Training rule number three: Build on success
Training rule number four: Be prepared for the unexpected
Training rule number five: Know the signs of your cat’s stress
Last week, to better prepare Rainy for doing agility, Andy and I decided to expose her to as many new situations as we could. I started simple, by introducing her to the great adventure of our front porch. By the end of the week, Rainy no longer feared the porch, and so it was time to build on success. For week two, I made plans to encourage her to explore the stairs and to walk on the front yard with me.
Day 1: Upon returning from a daily walk with our dog, I met my neighbor. She had mail for me and offered to bring it to me. I immediately took advantage of the opportunity to ask if my cat could meet her. While my neighbor went into her house to fetch our mail, I grabbed a can of salmon and leashed up Rainy. As soon as Rainy saw our neighbor, she turned and tried to hide behind my legs.
Since adopting Rainy, Andy and I have invited friends over to see her and have taken her to visit in-laws. She’s not unaccustomed to strangers. Yet she did act wary of them when we visited Hearts United for Animals, and so perhaps we’ve gotten too lax about socializing her. After all, as they mature, cats can grow timid. At any rate, Rainy’s reaction to our neighbor is proof that exposing her to new situations is a very good idea.
Here’s where being prepared for the unexpected helps. I calmly sat on the porch and started scooping out salmon from a tin. I put some morsels on a plate and kept the rest on my fingers. I then extended my hand to Rainy and patiently waited for the fish to tempt her. Sure enough, she soon licked my fingers. I repeated the same action, but extended my hand less, so that she had to walk a few steps toward me. I kept doing this until Rainy came all the way up to me. Through all of this, my neighbor and I casually chatted.
The next step was an equally important one. I gave the tin of salmon to my neighbor and let her offer some on a plate to Rainy. Gradually, I moved the plate of food closer and closer to my neighbor. When Rainy willingly came all the way up to my neighbor, I then agreed for my neighbor to put salmon on her fingers for Rainy to take. Which she did!
In this adventurous afternoon, I made one mistake. When I tried to pick Rainy up to take her inside, so that I could get treats, she resisted. To avoid getting scratched, I had to let her down. Fortunately, she was on leash and so she couldn’t bolt anywhere, but here’s where I should have listened to the signs of my cat’s stress. Even though she acted perfect agreeable to being bribed with treats, Rainy had also remained vigilant. Her darting eyes and tense body showed me that she was prepared for the worst. I should have paid attention to those signs, and instead invited her to walk inside the house with me instead of picking her up.
To wrap up this story, we tried the entire procedure again except we substituted regular treats. I scattered ones in front of Rainy, and then close to me, and then next to my neighbor. By the time the visit was over, Rainy was eating treats from my neighbor’s hand.
Day 2: One training rule is to use high incentives. I’m still trying to figure out what those are for Rainy. My cats will all coming running for cheese, but Rainy might be lactose intolerant and so I have stopped feeding her dairy foods. After doing some research, I discovered that there are options such as lactose-reduced cow’s milk made for cats (sold in pet stores) and goat cheese. So, today I tried goat cheese.
After coaxing Rainy outside with it, I scattered some on the porch. She gobbled up the cheese and immediately meowed at me for more. To challenge her, I sprinkled pieces on the stairs. At first, she hesitated. Venturing onto the porch was one thing; going past the porch was an entirely different story! Only when I sat on the stairs did she agree to follow. Rainy is my shadow! We sat on the steps and enjoyed the twitter of birds and chatter of squirrels. To challenge Rainy even further, I sprinkled goat cheese on the sidewalk. Again, Rainy stayed put until I lead her onto the walkway. There, Rainy not only devoured the cheese, but also discovered the glory of grass. She nibbled on the blades and tuned out the world.
Day 3: Just like the first week, I switched to commercial cat treats on our final day of outdoor training. Always, the big question is: Will Rainy stay outside with me no matter what incentive I offer? I throw treats about the porch and she races after them, tracking them down one by one, sometimes with the help of my pointing finger. I throw treats onto the stairs. She occasionally checks to ensure I am with her, but otherwise gamely searches them out. Finally, I throw treats onto the walkway. Then together we search for them until they’re all gone. And then we’re both ready to go inside for a nap!