Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Ellis

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.

 

2017-train-for-rewards-v4-button_zpsorwnv52l

Sometimes an idea can revolutionize one’s world. My background is that of a dog person. When I began to train our current three cats, I initially drew on my experiences with dog obedience and agility. Then I read The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. It inspired me to develop a whole new training mindset. I began to see training as being about more than teaching commands and tricks, engaging a cat’s mind and body, or even building a stronger bond. Those are all excellent outcomes, but training for me is now a matter of not taking my cats adaptability for granted; it’s a matter of parenting my cats to maximize their happiness indoors as part of my family.

I have an ongoing list of skills that I want to teach our cats and am tackling them one at a time. For example, perhaps because Cinder came from a shelter, she’s possessive of her food. By that I mean, she growls if anyone or thing goes near her food. One way I’ve tackled that problem is to give Cinder what she most needs: privacy when she eats. All three of our cats have separate dishes and eat in separate rooms. At the same time, I want to be able to place a dish in front of her and remove it without stressing her. I’d also like to be able to give treats to my cats without squabbles or stress. Cinder shouldn’t view treats and meals as a fight or flight situation. One way I’ve tried to tackle the problem is by teaching Cinder a couple basic obedience commands.” Cinder (and all our other pets) must sit before I give out food. I’ve also drawn on a command from the dog world called “Leave it.” In this scenario, I hold treats cupped in my hands and then order: “Leave it.” Cinder used to initially sniff and butt my hands. Only when she walked away or otherwise showed no interest do I let her have the treat. Although at times she needs reminders, Cinder has gotten much better at showing patience.

Perhaps because Bootsie is a former feral, she doesn’t like enclosed spaces. This posed a huge problem when it came to taking her to the vet. I would have to first lure her into our library and close the door and then I had to stress both of us by trying to scruff her to put her into a crate. The Trainable Cat contains an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of teaching a cat to accept a crate, and it’s one of the first training methods outlined in the book that I tried. Everything was about baby steps. First, my husband and I replaced our closed plastic crate with an open wire crate. Next, I placed treats next to the crate. My husband also bought a soft pet bed that fit perfectly in the new crate. Both served to entice Bootsie to view the crate as a positive instead of negative object. Over a span of days, I gradually moved her treats further into the crate, until she had to completely enter the crate to reach the treats. After that, I also began to put her food in it. The experiment was even more successful that I dreamed. Bootsie now feels so comfortable in the crate that she often sleeps in it or retreats to it when startled. But what would her attitude towards the crate change the first time I had to shut her inside it to bring her to the vet? I realized that I needed to train her to be comfortable with these things as well, and not wait until her first vet visit to expose her to being shut in her crate and transported in it. For that reason, I’d often close her inside and carry her in the crate to different places in the house I’d even take her to the car in her crate. Of course, I’d also reward her with treats throughout this conditioning. And it worked! After we took her to the vet to the first time, her attitude towards her crate didn’t change. She continued to view it as a place of comfort safety. I’m now using the same baby steps to teach Bootsie to get into and ride in a pet stroller. If one day you see me taking her around the neighborhood, you’ll know I succeeded!

I have no idea why Rainy doesn’t like loud noises, but her fear became a huge concern when we almost lost her this past July 4th when the sound of fireworks caused her to stop eating for three days. One way I have tackled the problem is to give Rainy what she most needs: soothing music to camouflage the fireworks and a pet-sized dosage of Benadryl to numb her anxiety. At the same time, I can’t predict when other noises might stress her. Case in point, this past fall I found Rainy hidden under the bed covers when our neighbor was having her roof reshingled. The problem was the nail gun used to secure the shingles. I can’t expect her to be okay with every loud noise, but I do want her to learn to ignore common sounds such as thunder, traffic, and the banging of the teeter totter when we do agility Andy helped me tackle the latter. He taught her the ‘bang game’, where the ‘up’ end of the teeter is held close to the ground, and a treat is held over it so that the pet has to step on the end of the teeter to get the treat. In other words, the pet is rewarded for making the teeter ‘bang’. Now Rainy barely flinches when the teeter hits the floor. But if Rainy is to embrace noises that I might not be around to protect her from, I need to generalize my training efforts. And so, I’ve been taking her to new places and arming myself with treats. Those of you who follow my agility series know that we’ve been making progress!

Someone I know once issued condemnation on those who view their pets as “kids”. Her reason? She felt such pet owners are the most likely to spoil them and let them misbehave. For me, the experience has been the opposite. The more I’ve come to view my relationship with our cats as that of a “parent,” the more I’ve realized the depth of pet owners’ responsibility to our animals. They used to live out in the wild, but we turned them into our companions, and as such they now depend on us to show them the best way to live contentedly in our homes and with our families. For me, it’s been all joy to invest in them as I would “kids,” because the bond that has developed through our training times is priceless.

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

Agility Series

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. The Trainable Cat was the first selection of the online Companion Animal Psychology Book Club, newly-formed this fall by Zazie Todd. Besides discussing the book, members had the privilege of asking questions of author Sarah Ellis. I’m taking a different approach to my usual reviews, by sharing highlights of the discussion by some of the three-hundred members.

animal-book-club-tinyTo start the discussion of The Trainable Cat, Todd asked this question: “Right at the beginning of the book, the authors say, ‘we aim to show you how training can improve not just your relationship with your cat but also your beloved pet’s sense of well-being. That’s not to say that the training won’t be fun–it will, for both of you–but the distinction is that you will be producing a happy and well-disposed pet, not a circus star.’ What do you think of this approach to training?”

Of all the questions posed, this one elicited the most responses. Participants liked how the authors give readers an insight into how cats themselves view the world. The unique feline perspective is why training for cats must be different than that for dogs, although there may be some overlap in techniques. Respondents also appreciated the focus of the authors on training cats for the sake of the bond between cat and owner and the psychological health of the cat, as opposed to the teaching of tricks. People domesticated cats and so we have a duty to train cats to cope with the world we’ve placed them into. Cats should be taught how to handle touching, grooming, being crated, and visiting the vet without being unduly stressed. Moreover, because these days many of us rightfully keep them exclusively indoors, we should help cats live an enriched life that’s comparable to the one that they formerly led outdoors. A few participants debated over whether tricks were okay to teach too. Several felt that although training shouldn’t be about “bells and whistles,” the latter was still an acceptable way to enhance a cat’s life.

Next, Todd turned to questions about specific chapters. Chapter three has a set of nine key skills to practice training. About this chapter, Todd asked, “What did you think of these skills? Were there any you found particularly easy or particularly hard (to do or to understand)? If you’ve had chance to try some of them in practice, please share your experiences.”

The consensus was that we all applauded how the authors had structured The Trainable Cat. The authors first present key skills. Then as new training skills are introduced, the key skills are used as a reference. In this way, the content builds on itself, and complex training tasks can be understood as edible chunks.

The Trainable Cat not being my first book about teaching cats, I shared that I’d already been working on teaching my cats how to do obedience and agility. Since starting to read The Trainable Cat, however, I’ve also begun to try marking and maintaining a behavior. Basically, instead of rewarding my cats after each compliance, I’m using praise and the sound of a clicker to let them know when a behavior has been correctly performed. After they have been compliant for a random number of times, I treat my cats with food. Because they don’t know when I’ll reward them, I’ve been better able to teach the maintenance of a behavior.

Chapter four is entitled ‘How cats adapt to living with an alien species (us!)’. Todd posed the question, “What are the main points you’ve taken away from the book about how cats perceive us and our world?” While respondents referred to different examples, we all seemed to agree that this chapter made us think about how cats are socialized. Many pet owners are fully aware that puppies need socialization, but don’t always consider the fact that kittens do too. Case in point, the amount of exposure that kittens receive from men or from women might impact how well they accept either gender. Just as importantly, the amount of exposure that kittens receive from adults or from children could equally impact how they accept people of different ages. The authors dedicate several pages exclusively to how to prepare a cat for the arrival of a baby. For me, being well-aware of how many families will give up a cat because an adult or child in the household doesn’t get along with the cat, his chapter alone is worth the book’s purchase for anyone in the role of educating cat owners.

Chapters five to eleven build on the key skills described in chapter three. Topics covered include: introducing cats to other cats, introducing cats to pets, crating cats, grooming cats, examining cats, and keeping cats safe when outdoors. About these chapters, Todd asked the general question: “Which sections did you particularly enjoy and/or find particularly useful?”

Of all the questions posed, this one elicited the least responses, perhaps because everyone found it difficult to single out any one topic. Personally, there were sections from which I learned more from than others, but I also think the book works best when absorbed as a complete package. 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. Your cat(s) will thank you!


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:

Categories

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 125 other followers