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    Basic Training and House Rules

    Basic Training and House Rules

    Turns out that when animal communicator Dr. Doolittle-celebrated in book, film, and song- chatted away with Jip the dog and Gub-Gub the pig, he was not as outside the norm as we thought- at least when compared with most cat owners. In their 1986 study "Social Behavior of Domestic Cats," behavior consultant Peter Borchelt, PhD, and Victoria Voith, DVM, PhD (Department of Clinical Studies School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania) found that in 96 percent of the households surveyed owners spoke to their cats at least once a day. In 65 percent of them, owners addressed their cats as they would another adult or a child.

    Although you and your cat are not going to reach the word-for-word level of understanding that Doolittle and his pack did, you can teach your cat to understand quite a bit of "human" language. Cats can learn some words. Even more than words, however, cats learn to understand your meaning by your tone of voice and body language. As you socialize with your cat and your cat learns to understand your language, you are also training your cat to respond to your voice. Consequently, training and socialization go hand in hand, and the tone of your voice can be a very strong training tool to use to teach your cat around the home. The moment a young kitten or an adult cat comes into your home and has settled in, it's important to allow her to learn her way around the house while you slowly introduce her to your house rules so that good behavior patterns-like not clawing furniture-are established right away. When teaching basic house rules, it is important to use the right tone of voice, which should be firm but gentle and encouraging.

    Being consistent is also crucial. Tell other family members the basic house rules for your cat, including which are the no kitty zones, so that everyone is on the same page. You should also give them a lesson in how to teach your new feline what is acceptable and what isn’t, so your cat will learn fast and not be confused. Be aware that cats, even adult ones, like children, will test the boundaries for acceptable behavior and often push you to the limits. A firm tone and consistency will eventually get the job done.What will not work—at all—is physical punishment. Physical punishment not only will fail to correct unwanted behavior but also is very likely to escalate that behavior and cause other undesirable behaviors to develop. That is because two of the main effects of such punishment are that you will damage or even break the bond you are trying to establish with your cat and that you will make the cat feel very insecure and unsafe. Your cat needs to have a strong rapport with you and needs to feel safe at all times. She cannot function and blossom if she does not.

    According to behavior scientist Karen Pryor, cats, when threatened or hurt, instinctually go right into fight-or-flight mode. They don't move out of your way as cattle do or apologize and pee on the floor as puppies do. If you shout angrily at your cat or hit her to reprimand her, you become something she must defend herself against or seek cover from. Neither is a role you want; if you take one on in a thoughtless moment, you may never be able to shed it, and your cat may never recover from it. Behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, who has authored several popular behavior-training guides (including Think Like A Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat-Not a Sour Puss, Cat vs. Cat, and Starting from Scratch) believes in a threefold training technique to teach good manners. The technique consists of remote control training, redirection, and positive reinforcement. Other behaviorists and trainers endorse these three training concepts and recommend various ways to implement them, too.

    How Cats Greet Each Other

    By Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant

    Cats have evolved an elegant and formal protocol for greeting each other. When you're meeting a feline for the first time, play copycat and follow the same protocols; this allows the cat to find out something about you, and it will build trust between the two of you. Do not try to pick up a cat you don't know (and never chase one). Instead, extend your finger toward the cat at about nose level. Make sure there is some distance between the two of you so she doesn't perceive the gesture as a threat. The next move is up to the cat. When she's ready to say "hello," she will walk up to your extended finger and touch it with her nose. Next, she will move her head so that your finger is on her mouth, then she moves her head so that your finger is on her cheek. If she wants to continue with the meeting, she will rub your finger and your hand with her cheek, marking you. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that produce "friendly pheromones." This is similar to humans shaking hands. After she marks you, you can now gently pet her under her chin, on the side of her head, then on top of her head. You are furriends!

    Remote Control Training

    Remote control training, Johnson-Bennett explains, means that you, the owner, aren't directly associated with the training so that it doesn't interfere with the bond you're trying to establish. For example, if you spray a cat with water to stop her doing something, she must blame the water and not you! It's also an ongoing method of training that you don't have to be present to apply, a way to teach, or continue to teach, your cat the correct behavior when away from home or out of the room. A typical example of this type of training is "booby-trapping" an area where you don't want your cat to access. This allows the cat to decide for herself that the area is not a fun place to be. Taping down bubble wrap securely on the kitchen counter or on a piece of furniture that you don't want the cat to sit on-or to scratch-is an example of remote control training. A few leaps onto popping bubbles and slick plastic surface and your cat will soon learn that it's unpleasant to sit or stand on the counter or chair and she will avoid it. Behaviorists all offer their own ideas about useful remote anti-cat devices, such as squirt water bottles (never aim it at the face), a compressed air canister that will emit a loud hissing noise, and cans filled with coins. Bitter Apple is a nondamaging spray that can be used on drapes or other fabrics, for instance, to indicate that they are out of bounds; sheets of special sticky plastic are perfect for placing on fine furniture to deter scratching. Cats are clever, and it will only take a few visits to a sticky counter or a tacky sofa for your cat to lose interest and seek out feline-friendly alternatives. When that happens, remove the booby traps and return the house to normal.

    For ideal socialization, kittens should start interacting with people by the age of six weeks.

    Nature or Nurture or Both?

    "Nature or nurture" is the handy catch phrase people use when they are asking the question about whether a person or an animal is born with a certain trait (nature/genetics) or raised to have that trait (nurture/taught). In cats, that speculation extends to the trait of friendliness. Prospective cat owners would like to know ahead of time that the cat or kitten they choose will be friendly. That's harder to tell in a kitten who still has a lot of growing up to do. Since there's no specific test to see whether a kitten will grow up to be a friendly cat, prospective owners are left to ponder the nature/nurture factors. On the nurture side, there is no doubt that growing up in a friendly environment imprints on a kitten's social behavior. If the mother cat seems sociable and the kitten has been interacting with humans from the start, the kitten will probably be sociable and friendly. The nature side is more difficult to ponder. Exactly what role and how large a one nature (genes) plays in determining sociability and friendliness is not so clear cut. There has, however, been a study that has made a connection between the disposition of father cats and their offspring. In The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2002), edited by D. C. Turner and P. Bateson, researchers, in a series of controlled tests, found that a "bold" father cat was likely to produce bold kittens. Because the father had no interactions with his offspring, researchers could conclude that the trait was a genetic one. How does boldness translate to friendliness? Boldness here refers to how readily a cat or a kitten will approach something new, be it person or object. A kitten who is more likely to come up to you is more likely to be friendly.

    Some people have taken the results of this study to mean that the mother's genes play a less significant role in determining friendliness. That's not the case, however, because the study was never set up to test the maternal genetic contribution to boldness/friendliness. That's because it's easier exclude the father from the family circle than the mother when raising kittens! An additional genetic factor that's been considered is based on breed because certain breeds have a reputation of being exceptionally people-friendly. This, too, can be difficult to prove with certainty. All that said, given a father who's bold/ friendly, a mother who is sociable/friendly, and people who have been interacting with the kitten from day one, the odds are in your favor that your kitten will be friendly, too. Bear in mind, though, that every kitten is an individual and even kittens born in the same litter and nurtured by the same mother can be quite different. Some kittens, for instance, just don't like to be held much, a trait they are evidently born with and keep. That doesn't mean, however, that they aren't social. Although they don't like being held, they may enjoy hanging out with their people and even cuddling next to them on a couch or a bed. Whether you are bringing a kitten or an adult cat into your home, the best thing you can do is let your new feline's personality unfold on its own.


    Redirection means turning the cat's attention away from the negative behavior and refocusing it on an acceptable alternative. An important aspect in being able to do this successfully is understanding the feline thinking or instinct that underlies the problem behavior. For example, your counter-loving cat is instinctively seeking a high place as a refuge from earthbound predators and a good platform from which to survey her territory and search for potential prey. With that in mind, before you set up your bubble wrap booby trap on the kitchen counter, make sure to provide your cat with another elevated surface-such as a cat tree or a cat-designated snoozing chair-nearby. Redirection means giving the cat an alternative option, one that is acceptable to both of you.When training a cat or kitten, it's important to remember that scratching in an innate behavior. The simplest way to redirect scratching to a permissible location is to invest in good scratching posts. (Yes, plural!) Some cats like to scratch horizontally and prefer scratching pads. Make sure all posts and pads are easily accessible, a good distance from your favorite leather couch, and near a place where your cat likes to sleep because felines inherently love to scratch and stretch after a good snooze.

    Positive Reinforcement

    Finally, positive reinforcement is key to a cat's successfully learning a behavior or house rule. This entails giving out a tasty treat when your cat does something you want her to do. For it to be successful, you must give the treat as close as possible in time to when your cat performed the desired behavior. You also must give out the treat consistently until your cat definitely understands what she is doing to earn the treat. With positive reinforcement, you can teach your cat good house manners, such as sitting on command before being fed and not rushing to an open door. In addition to good manners, you can use positive reinforcement to teach a cat basic commands-ones usually considered canine not feline-such as come and sit (as just described) and even to play fetch. Teaching such commands and even fun tricks such as giving a high-five paw to hand or playing Three Blind Mice (at least the first two bars) on the piano can all be done with patience and a positive reinforcement technique such as clicker training.

    Clicker training is a method in which the trainer uses a handheld clicker to "click" and tell the cat that she's done the right thing and instantly offer a reward. The "click" identifies the behavior you plan to pay for with a treat the instant it happens. When training, it is common to used a target or pointer such as a stick or a pencil to "identify" the behavior you are teaching. For example, if you are teaching a cat to shake your hand, you would start by getting the cat to touch a pencil with her paw and the moment she does so, click and treat. Eventually you would replace the pencil with your hand, and click and treat. One important note: never add the cat's name when saying and teaching what "No" means. The cat's name should only be used to enforce positive behaviors.

    If your kitchen counters are off-limits to kitty, enforce that rule consistently and make sure everyone in the house does, too.

    Clicker Training: What You Need

    Here are the simple tools you will need to embark on clicker training sessions:

    • A clicker: This is available from online stores, pet supermarkets, and specialist pet boutiques. For a deaf cat, use a flashlight. You can even train deaf and blind cats by using an object that vibrates.
    • Treats: Choose something your cat considers a real treat so she is motivated. Make it tiny so you don't fill her up (see below).
    • A target: This can be any sticklike object, such as a pencil, a chopstick, or a wooden spoon. Later, you can substitute a favorite toy, such as a feathered object on a stick.

    Clicker Training: Getting Started

    The behavior terms used in clicker training are shaping and capturing. Start by teaching your cat to touch the target (stick) with her nose. Do so by presenting the target to the cat, that is, by putting one end of it near her face while holding the other. It's inevitable that she will touch it when she sniffs it. Click just as the cat touches the target-do not click prematurely, when her nose is close to the target but hasn't touched it yet. The click must happen the instant the action that you are reinforcing occurs. Now give your cat a treat. It's important to remember that every time you click, you must treat.

    Target. Touch. Click. Treat. Target. Touch. Click. Treat.

    What you are doing is pairing the sound (click) with something positive (the treat). Initially, your cat will not understand that these tasty tidbits are not random events but that you are in fact shaping a behavior. And in shaping it, you are capturing it. Initially, a total of five clicks and treats are considered enough of a training session for a cat who is new to the idea. So keep training sessions short and always quit while she's still interested. Be sure to hide your target when it's not in use.There are specific books on clicker training cats such as Naughty No More (i5 Press, 2010) by certified behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, which is worth getting if you want to seriously train your cat to do certain behaviors and tricks.If you are worried about weight gain from the training-session treats, put aside 10 to 20 percent of her regular food intake and use that during training. It's also a good idea to schedule training sessions before meal times.

    Initiating Games with a Wand-Style Toy

    When you want to introduce interactive games using a wand or fishing pole–styled toy, behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett suggests initiating a game that imitates a hunt by moving the feathers or toy at the end of the string around and letting your cat chase and catch it as she would real prey. Continue playing, but eventually slow the game down as if the prey is getting tired. Finally, end the game by letting your cat catch her prey. Then remove the toy altogether and give her a treat or her meal. Use wand-style toys or lasers for such interactive play; never use small toys because doing so puts your fingers too close to your cat's teeth. Save the small toys for your cat's solo playtime.

    Social Behavior in Feral Colonies

    Despite the fact that they are territorial, cats who live in urban feral colonies or in the wild still socially interact with each other. In fact, other queens (female adult cats) will act as midwives to a mother birthing kittens, helping to chew off umbilical cords and clean the newborn bundles of fur. Sometimes they will even babysit the kittens or bring the new mother food.

    If kitty is not allowed on counters or bookcases, give her a cat tree so she'll have an elevated perch of her own.

    Keep training treats very small, so they don't overly interrupt training time.

    Learning Through Play

    As already mentioned, kittens learn a lot from their mothers and each other through play. As part of your socialization and training time, take it to the next level by playing with your cat and initiating fun and games. Just like clicker training, playtime can be used as a significant behavior modification tool, one that allows you to raise a confident cat who enjoys interacting on a social level.A fair amount of a cat's play techniques are based on its natural hunting and predatory behavior, and thus many cat toys on the market are designed to hone a cat's natural instincts.No matter what toy you are using to engage in interactive play, whether it's a teaser/wand-type toy or something else, it's important to gauge when she's getting overstimulated and stop the game before it gets out of hand. In feline terms, that means stopping before your cat gets rough and you end up getting scratched. Never encourage any rough games that allow your cat to bite or claw and possibly draw blood. Similarly, never encourage her to pounce on your feet. If she is starting to display such behavior, stop the game or immediately redirect these play behaviors by introducing appropriate toys, such as a catnip mouse that she can play with and toss about on her own and that will distract her from the foot-biting game.

    Alternatively, walk away. That is the feline equivalent of giving her a time-out. By doing this, you are modifying her behaviors and teaching her what is acceptable and what is not. Every interaction is, in fact, a social interaction with your cat. Preparing the food bowls and placing them down for a meal, brushing and grooming your cat, or simply relaxing with her and petting her are social interactions that go toward strengthening the feline–human bond. Whether you are around or not, in a multicat household where the felines know that there is enough food and shelter to go around, and thus that there is no need for them to be territorial about these issues, they will display social behaviors toward each other such as sleeping together, grooming each other, rubbing against each other, greeting each other, playing together, and swatting each other as part of their every day feline social habits. These interactions will continue to teach your new cat about socializing, lessons begun with her mother and littermates, and what is and isn't acceptable in her new home.

    Why Cats Scratch

    Cats need to scratch for a variety of reasons. When cats scratch, they are communicating their presence to the world and are marking territory. Cats mark through the visual evidence they leave as well and from scent/pheromones deposited from the scent glands located on the bottom of their paws. They scratch to enjoy a good stretch; they scratch when playing and to disperse energy and stress. Additionally, they scratch when they feel conflicted. Cats also need to scratch for nail maintenance.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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