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Posts Tagged ‘Miriam Fields-Babineau

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.


On Monday, I reviewed Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. This guide inspired me to write a couple of articles on the topic for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, an organization committed to improving the lives of animals. Part two of my article is below.


“Lucy, come!” Only a year ago that was the sound of my husband and I calling for our first cat. Not in the grand expansive outdoors but in the limited recesses of our home. Lucy could gracefully disappear in a heartbeat and somehow cloak herself in the remotest corners. I think my husband might have been fine with letting Lucy stay hidden while we merrily headed off to our routines or jobs. Me, being a protective momma, the moment I knew Lucy was missing was also the exact moment I needed to know Lucy’s whereabouts. So I became a frequent crier of: “Lucy, come!” And… no cat. I would shake a bag of treats. Nothing. And so I would have search her out.

Ah, if only I had availed of obedience training. But wait! I had. But with limited success. Each cat is different. Some are motivated by food, toys, or even praise. Some aren’t motivated by anything. Training requires that your cat gets something out of obeying. If your cat doesn’t want what you’re offering, you won’t get far.

Fast forward to the year 2014, and a new cat. Our darling new tortoiseshell seems to view the coils of our recliner and the recesses of our basement as an adventure land. When she isn’t tossing toy mice into the air or sleeping up a storm, Cinder likes to tuck herself away like Houdini. Just like Lucy once did. Except with one difference. The second I combine the rattle of a treat bag with the holler of “Come!” Cinder zips to me like a lightning bolt. She loves her food and that is the both the secret and bane of our existence.

We too have experimented with obedience training, and with much more success that I had with Lucy.

Before You Start

Pick a special reward for your cat. If your cat loves food, pick a tasty treat. If your cat has a favorite toy, use that. If you use food, don’t schedule your training right after a meal.

Teaching a Cat to Sit

  • Sit or kneel in front of your cat.
  • When you have your cat’s attention, slowly lift a treat above its head so he has to crane his neck to see the treat. Tell him: “SIT!”
  • As your cat’s head lifts up and back, his rear will lower.
  • Point your index finger toward his rear as you move the treat in that direction. Be sure not to hold the treat too high or he will try to jump to reach it instead of staying on all four paws. His nose should almost touch the treat.
  • As soon as your cat puts his rear on the floor, praise him and award him the treat.

To give Lucy credit, she would often obey my commands. Being a finicky eater, her reward was simply to spend time with me and please me. As for Cinder, she’s so eager for food that half the time her paws are around my hands trying to pry loose that measly little crumble I call a treat. That’s when I have to pull out my no-nonsense strict tone. Down goes her rear! And out comes the treat! We’re learning together. 🙂

Teaching a Cat to Come

  • Sit next to or near her.
  • When she becomes attentive to the treat, praise her.
  • Choose a unique command. Don’t use “come” if that’s what you yell when your cat runs off with your hot dog.
  • Hold out the treat and give your command. In this example, let’s use “Come!” As soon as she comes to you, treat her immediately. She will soon learn to pair the word “Come” with her action of moving towards the treat.
  • When she moves towards the treat and touches her nose with it, praise her and award her with the treat.
  • Now move back a foot and present the treat again, first under her nose and then by drawing her closer to you by drawing the treat closer to you.
  • As she moves toward the treat, praise her. When she actually touches the treat, award her.

As you might have gathered from my opening story, Lucy didn’t have much use for the COME command. I did have moderate success with: SIT, STAY, JUMP, and TWIRL. The rest of the repertoire, Lucy ignored or disdained. That can happen if you have a cat that isn’t motivated by toys or food. As for Cinder, we’ve zipping through the lessons in Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. Cinder is even learning to FETCH. That’s because food is her god. 🙂 Training is all about knowing your cat!
Teaching a Cat to Stay

  • Get your cat to come and sit.
  • Tell him to STAY.
  • Hold your hand in front of his face, palm facing him. Praise him the entire time he stays. This will encourage him to stay in anticipation of receiving an award.
  • Reward after he stays in place for a few seconds.
  • Repeat the process, gradually increasing the amount of time you ask him to stay.
  • Here’s the thing about these basic obedience commands. First, if your indoor cat ever escapes outside, they might one day save its life. Second, at the very least, they will encourage your cat to show some manners.

Our dear Lucy, who passed away last December, came to my husband and I as a stray with some manners already instilled. During mealtime, she simply lied beside me. Not once did she ever beg. Which meant I used to think of her as being a refined lady.

Then there’s our rambunctious Cinder. Every time we eat chicken, she thinks it’s hers. And without fail, she will try to  steal it from our plate. I’m trying to teach her to sit politely and wait during mealtimes. So far it isn’t working and so I’ve ramped up my efforts. I’m combining the temptation of cheese with the command: STAY. Cinder will wiggle her butt. She will turn in a circle. And she will even break rank. But she’s also learning that I mean business. If she wants cheese, she must learn to say PLEASE by heeding my command to STAY. 🙂

Varying the Routine

Have you ever gotten your cat to successfully comply one day, only to have her ignore you the next day? One of the ideas I picked up from Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is to VARY the routine. After your cat learns to sit in front of you, teach him to sit on a chair or on the bed. Once your cat agrees to come, vary the distance until he can come to you no matter where you are in the house. And should you successfully get your cat to stay, circle around him. After several training sessions, you should be able to completely move around your cat as he remains in a SIT/STAY position.

Cat obedience isn’t a science. I would love to hear your stories, as well as recommendations of web sites or books that you have used. Together, we can all help our cats learn the basics of obedience.

Yesterday I reviewed Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. This guide inspired me to write a couple of articles on the topic for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, an organization committed to improving the lives of animals. Part one of my article is below.


“Training time!” That’s the call I make every day to Cinder. Except she’s not my dog like you might suppose. She’s my cat.

Like most adult cats, Cinder knows how to use the litter box and a scratching post. In other words, she doesn’t need training in the basics of pet protocol.

So I could just let her play with her numerous toys and take those long naps for which cats are famous. Instead I add training to her day.

Reasons To Train

  • Builds a strong bond between you and your cat.
  • Exercises your cat’s mind and keeps it stimulated.
  • Teaches your cat good social behavior skills.
  • Calms anxious and nervous cats. The repetition and routine of training will reassure them.
  • Keeps your cat out of danger. If your indoor cat escapes outside, having a recall command will bring her back.
  • Brings joy to you. Imagine hiding food under plastic cups and your cat finding the treats.

How To Train

Don’t think training will work for your cat? Despite the limited number of articles on cat training in contrast to those on dogs, many cats CAN be trained. The first step is to accept that cats aren’t as social as dogs. Having a more independent personality, cats aren’t as inclined to work for praise and attention as dogs are. They’re also not as easy to motivate. For that reason, the real trick is getting your cat to do what you want.

For some cats, reinforcing a specific behavior with food might work while for others toys work best. No matter what type of motivator you use, there are some tips to train smart with your cat:

  • If you’re using food treats, conduct training sessions just before mealtimes. Your cat’s natural desire for food at his regular mealtime will sharpen his focus and increase his desire to obey you.
  • Be consistent with the command words you use. It will only confuse your cat if you say “come” on some occasions and “here” on others.
  • Use your cat’s name along with the command you’re trying to teach.
  • Take baby steps. Work with behaviors that come naturally to make it easy for your cat to obey. Then progress to more difficult commands.
  • Teach only one command at a time and repeat the lesson daily until she responds reliably. Praise your cat when she performs the behavior for which you have called.
  • Keep the training sessions short. Cats can get easily bored.
  • Train your cat as regularly as possible. Training your cat once a month won’t get results.
  • Be patient. Your cat is unique. He will learn some tricks quickly but struggle with others. Consider the appropriate training for his personality.
  • Cats don’t always see things well that are motionless and close-up. If your cat has difficulty taking the treat from your fingers, try offering it to him in your flat palm or tossing it on the floor. He’ll see the movement when you toss it and know where the treat is.
  • Try to end on a positive note. If your cat appears frustrated or impatient, quit and conduct the lesson at another time.

Another important concept is to reward instead of punish. The latter creates stress, one of the most common causes for problem behaviors in cats. Stress also compromises the immune system, making your cat more vulnerable to disease. Depending on your cat’s temperament, punishment could frighten your cat to the point where he hides from you. It’s much easier to train your cat when you reward behaviors you want and offer him more attractive alternatives for behaviors you don’t want. And really, why would your cat want any part of your training sessions if it has learned that they can lead to punishment?


Besides teaching your cat a range of useful commands such as sit, stay, and come, you can also teach fun stuff like wave, twirl, and fetch. How exactly to teach these commands, and my cat Cinder’s response to them, will be the topic of my next post. Save the date: November 19!

Cat Training in Ten Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau was a smart impulse purchase. I bought it shortly after my husband and I adopted Cinder. Over the past year, I have used it on an almost daily basis. It has brought an added pleasure to my relationship with my young cat.

The majority of the chapters are dedicated to teaching obedience. Using the step-by-step procedures within this easy-to-follow guide, I have so far taught Cinder to Sit, Jump, Twirl, Stay, and Walk. We’re still working on Come, Down, and Fetch, with some days being more successful than others.

There are a couple of other features which I appreciate about Cat Training in Ten Minutes. First, its clear steps are always proceeded by a brief overview of the obedience procedure 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 has engaged Cinder and I for all these many months is that Babineau also provides a numerous variations for each obedience procedure. For example, in talking about Jump, Babineau suggests one teach Come Up (on chair) and Come Off (chair), as well as jumping onto other surfaces. Of course, Babineau also cautions that once a cat learns to jump onto diverse surfaces, a cat might also jump onto unexpected places such as the top of the shower. 🙂

Following the multiple chapters on obedience, there is a chapter which describes tricks for cats. I respect that Babineau acknowledges that cats come with all kinds of demeanors and temperaments. My Lucy girl who died in December of 2014 was an older and quieter cat. While I did attempt to teach Lucy what I had learned from dog obedience classes, she wasn’t all that motivated by treats or toys, and so training didn’t always inspire her. She might however have responded to Babineau’s suggestions of tricks for the sedate cat: Speak on Command, Kiss on Command, and Use the Toilet. In contrast, my Cinder girl constantly craves food and loves her plush mice. I’m eager to teach her Babineau’s suggestions of tricks for the more active cat: Play Dead, Ring A Bell, and Weave Through Legs.

Finally, there is a hodge-podge of chapters. Babineau overviews how to correct improper behavior, talks about other ways to involve one’s cat such as therapy and shows, and even highlights cat stars. While Babineau does cover the worst of a cat’s misbehavior, if your feline is proving a struggle, a book dedicated to the topic would probably better serve you. As for therapy and shows, alas, your ability to include your cat in them will depend on what your area offers. I’m still looking…. 😦 These complaints aside, I must compliment the appendix. It provides a useful visual guide to the cues used in teaching obedience.

Miriam Fields-Babineau has been a professional animal trainer since 1983. She has degrees in Psychology and Zoology, directing her studies and research into animal behavior, both in the wild and in captivity. She has taught pet owners how to work with and understand pets of all species since 1978. In Cat Training in Ten Minutes, she draws on all this expertise to provide an important and practical guide. Your cat would love for you to use it!

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