Communicate with your cat through training!

Here Cecilia and I show off her basic behaviors & tricks!  Interested in learning how to train your cat? Check out this link for more information!

Free kitten training classes are available in Oregon!

Webinar! A look inside your cat’s head

A look inside your cat’s head: The science behind your cat and how to strengthen the human-cat bond

Although cats and humans have coexisted for thousands of years, science still has a lot to learn about cat behavior, cognition and the human-cat bond. This talk will cover the current status of several areas of cat social cognition research and discuss ways to utilize this knowledge to improve cat welfare and strengthen the human-cat bond. Learn the social behaviors between cats and the various aspects in the human-cat bond. This webinar will touch on cat training classes and how to open that ever important line of communication. Emphasis will be given to applying our knowledge to increase cat welfare & strengthen the human-cat bond.

KristynHeadshot2_ETrainingSpeaker: Kristyn Vitale Shreve
Live online lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at 8:00-9:30pm EDT (Midnight UTC/GMT)
Cost: $25.00
Click here to register for the lecture! 

Cat Training: When to add a cue

After your chosen behavior has been trained you can add in a cue. This cue can be a word such as “sit!” or can be a hand signal, such as a closed fist. Cues are important because they give you the control to ask your cat to engage in the behavior when you wish. You ask them to sit, and they do so knowing they will receive a reward.

Cecilia standing in response to her current cue for "stand", a hand cue.
Cecilia standing in response to her current cue for “stand”, a hand cue.

It is important not to add the cue too soon, before the animal understands the behavior. This can actually confuse them and make it harder for them to connect the cue to the behavior. For example, what if you were trying to teach someone how to catch a baseball? If the learner does not connect that they are supposed to catch the baseball in their mitt then yelling “catch!” will not help them learn either the behavior or the meaning of the word “catch!”

When a cat has learned a behavior, they will often begin engaging in it when they want a treat. For example, my cat Cecilia is great at standing on her back legs. When we began training the stand behavior she would come into the room and stand up to see if she got a treat. I added the cue only after I was sure Cecilia made the connection between standing and receiving a reward .

The cue becomes an antecedent (or a signal), that indicates to the cat they should engage in the behavior in order to receive a reward.

How would you add a cue? Lets take “Stand” as an example:

  • First present the cue word at the same time as you click. This way the cat associates the word with the behavior you are marking with the click.
    Click!/Say “Stand!” (simultaneously) -> reward
  • Slowly you can present the cue word earlier. Present the cue right as you see the cat about to stand.
    Say “Stand!” (just when they begin to stand)->click (when stands)->reward
  • Continue to move the cue up earlier and earlier, until the cue totally precedes the behavior.
    Say “Stand” when you want them to do so. Cat will then stand, you can then click! -> reward

Scent, security, and stress

A happy Cecilia!

Does your cat get anxious and hide when people come over? Does your cat pee or scratch on the carpet? These behaviors (if medical issues have been ruled out, always talk to your vet!) may indicate your cat does not feel secure in their environment. There are many ways you can help your cat to feel more secure in their home. Continue reading “Scent, security, and stress”

Why Train?

Cecilia- stand up

What are the benefits of training your cat? Yes, it’s pretty cool to be able to ask your cat to jump over obstacles and through hoops (cat agility!) but training also opens a line of communication between you and your cat. Animal training utilizes principles of psychology to create a common language between the human and animal.

If we know the cat salivates when food is presented (the food elicits an involuntary response in the cat) we can pair this instinctive response with an initially neutral signal- such as a click! (classical conditioning). When we pair the click with the food repeatedly the click is associated with the presentation of food and takes on meaning for the animal. “Oh, when I get a click- I get a treat!” You can use this new form of communication to let your cat know which behaviors you like and want them to keep doing. Your animal will connect the click with their behavior and will choose to engage in those behaviors more frequently (operant conditioning). “I see… they like it when I sit. Let me sit again and see if I get a treat!”

Cecilia- go to mat & stay

As animals undergo more training, they often learn they will get rewarded for new behaviors and start to display unexpected, novel behaviors. “Lets see if I get a treat for standing on my back legs! Yup!” The cat gets to be creative and find new ways to interact with you and earn rewards.

Sometimes your cat will even “ask” for training sessions. My cat Cecilia (started training when she was 7 years old) has a very specific stance she gets in when she is ready to do a training session. She looks me in the eyes, sits completely upright and lifts her right paw (probably a superstitious behavior) as if to say “I’m ready to earn some treats!”

There are multiple ways training can benefit you and your cat:

  • A common language formed between you and your cat. You can ask your cat to do behaviors instead of forcing them. For example, if you need your cat to leave the room you can ask them to go to their “mat” in the other room, instead of physically picking them up and moving them.
  • Serves as an outlet for excess energy, which could alleviate some behavior problems and keep your cat in shape!
  • Allows the cat to use their brain. The cat makes the choice to engage in behaviors during training sessions. Cats will often display unexpected behaviors- trying something new to earn a reward. This allows your cat to think and problem solve, which may aid their mental health.

Follow the posts on this page to learn how to train your cat!