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Posts Tagged ‘cat agility

The month of July was a full one for Rainy. We practiced a few items on the Canine Good Citizenship test. In doing so, we revisited clicker training, visited a friend, and toured a store. Oh, and we played on an agility jungle gym.

Why is Rainy working on the Canine Good Citizenship test when she isn’t a dog? Because prospective therapy dogs must pass it, but there is no such test yet for felines. What type of items are on the test? The first five items test a dog’s ability to politely and calmly meet strangers, while the last five cover obedience commands and the dog’s ability to handle distractions and separation. I figure that Rainy is learning how to handle the first five through her supervised visits; the others I want to focus on practicing at home.

One of the basic obedience commands tested in the CGC test is, “Come.” Rainy has been struggling with the command, so this week I decided to revisit clicker training as a way of teaching recall. For clicker training, one uses a small metal noisemaker to mark desirable behavior, and then rewards with a reinforcement such as a treat. When watching online clicker training videos, I realized the importance of marking the tiniest sign of obedience. I used to reward Rainy only if she fully obeyed the command. Now the instant that Rainy head towards me, I click and reward. Rainy doesn’t always make it to me or take a straight path, but the point of clicker training is to shape a behavior. The more I clicked and rewarded each time she obeyed, the more improvement I saw. (You can read a longer version of how to teach “come” on page 16 of Lincoln Kids.)

Another item on the CGC test is a demonstration of the pet’s ability to ignore noisy distractions. I enlisted my husband to help with this one. I called the cat trio into the kitchen, rewarded them for coming, and then asked them to sit. When they started to sit, Andy dropped an object on the floor. He started with a quieter item and proceeded to louder ones: first a cardboard tube, then a pill bottle, then a spoon. Despite a history of noise aversion, Rainy wasn’t fazed by any of these distractions. Next time, we’ll practice with louder noises.

As I noted, the first five items test an animal’s ability to meet strangers. This week, I accepted an invitation to take Rainy to visit a friend. When I opened the door of Rainy’s carrier, she didn’t want to come out. To help relax her, I offered her goat cheese from my hand. She ate it. To encourage her to come out of her carrier, I sprinkled a trail of cheese leading away from the carrier. She didn’t take the bait. I placed a blanket on the floor, added some cheese, and then simply lifted Rainy out of the carrier. She didn’t protest, but instead ate the cheese and sat next to me. Next, I moved the blanket closer to my friend and added more cheese. Rainy ate the cheese and sniffed my friend. I gave my friend some cheese and Rainy accepted cheese from her hand. Finally, I put the blanket on my friend’s lap and placed Rainy onto it. Rainy laid down and allowed my friend to pet her. When Rainy got down, she took time to explore, but eventually retreated under the bed. Visit over!

At the online International Cat-Assisted Therapy group, some owners of therapy cats shared that they had started their training by going to indoor places. When I told this to Andy, he suggested we visit Sit Stay, a small pet store. While my husband searched for just the right dog treat, I pushed our pet stroller up and down the aisles. Unlike one of our cats who hisses when I take her places in the stroller, Rainy sat upright and peered at the sights. The store clerk was impressed! So was I! After Andy bought a bag of fishy pet treats, I unzipped the stroller. Rainy peeked out and let the store clerk pet her. Another success!

For a long time, Andy and I have talked about having a pet enrichment day, on which we would rearrange our living room to give our pets a new environment to explore. This week we did this, and in doing so treated our dog and cats to an agility jungle gym. Our other two cats weren’t too sure about the new arrangement; Rainy took it all in stride. She jumped onto the boards placed on chairs, raced through tunnels, and climbed onto the heights of the cat tower. At one point, I followed her into the bigger tunnel. When she turned around and saw me following, she flopped down as if to ask, “What are you doing, Mom?” Then she leaped to her paws and zoomed about the tunnel as if to say, “Some fun, eh?!” The other two cats finally decided to in on of the action. Our pet enrichment afternoon was a blast!

Most nights, Rainy joins me in bed at night. She curls up under my arm and then snuggles with me until morning. Our life is full and my girl is happy!

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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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.

This past spring was 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.

My 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 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 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.

Cat agility got its start in 2001 because of a dinner conversation about cat tricks. Two couples on the cat show circuit decided to modify some dog agility obstacles and show them to their cats. From there, a group called International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT) was born.

Three years later, the Cat Fanciers Association took an interest in the new sport for cats. One year after that, the organization’s first agility competition was held in Oregon as part a cat show, and boasted forty-five contestants. Since then, scores have been kept sporadically, with prizes consisting infrequently of money and more often a ribbon or small trophy.

Feline agility competitions, in which cats run through a miniature obstacle course full of hurdles and tunnels, have become fixtures on the cat show scene.

–Jennifer Kingston of New York Times, Next Best Thing to Herding Cats

Agility is a sport that people and pets can do together. Your pet will race through tunnels, leap over jumps, climb A-frames and pet walks, balance on teeter totters, and weave between poles. Although agility can involve large pieces of equipment, you can also create your own course at home.

For any pet owner, there are three reasons to take up agility. First, it’s fun. Second, all this activity will be good for the health of both you and your pet. Third, because agility is a team sport, the two of you will develop a unique bond.

I think we let cats’ brains rot, and I think it’s sad.

–Cynthia Otto of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Next Best Thing to Herding Cats

CinderJump

Agility benefits cats in that it makes use of their senses and skills. Foremost, agility provides them with the opportunity to make use of and hone their unique abilities to sprint and jump. Second, cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, which agility will exercise to the fullest as cats race through a complicated obstacle course. International Cat Agility also points out that cats excel in learning a skill, remembering it, and adapting it to new situations. This knack to problem-solve enables them to quickly learn an entire agility course. Finally, although their independent nature can work against cats, it can also work for them. Our goal as trainers is to tap into that independence by giving our cats a reason to do agility. As with dogs, we can use treats, toys, and the obstacles themselves as motivation.

Not only is putting your cat through hoops fun, it’s also great for your cat. That’s because agility training fights obesity and boredom, two very common cat problems.

–Animal American Hospital Assocation, Get Your Cat Off the Couch

Lucy_TrainMy interest in cat agility developed in a roundabout way. Even as a puppy, our family’s toy poodle could climb like a goat. This interest prompted my husband to make obstacles courses for him at home, and later enroll him in agility classes at the local Greater Lincoln Obedience Club. The two have gone on to compete in local and even national agility trials. Inspired by them, I started teaching our first cat to do tricks. With our three current cats, I’m even more serious about training, which has expanded to include agility skills.

Training for agility can be done inside the house, takes little space, and is inexpensive.

–International Cat Agility Tournaments, Benefits of Cat Agility

Over the past three years, I’ve tried to replicate each agility obstacle at home. A jumping obstacle was the easiest and most economical to create. Because cats like to be up high, I have mine jump from chair to chair. Cost: free!” For a few dollars, I also added a child’s hula hoop into the mix.

rainy_tunnelAfter my cats mastered jumps, I added a tunnel to their repertoire. The tunnel is one of the most popular obstacles in dog agility and, like jumps, one of the simplest to teach. With a small tunnel, I simply throw a treat into it to get my cats running in the right direction. They then take turns diving into the tunnel’s mouth and bounding out the other end. You can find a small affordable one at the Baby, Toddler & Preschool Learning Toys | Playroom Furniture | Play Tents & Tunnels section at Toys R Us. Larger tunnels are more expensive and more difficult to store. In addition, to train our cats to go through a larger tunnel, I initially had to crawl through the it with them. Only over time could I lead them through the tunnel with a trail of treats.

catweavesThe remaining obstacles are more difficult to replicate and to teach—but not impossible! For weaves, I’ve turned to pop bottles or other tall, thin objects. I then lure my cat through with treats or wand toys. Another relatively low-cost option is small traffic cones. I recently found a set of weave poles for cats at – of all places – Bed, Bath, & Beyond’s website. (The set also includes a hoop. But notice that it only comes with three weave poles. That wasn’t enough for me, so I bought two sets.) I have yet to create an A-frame, but Cat Fanciers Association recommends pushing together two Alpine scratchers (with the corrugated cardboard scratching material) that tilt up at an angle. Another idea I gleaned from the CFA agility site is laying across two sets of pet stairs to create a pet walk; with the bonus that the stairs could be pushed together without the plank to create a stepped A-frame This leaves the teeter, for which I’ve yet to find an economical solution.

Everybody wanted to try running their cats through a course.

–Diane McCartney of The Wichita Eagle Cats in Motion

Recently, I’ve been checking into cat agility classes. A few years ago, The Nebraska Humane Society invited national agility exhibitor Jill Archibald to demonstrate for them. Beyond that, I haven’t been able to find any options in the state or even in the Midwest. Instead cat agility sadly seems to be confined to the coasts. I’d like to end with a plea to dog sports clubs: please open your doors to cats!

Agility builds awareness among the public of how intelligent, beautiful, trainable and companionable cats are, which will benefit all cats everywhere.

–International Cat Agility Tournaments, Benefits of Cat Agility

Even if pet clubs keep their doors closed to cat agility, that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue it. As I said above, to date, I’ve replicated most standard obstacles in my home at minimal cost. Now almost every day I spend a few minutes playing with my cats, training my cats in obedience, and/or doing agility. You can too.

Interested in doing cat agility? Starting with the Spring Issue, please follow my articles on pet training at Lincoln Kids., which will cover all kinds of training for cats. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

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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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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