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Posts Tagged ‘cat training

RainyTraining rule number eight: Figure out the source.

Training rule number nine: Maintain a routine.

August was a chaotic month. As a result, Rainy and I got less training done. We took another trip to Hearts United for Animals, returned a couple of times to the local rose garden, and met that puppy again.

What’s most rewarding about our visits to Hearts United for Animals is that they’re always an adventure. The first Sunday of August, Andy and I packed food, water, and a litter box. Then off we drove with Rainy to Auburn. As soon as we entered the agility building, we heard shelter dogs barking in the next room. I immediately pulled out high-incentive treats. Rainy gobbled them up but remained vigilant. I didn’t push her to perform. Instead we strolled around the building and, as we encountered obstacles, I encouraged her to try them. She agreed to do the table, the tunnels, and the dog walk. When we figured out that she felt most comfortable in the tunnels, we used them to our advantage. I’d face her in the direction of a tunnel, direct her through an obstacle, and then allow her to retreat to the tunnel. After doing this a few times, Andy had a different idea. He carried her over to the next room and lifted her up so she could see the dogs through the window. After a minute, she seemed calmer, as if simply knowing the source of the noise was enough. She was now willing to tackle obstacles closest to the door, such as the A-frame, weaves, and teeter. Once she had run a few courses, we allowed her to explore, and she discovered spider egg sacs. Our trips are always an adventure!

Sometimes the lesson I learn from repeating an outing is all the things Rainy doesn’t like about a certain location. The rose garden is an example. It’s located next to a main street. Even when traffic on it is light, what traffic there is still whizzes past, and this puts Rainy on edge. While I do enjoy seeing the varieties of roses, they’re of no interest to Rainy. She sniffs the grass and no doubt enjoys the smells. She sits on my lap and soaks in the sun. But that’s it. To date, Rainy’s favorite places seem to be the indoor ones.

My in-laws have a toy poodle puppy. Andy and I first took Rainy to meet him in July. During that visit, we took precautions, and placed on Rainy on one side of a baby gate and Toby on the other. Everything went well! During our second visit, I kept Rainy in her carrier until after dinner but then leashed her and let her out. It only took only a few seconds before Toby barked and bounded right up to her face, ready to play. Rainy immediately hissed and swatted him. He backed away but didn’t flee. Instead he tried approaching her from behind. Again, Rainy hissed and swatted him. This time Toby’s demeanor changed. He grew quiet and his tail went still. While he didn’t flee, he opted to seek refuge with his owners. At our third visit, Toby barked and jumped, ready to play—from a safe distance.

When life gets busy, I can easily let routines slip. That happened in August. At first my plan was to just skip one day. Unfortunately, all too soon that one day becomes two or three days. Before I realized it, a week has passed. Thankfully, Rainy is forgiving. When I finally rolled out the stroller, she was eager as always to train.

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

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.

Rainy continues to train as an agility cat. Her veterinarian has also signed papers needed for her to train as a therapy cat. I’ll write more on that later. For now, let me tell you about our past week. It included our return to a nearby park, introduction to a puppy, and a social with one of my friends.

I’ll start with our return to a nearby park. As usual, I took Rainy to the park in our pet stroller and then let her out on leash when we arrived. As she sought refuge underneath a bench, I sat and sweated and tried not to have doubts about our goals. A father and his son stopped to chat with me. The boy was wearing a hat with cat decals. He wanted me to see it and to know that he liked cats. His father told me that his son liked the speed of cats. After the two left, I picked Rainy up and placed her on the bench beside me. She didn’t try to get down but instead ate goat cheese from my hand. I decided to push her to the next level by walking around with her in a grassy part of the park. Rainy sat and politely refused to budge. Her ears remained perked and her eyes stayed wide, vigilant to the activities and noises around us. Not being able to get her to relax, even with treats, I placed her back on the bench. When we had enough of the heat, I encouraged her to walk with me to the park entrance. Rainy showed no resistance to this idea and seemed to enjoy the short stroll, perhaps because the nearby bushes gave her a stronger sense of security than the more spacious grassy area had.

One might say our outing was a partial success. But I had doubts due to her slow progress, enough that I decided to ask questions at some Facebook groups. First, I posted in a cat agility group. Unfortunately, no one in the group could offer any advice. Cat agility is still in its infancy. While there are at least two professional organizations that host cat agility shows, no one in my group has ever tried training their cat to do agility outside of the privacy of their home.

Having struck out with the cat agility people, I next posted to International Cat-Assisted Therapy (I-CAT). Why does cat therapy have to do with agility? Well, if Rainy is to do agility outside of our home, she needs to feel comfortable with new people and places. And if she can be comfortable in strange situations, she might as well become a therapy cat, right?! To be honest, I’m still figuring out the best ways to meet Rainy’s needs, hence, the questions I posed to the therapy group. This time I got better results. The therapy group’s members graciously told me about how they had started with small INDOOR spaces, then moved to bigger INDOOR spaces, and only then ventured OUTSIDE. A few mentioned that their cats didn’t particularly care for the outdoors. Nonetheless, many did fine with the hustle and bustle of hospitals and schools. Their responses renewed my hope!

For our second adventure, I decided to introduce Rainy to a new dog. The cat therapy group members advised me that therapy cats may very well encounter dogs. I admit that this makes me nervous. After all, some dogs and cats are mortal enemies—especially those dogs with a strong prey instinct. For that reason, I will always want to closely monitor Rainy’s encounters with dogs. In this instance, however, I feel relatively safe. The dog we’ll meet is a three-month-old toy poodle named Toby. He belongs to my in-laws. We have a toy poodle of our own, and so Rainy is already comfortable with the breed. Puppies make me less nervous because their lives are centered around play. And if we’re going to continue to take our pets with us when we visit my in-laws, Rainy and Toby need to get acquainted. All the same, Andy and I took precautions. I sat with Rainy in our in-laws’ dining room and let her simply observe their dog from the safety of my lap. Rainy and Toby were curious about each other, but neither pulled out their claws or bared their teeth. Next, we put Rainy and Toby on opposite sides of a baby gate. Then we dropped morsels of food and let the two of them sniff each other through the gate. Again, they remained friendly. Success!

For our final adventure, I took Rainy with me when I went for a walk with a friend. My friend walked Barnaby and I pushed Rainy in the pet stroller. We visited the Hamann Rose Garden. When we reached the first gazebo, I unzipped the pet stroller to give Rainy some food and water. She immediately wanted out to explore. On the ground, she sniffed the bushes and listened to the rush of traffic. As with the park, I then deposited her next to me on a bench. To my surprise, she curled up next to me and seemed content. My friend took photos. We caught up on news while the pets relaxed. Eventually, I returned Rainy to her stroller, but only because it was getting late and not because she had requested it. I’m not sure what was different about the two locations, but Rainy seemed truly comfortable on this outing. What a great way to end the week!

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 #6: Take precautions.

Training rule #7: Praise baby steps.

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 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.


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