to the porch and stood at the door.

Day 4: Another visitor! A friend of mine drops by to talk about cat rescue. She meets the pets. We look at photos and share bios of cats needing homes. Then I bundle up Barnaby and Rainy for an outside jaunt. I walk Barnaby on a leash while my friend pushes Rainy in the pet stroller. Barnaby sniffs the grass. Rainy watches the world from the safety of the enclosed stroller. It’s another ordinary day in the neighborhood. We complete our trip around the block, head to our house, and then stop. My friend removes her water bottle from the cup holder atop the stroller as she gets ready to push the stroller onto the grass. Suddenly, Rainy retreats to a corner and then starts twirling around and batting at the stroller. Something about my friend taking the water bottle from the stroller and putting the bottle into her pocket startled Rainy. I take the stroller and talk in a soothing voice to Rainy. When she’s calm, we head inside and I have my friend give her treats. I want the visit to end on a positive note so that Rainy doesn’t associate strangers with bad stuff.

This month’s attempts to better prepare Rainy for doing agility have been enlightening. Part of me has wondered if our quiet home environment has made Rainy less suited to being an agility cat. But indoors she bounces off the walls with curiosity and activity. In addition, on the one day that I recently took Cinder out onto the porch, she reacted in a much more introverted manner than Rainy. I know Cinder likes her home, but she does go on stroller rides with me, and I thought she might do okay on the porch. She immediately found our living room window, stood up on her hind legs, and peered into it. When I didn’t take her inside right away, she searched out the door and parked herself in front of it. There is an obvious difference between her and Rainy, enough that I am satisfied Rainy could come to love the agility life.

Even if Rainy ends up making it clear that the agility life is not for her our attempts to achieve that dream are forging a stronger bond between us. She views me more and more as a source of fun for her life. And I am being reminded repeatedly that, just like people, each cat is unique. In turn, I am trying to train and hang out with each of my cats in the ways that they most prefer, and thereby growing in my relationship with them. What better could I and the cat trio ask for?

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Training rule number three: Build on success

Training rule number four: Be prepared for the unexpected

Training rule number five: Know the signs of your cat’s stress

Last week, to better prepare Rainy for doing agility, Andy and I decided to expose her to as many new situations as we could. I started simple, by introducing her to the great adventure of our front porch. By the end of the week, Rainy no longer feared the porch, and so it was time to build on success. For week two, I made plans to encourage her to explore the stairs and to walk on the front yard with me.

Day 1: Upon returning from a daily walk with our dog, I met my neighbor. She had mail for me and offered to bring it to me. I immediately took advantage of the opportunity to ask if my cat could meet her. While my neighbor went into her house to fetch our mail, I grabbed a can of salmon and leashed up Rainy. As soon as Rainy saw our neighbor, she turned and tried to hide behind my legs.

Since adopting Rainy, Andy and I have invited friends over to see her and have taken her to visit in-laws. She’s not unaccustomed to strangers. Yet she did act wary of them when we visited Hearts United for Animals, and so perhaps we’ve gotten too lax about socializing her. After all, as they mature, cats can grow timid. At any rate, Rainy’s reaction to our neighbor is proof that exposing her to new situations is a very good idea.

Here’s where being prepared for the unexpected helps. I calmly sat on the porch and started scooping out salmon from a tin. I put some morsels on a plate and kept the rest on my fingers. I then extended my hand to Rainy and patiently waited for the fish to tempt her. Sure enough, she soon licked my fingers. I repeated the same action, but extended my hand less, so that she had to walk a few steps toward me. I kept doing this until Rainy came all the way up to me. Through all of this, my neighbor and I casually chatted.

The next step was an equally important one. I gave the tin of salmon to my neighbor and let her offer some on a plate to Rainy. Gradually, I moved the plate of food closer and closer to my neighbor. When Rainy willingly came all the way up to my neighbor, I then agreed for my neighbor to put salmon on her fingers for Rainy to take. Which she did!

In this adventurous afternoon, I made one mistake. When I tried to pick Rainy up to take her inside, so that I could get treats, she resisted. To avoid getting scratched, I had to let her down. Fortunately, she was on leash and so she couldn’t bolt anywhere, but here’s where I should have listened to the signs of my cat’s stress. Even though she acted perfect agreeable to being bribed with treats, Rainy had also remained vigilant. Her darting eyes and tense body showed me that she was prepared for the worst. I should have paid attention to those signs, and instead invited her to walk inside the house with me instead of picking her up.

To wrap up this story, we tried the entire procedure again except we substituted regular treats. I scattered ones in front of Rainy, and then close to me, and then next to my neighbor. By the time the visit was over, Rainy was eating treats from my neighbor’s hand.

Day 2: One training rule is to use high incentives. I’m still trying to figure out what those are for Rainy. My cats will all coming running for cheese, but Rainy might be lactose intolerant and so I have stopped feeding her dairy foods. After doing some research, I discovered that there are options such as lactose-reduced cow’s milk made for cats (sold in pet stores) and goat cheese. So, today I tried goat cheese.

After coaxing Rainy outside with it, I scattered some on the porch. She gobbled up the cheese and immediately meowed at me for more. To challenge her, I sprinkled pieces on the stairs. At first, she hesitated. Venturing onto the porch was one thing; going past the porch was an entirely different story! Only when I sat on the stairs did she agree to follow. Rainy is my shadow! We sat on the steps and enjoyed the twitter of birds and chatter of squirrels. To challenge Rainy even further, I sprinkled goat cheese on the sidewalk. Again, Rainy stayed put until I lead her onto the walkway. There, Rainy not only devoured the cheese, but also discovered the glory of grass. She nibbled on the blades and tuned out the world.

Day 3: Just like the first week, I switched to commercial cat treats on our final day of outdoor training. Always, the big question is: Will Rainy stay outside with me no matter what incentive I offer? I throw treats about the porch and she races after them, tracking them down one by one, sometimes with the help of my pointing finger. I throw treats onto the stairs. She occasionally checks to ensure I am with her, but otherwise gamely searches them out. Finally, I throw treats onto the walkway. Then together we search for them until they’re all gone. And then we’re both ready to go inside for a nap!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Training rule number one: Start simple.

Training rule number two: Provide high incentives.

As I noted in my first post about Rainy, my cat Rainy and I visited Hearts United for Animals this past week to train on real agility equipment. The experience was educational! You see, it is one thing train your cat in your own home where she feels safe; it’s an entirely different thing to train your cat in an alien environment. At Hearts United for Animals, Rainy also had to deal with pounding rain, barking dogs, and strangers. She was more than a little scared, which helped me realize that I need to expose her to a greater variety of new situations.

We’re starting simple. Day 1, Rainy and I sat on our front porch. Rainy huddled in my lap and quivered. In the distance were the sounds of rumbling lawn mowers. In addition, strangers strolled past on the opposite side of the street. Not a happy time! Rainy was more than willing to go inside when I got up.

I’m using high incentives. Day 2, Rainy left the living room as soon as I took out her leash. She hesitated when I rustled a cheese wrapper. Cheese is one of her favorite foods. I buckled her into her harness, snapped on the leash, and took her onto the porch. Again, there were those lawnmowers. And passing strangers. Even worse, some strangers had dogs. Rainy looked pleadingly at the door. I gave her a piece of cheese. She pawed to get into my lap. I lifted her up and there she lay, happy just as long as I fed her. In fact, when I got up to go inside, she didn’t act overly excited.

Day 3: We ventured onto our porch on this rainy day. I immediately handed her cheese. After gobbling it down, Rainy decided it was time to explore. Even with the patter of rain and the whirring of traffic. Only after she’d taken in the sights and sounds did she jump onto my lap. I gave her another piece of cheese and then settled into a book. She jumped back down and sniffed the air. For this, she got her third piece of cheese! When I got ready to head inside, Rainy didn’t instantly follow but instead tried to convince me to stay outside. Progress!

Day 4: I switch to commercial cat treats for two reasons. One is that I discovered that Rainy has been the cat with an upset tummy, and so I suspect she might be lactose-intolerant. None of my other cats have ever gotten sick from dairy, but many cats do. Two is I wanted to see if she’d stay outdoors with me with just regular treats. Aside from this one change, everything proceeds like the past two days. The sunny day brings on the people and the noises. Rainy explores the porch, snuggles in my lap, and headbutts me for treats. That’s my brave girl!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.


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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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