The Cat Training Series: Rainy’s Fall Adventures

Agility at home! Guests for a week! A breakthrough in a behavior problem! September was a month of upheaval for our family. It started with us buying and moving into our first house, and finally having space to set up an agility course at home. After that, my parents came to visit for a week, which provided all the pets with lots of socialization opportunities. Finally, seizing the opportunity to start anew, I tried once again to keep Rainy off the counter tops, and this time might have found a long-term solution.

Back in February of this year, I wrote an article called Cat Agility, where I shared my attempts to replicate an obstacle course at home. At the time, the biggest hindrances were space and cost. Regarding space, I even posted questions to a Facebook agility group, asking members: “Where does everyone practice?” It turned out that I wasn’t alone. Others were doing agility in the hallway of their apartment building or in the living room. And we all were frustrated that we couldn’t leave our equipment up to use as time allowed. Hence, my excitement that I could reserve a portion of our new home’s finished basement for agility. At last, the pets and I could do agility whenever we want without the hassle of having to put up and take down a course. Moreover, I now can teach agility to even our shyest cat. As for cost, there are economical ways to build an agility course. As I noted in my Cat Agility article, I found a small affordable tunnel at Toys R Us. In addition, I bought two sets of weave poles and hoops for cats from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Since writing my article, I also bought a foam jump through Lincoln Pet Exchange. Next purchases will be the supplies for an A-Frame and a pet walk!

In September, my parents came to visit for a week. None of the cats had met them before. Rainy hung back initially, but by the evening she was coaxing them for food and attention. Throughout their stay, she also tried to visit them in the guest room more than once while they were sleeping. Also, during my parents’ visit, we invited friends over twice for games. Rainy once again made her presence known. We also had my in-laws (Andy’s parents) over for a visit. All the pets welcomed them. They brought their dog too. Prior to this, Rainy had met their dog a few times at their home. For the most part, Toby maintained a respectful distance from Rainy, but they remain curious about one another too. I suspect one day they might even become play buddies! All these visits have got me thinking again about Rainy’s potential as a therapy cat. Keep watch for future articles on this front

“Down!” “Get off!” “Leave it!” If you’ve ever yelled any of these commands at your pets, you’re not alone. Rainy is over two years old, and until recently nothing that we’ve tried has successfully kept her off our counters. First, we attempted the standard methods of using a spray bottle, double-sided tape on placemats, aluminum foil, and cans with coins in them. The idea behind all these contraptions was to make the counter unappealing, and indeed they’ve worked with other cats of ours. Unfortunately, none of these things have ever fazed Rainy. Next, we tried creative methods such as motion-activated deterrents. Andy found these scary rubber snakes that strike out when they detect movement. The first few times Rainy got “attacked” by these, she fled the kitchen. But the prospect of food encouraged her to persist, and soon she had learned how to stay out of the reach of the snakes. Then I tried an idea I got from a podcast. Just before preparing food I let Rainy down into the basement, where I let her explore until I had all the cat dishes filled. My latest idea has been the most successful. While I prepare the cats’ food, I have Rainy sit on a small stool next to me. Each time I open a new can, if she has kept her bottom on the stool, I let her lick food from my finger. This way, instead of simply restricting her access to food, I’m rewarding her good behavior. This idea has worked so well that as soon as I place the stool next to our kitchen countertop, Rainy jumps up on it and gives me her attention.

With the arrival of October, life is more settled at the Frederick household, and I’ve finally resumed daily training with the pets. I’ve also begun a new kind of training, one that involves all the pets, and will introduce you to it in my next installment of Rainy’s adventures. Until then, if you have any questions, please comment on this post or email me at:


If You Can Train a Lemur….

“Cats don’t care what you think.”

“Cats are too independent.”

“Cats are too moody.”

“Cats are too lazy.”

“Cats aren’t dogs.”

There’s a strongly-held belief that cats can’t be trained. All the above quotes are actual statements that I’ve heard from pet owners, even from those with cats. But on a recent trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, my husband and I saw zoo keepers training lemurs, sea otters, lions, and other wild animals. If all these undomesticated animals can be trained, then so can cats!

Why were zoo keepers training wild animals? The number one reason is for something called animal husbandry. Zoo staff need to perform routine health maintenance on the animals in their care, and veterinarians need to treat those that fall ill, and so it’s important for the animals to cooperate. For example, it’s easier and safer for an elephant to put its foot through a hole in a wall so a vet can treat a wound, than it is to sedate the animal. A second reason that zoo keepers train animals is to teach them tricks, which challenges and stimulates them, thereby enriching their lives. Husbandry and enrichment are reasons why household cats should be trained.

Husbandry is an essential part of owning cats. And our lives will be easier if they cooperate with it! My three cats and I start every morning with a routine that begins with grooming. Cats are meticulously clean creatures. Not a day goes by that mine aren’t licking their fur with their barbed tongues or licking their paws and then using their wet paws to clean the parts of their body their tongues can’t reach. So why would I brush them? Long-haired cats especially will often need help keeping their hair from getting gnarled. Also, as cats age they can lose interest in staying clean, and if they’re not used to being groomed they’re unlikely to allow a comb near them, and their coats will suffer.

Another part of our grooming routine is cleaning their teeth. Without this dental care, cats may develop gum disease, which, if left unchecked, can lead to kidney disease and death. Can’t a veterinarian handle the dental care? Yes, but this unfortunately involves a trip to your veterinarian and the administration of anesthesia (so that your veterinarian can scrape your cat’s teeth), which is stressful for your cat. Cleaning your cat’s teeth at home won’t eliminate the need for professional dentistry, but it will improve their overall dental health.

The final part of our grooming routine is a quick check of my cats’ eyes, ears, and general health. This helps me spot minor concerns that could develop into major concerns if only seen during annual vet visits. Depending on your cat’s breed, there might be areas which warrant regular attention. One case in point, if I don’t regularly clean my youngest cat’s ears, she will develop a waxy build-up that could result in discomfort, loss of balance, and even hearing loss.

Of course, the most important aspect of husbandry is acclimatizing your cat to vet visits. Two of mine don’t mind the visits, while my third gets anxious. Thanks to training her to accept a crate, car rides, and clinics, I’ve done my best to minimize the stress, which benefits everyone.

Believe it or not, cats enjoy doing tricks. And we people certainly enjoy seeing a cat perform. When looking for articles on how to train cats, I came across one that told how to teach a cat to sit, for no other reason than to amaze guests. While articles like this do a disservice to cats by reinforcing the belief that cats are too dumb or too undisciplined to be taught real obedience, the article does show that people enjoy being entertained by cats. And we can use this to our advantage. Some shelters teach shy cats to approach visitors, which reduces the chance that they’ll be overlooked. And some shelters will teach their cats to do tricks, such as waving, to help them get attention. A friend and I have talked about the possible benefits of my youngest cat being able to do tricks when she begins working as a therapy cat. The more enjoyment she can bring to those in nursing homes and hospitals, the more she will benefit those she visits, and the greater the likelihood she’ll be asked to return. Practicalities aside, cats do like challenges, and tricks can serve this purpose. They have fun learning tricks and we can have fun teaching tricks. Win-win! My favorite way of doing “tricks” is through agility. In the basement of our new house, I have set up a course that includes tunnels, jumps, weaves, and other hurdles. Running a course can be done in a few minutes, break up routine, and get us active.

Our old house didn’t have any room in the basement for an agility course, so one time my husband and I cobbled together a makeshift course in our living room.

For those of you who have followed my cat training journey, you know that I trained my first cat for fun. Our dog enjoyed agility and I thought Lucy would too. For a time, Lucy agreeably climbed and jumped obstacles on command. As she aged and became less interested in tricks, I likewise lessened the time I spent training her. In hindsight, I realize that she still would have enjoyed an enriched environment. When my husband and I adopted Cinder, I resolved to never stop providing her with physical and mental stimulation, and to be creative about my choices when her needs changed. Then Bootsie came along. She showed me that training served practical purposes when I found myself needing to acclimate her to a carrier and other objects alien to a formerly feral cat.

Throughout the decades, zoos have grown in their understanding of how and why we should train the animals in their care. It’s time that cat owners do the same. Next time you visit the zoo, check out some of the training sessions, and apply what you learn to your cats. If lemurs can be trained, so can cats!

The Cat Training Series: Catching up with Rainy

RainyTraining rule number eight: Figure out the source.

Training rule number nine: Maintain a routine.

August was a chaotic month. As a result, Rainy and I got less training done. We took another trip to Hearts United for Animals, returned a couple of times to the local rose garden, and met that puppy again.

What’s most rewarding about our visits to Hearts United for Animals is that they’re always an adventure. The first Sunday of August, Andy and I packed food, water, and a litter box. Then off we drove with Rainy to Auburn. As soon as we entered the agility building, we heard shelter dogs barking in the next room. I immediately pulled out high-incentive treats. Rainy gobbled them up but remained vigilant. I didn’t push her to perform. Instead we strolled around the building and, as we encountered obstacles, I encouraged her to try them. She agreed to do the table, the tunnels, and the dog walk. When we figured out that she felt most comfortable in the tunnels, we used them to our advantage. I’d face her in the direction of a tunnel, direct her through an obstacle, and then allow her to retreat to the tunnel. After doing this a few times, Andy had a different idea. He carried her over to the next room and lifted her up so she could see the dogs through the window. After a minute, she seemed calmer, as if simply knowing the source of the noise was enough. She was now willing to tackle obstacles closest to the door, such as the A-frame, weaves, and teeter. Once she had run a few courses, we allowed her to explore, and she discovered spider egg sacs. Our trips are always an adventure!

Sometimes the lesson I learn from repeating an outing is all the things Rainy doesn’t like about a certain location. The rose garden is an example. It’s located next to a main street. Even when traffic on it is light, what traffic there is still whizzes past, and this puts Rainy on edge. While I do enjoy seeing the varieties of roses, they’re of no interest to Rainy. She sniffs the grass and no doubt enjoys the smells. She sits on my lap and soaks in the sun. But that’s it. To date, Rainy’s favorite places seem to be the indoor ones.

My in-laws have a toy poodle puppy. Andy and I first took Rainy to meet him in July. During that visit, we took precautions, and placed on Rainy on one side of a baby gate and Toby on the other. Everything went well! During our second visit, I kept Rainy in her carrier until after dinner but then leashed her and let her out. It only took only a few seconds before Toby barked and bounded right up to her face, ready to play. Rainy immediately hissed and swatted him. He backed away but didn’t flee. Instead he tried approaching her from behind. Again, Rainy hissed and swatted him. This time Toby’s demeanor changed. He grew quiet and his tail went still. While he didn’t flee, he opted to seek refuge with his owners. At our third visit, Toby barked and jumped, ready to play—from a safe distance.

When life gets busy, I can easily let routines slip. That happened in August. At first my plan was to just skip one day. Unfortunately, all too soon that one day becomes two or three days. Before I realized it, a week has passed. Thankfully, Rainy is forgiving. When I finally rolled out the stroller, she was eager as always to train.

The Cat Training Series: Rainy’s Grooming Routine

Rainy started her week with a visit from two of our friends. In the middle of the week, we worked on established routines. She finished her week with a trip to a major pet store.

Two weekends ago, friends from out of town came by for a visit. We invited them to visit our critters before going out to eat. The critters include our 13-year-old toy poodle, our reclusive tortie that we adopted from Tia’s Place at Hearts United for Animals, a former feral cat, and our irrepressible Rainy that we adopted as a stray kitten. Our poodle was all kisses, while our tortie wanted to sniff faces, and our feral observed from the safety of the living room cat tower. As for Rainy, she displayed a cautious curiosity. Proud pet mom that I am, I wanted to demonstrate what our cats can do. We ran through a few obedience commands (sit, stay, twirl), and I also pulled out the agility jumps. Then I handed treats to our friends, who took turns getting our cats to perform. The cats were naturally nervous, but also complied with requests.

During the week, after breakfast, Rainy and I kept up our grooming and obedience routines. I brought lots of cat snacks, so that she would associate grooming with good stuff. At the same time, I didn’t just hand out snacks but instead made her work for rewards. After I cleaned her ears, which get dirtier than that of our other pets, I asked her to “Hi-Five”. Then I brushed her, even though she barely sheds, and ask her to stand and twirl (dance). I finished up by cleaning her teeth, and asking her to do her favorite trick: roll over. All done, I put a treat in my mouth, tell her “Kiss!” and let her take it from me.

Establishing a routine hasn’t been easy. I was initially reluctant to add regular training to my schedule because of the time commitment and because I thought it’d be a chore. I finally just decided to start. I picked to work with Rainy on training near mealtimes prior to my getting absorbed in other activities. Then I simply stuck to our schedule until it became routine.

At the end of the week, my husband and I took Rainy with us to run some errands. This is a new experience for me. I’ve taken dogs on errands before, but never cats. Rainy and Andy wait in the car while I make a couple of deliveries. At Petco, it’s a different story. Rainy can come with us. We loaded her into the pet stroller. Rainy sat up, alert to passing cars. When we got inside, we filled our shopping cart with treats, food, and litter, Rainy relaxed for a ride in the stroller. As we shopped, I heard the occasional “Aw” from fellow shoppers. In the checkout line, the customer behind us, and I shared how our two cats like it for walks and about where we purchased it.

Back at the car, I spoiled Rainy with lots of treats. When we return home, she flops onto the living room floor for a stretch and snooze.  Adventure is exhausting!

The Cat Training Series: Rainy Visits a Friend and a Store And More!

This past week has been a full one for Rainy. We practiced a few items on the Canine Good Citizenship test. In doing so, we revisited clicker training, visited a friend, and toured a store. Oh, and we played on an agility jungle gym.

Why is Rainy working on the Canine Good Citizenship test when she isn’t a dog? Because prospective therapy dogs must pass it, but there is no such test yet for felines. What type of items are on the test? The first five items test a dog’s ability to politely and calmly meet strangers, while the last five cover obedience commands and the dog’s ability to handle distractions and separation. I figure that Rainy is learning how to handle the first five through her supervised visits; the others I want to focus on practicing at home.

One of the basic obedience commands tested in the CGC test is, “Come.” Rainy has been struggling with the command, so this week I decided to revisit clicker training as a way of teaching recall. For clicker training, one uses a small metal noisemaker to mark desirable behavior, and then rewards with a reinforcement such as a treat. When watching online clicker training videos, I realized the importance of marking the tiniest sign of obedience. I used to reward Rainy only if she fully obeyed the command. Now the instant that Rainy head towards me, I click and reward. Rainy doesn’t always make it to me or take a straight path, but the point of clicker training is to shape a behavior. The more I clicked and rewarded each time she obeyed, the more improvement I saw. (You can read a longer version of how to teach “come” on page 16 of Lincoln Kids.)

Another item on the CGC test is a demonstration of the pet’s ability to ignore noisy distractions. I enlisted my husband to help with this one. I called the cat trio into the kitchen, rewarded them for coming, and then asked them to sit. When they started to sit, Andy dropped an object on the floor. He started with a quieter item and proceeded to louder ones: first a cardboard tube, then a pill bottle, then a spoon. Despite a history of noise aversion, Rainy wasn’t fazed by any of these distractions. Next time, we’ll practice with louder noises.

As I noted, the first five items test an animal’s ability to meet strangers. This week, I accepted an invitation to take Rainy to visit a friend. When I opened the door of Rainy’s carrier, she didn’t want to come out. To help relax her, I offered her goat cheese from my hand. She ate it. To encourage her to come out of her carrier, I sprinkled a trail of cheese leading away from the carrier. She didn’t take the bait. I placed a blanket on the floor, added some cheese, and then simply lifted Rainy out of the carrier. She didn’t protest, but instead ate the cheese and sat next to me. Next, I moved the blanket closer to my friend and added more cheese. Rainy ate the cheese and sniffed my friend. I gave my friend some cheese and Rainy accepted cheese from her hand. Finally, I put the blanket on my friend’s lap and placed Rainy onto it. Rainy laid down and allowed my friend to pet her. When Rainy got down, she took time to explore, but eventually retreated under the bed. Visit over!

At the online International Cat-Assisted Therapy group, some owners of therapy cats shared that they had started their training by going to indoor places. When I told this to Andy, he suggested we visit Sit Stay, a small pet store. While my husband searched for just the right dog treat, I pushed our pet stroller up and down the aisles. Unlike one of our cats who hisses when I take her places in the stroller, Rainy sat upright and peered at the sights. The store clerk was impressed! So was I! After Andy bought a bag of fishy pet treats, I unzipped the stroller. Rainy peeked out and let the store clerk pet her. Another success!

For a long time, Andy and I have talked about having a pet enrichment day, on which we would rearrange our living room to give our pets a new environment to explore. This week we did this, and in doing so treated our dog and cats to an agility jungle gym. Our other two cats weren’t too sure about the new arrangement; Rainy took it all in stride. She jumped onto the boards placed on chairs, raced through tunnels, and climbed onto the heights of the cat tower. At one point, I followed her into the bigger tunnel. When she turned around and saw me following, she flopped down as if to ask, “What are you doing, Mom?” Then she leaped to her paws and zoomed about the tunnel as if to say, “Some fun, eh?!” The other two cats finally decided to in on of the action. Our pet enrichment afternoon was a blast!

Each day this week, Rainy has joined me in bed at night. She curls up under my arm and then snuggles with me for the night. Our life is full and my girl is happy!

The Cat Training Series: Rainy Meets a Puppy and Explores a Rose Garden

It’s been a few weeks since my last post about Rainy. She continues to train as an agility cat. Her veterinarian has also signed papers needed for her to train as a therapy cat. I’ll write more on that later. For now, let me tell you about our past week. It included our return to a nearby park, introduction to a puppy, and a social with one of my friends.

I’ll start with our return to a nearby park. As usual, I took Rainy to the park in our pet stroller and then let her out on leash when we arrived. As she sought refuge underneath a bench, I sat and sweated and tried not to have doubts about our goals. A father and his son stopped to chat with me. The boy was wearing a hat with cat decals. He wanted me to see it and to know that he liked cats. His father told me that his son liked the speed of cats. After the two left, I picked Rainy up and placed her on the bench beside me. She didn’t try to get down but instead ate goat cheese from my hand. I decided to push her to the next level by walking around with her in a grassy part of the park. Rainy sat and politely refused to budge. Her ears remained perked and her eyes stayed wide, vigilant to the activities and noises around us. Not being able to get her to relax, even with treats, I placed her back on the bench. When we had enough of the heat, I encouraged her to walk with me to the park entrance. Rainy showed no resistance to this idea and seemed to enjoy the short stroll, perhaps because the nearby bushes gave her a stronger sense of security than the more spacious grassy area had.

One might say our outing was a partial success. But I had doubts due to her slow progress, enough that I decided to ask questions at some Facebook groups. First, I posted in a cat agility group. Unfortunately, no one in the group could offer any advice. Cat agility is still in its infancy. While there are at least two professional organizations that host cat agility shows, no one in my group has ever tried training their cat to do agility outside of the privacy of their home.

Having struck out with the cat agility people, I next posted to International Cat-Assisted Therapy (I-CAT). What does cat therapy have to do with agility? Well, if Rainy is to do agility outside of our home, she needs to feel comfortable with new people and places. And if she can be comfortable in strange situations, she might as well become a therapy cat, right?! To be honest, I’m still figuring out the best ways to meet Rainy’s needs, hence, the questions I posed to the therapy group. This time I got better results. The therapy group’s members graciously told me about how they had started with small INDOOR spaces, then moved to bigger INDOOR spaces, and only then ventured OUTSIDE. A few mentioned that their cats didn’t particularly care for the outdoors. Nonetheless, many did fine with the hustle and bustle of hospitals and schools. Their responses renewed my hope!

For our second adventure, I decided to introduce Rainy to a new dog. The cat therapy group members advised me that therapy cats may very well encounter dogs. I admit that this makes me nervous. After all, some dogs and cats are mortal enemies—especially those dogs with a strong prey instinct. For that reason, I will always want to closely monitor Rainy’s encounters with dogs. In this instance, however, I feel relatively safe. The dog we’ll meet is a three-month-old toy poodle named Toby. He belongs to my in-laws. We have a toy poodle of our own, and so Rainy is already comfortable with the breed. Puppies make me less nervous because their lives are centered around play. And if we’re going to continue to take our pets with us when we visit my in-laws, Rainy and Toby need to get acquainted. All the same, Andy and I took precautions. I sat with Rainy in our in-laws’ dining room and let her simply observe their dog from the safety of my lap. Rainy and Toby were curious about each other, but neither pulled out their claws or bared their teeth. Next, we put Rainy and Toby on opposite sides of a baby gate. Then we dropped morsels of food and let the two of them sniff each other through the gate. Again, they remained friendly. Success!

For our final adventure, I took Rainy with me when I went for a walk with a friend. My friend walked Barnaby and I pushed Rainy in the pet stroller. We visited the Hamann Rose Garden. When we reached the first gazebo, I unzipped the pet stroller to give Rainy some food and water. She immediately wanted out to explore. On the ground, she sniffed the bushes and listened to the rush of traffic. As with the park, I then deposited her next to me on a bench. To my surprise, she curled up next to me and seemed content. My friend took photos. We caught up on news while the pets relaxed. Eventually, I returned Rainy to her stroller, but only because it was getting late and not because she had requested it. I’m not sure what was different about the two locations, but Rainy seemed truly comfortable on this outing. What a great way to end the week!

The Cat Training Series: Rainy Returns to Hearts United for Animals!

It was a perfect agility outing. On June 4, Andy and I made our second drive to Hearts United for Animals to train Rainy on the shelter’s agility equipment. Other than facing the humidity of a hot spring day, everything went well.

In contrast, when we first visited back in early May, pretty much everything had gone wrong. Rainy is a curious cat, but she still gets nervous around new people and places. On our first visit, she encountered sensory overload: We visited on a stormy day despite knowing that noise frightens Rainy; we brought her into the agility room normally used for dogs; we invited her into it while a dog and three people were still in the room; and we encouraged visitors to come by and watch her. There was no way she could feel comfortable or concentrate while all that was going on. To make matters worse, I made the mistake of bringing low-incentive treats (ordinary treats she received every day) instead of high-incentive treats (such as cheese or meat)”. Rainy therefore had no reason not to simply retreat instead of choosing to explore. And finally, although cats can go without water and litter box for several hours, I realized that bringing these might have added to her comfort. That first day was quite the learning experience!

On June 4, we were so much better prepared. We brought water, litter box, and goat cheese. We visited on a day when clear skies ruled. We ensured there were no strangers or dogs in the agility room. Rainy showed her appreciation. She didn’t try to retreat to the nearest wall or tunnel, but instead rolled around on the floor to leave her scent. Positive start!

Andy and I then allowed Rainy time to get her bearings. With Rainy in a harness and on a leash, I encouraged her to sniff tunnels, weaves, and other obstacles. When Rainy ducked into a tube and exited on the other side, I immediately gave her goat cheese. Even if she might not have been trying to do agility, I was going to reward Rainy for being inquisitive rather than afraid.

Then, like a mother bird pushing her young to fly, I pushed Rainy to try some of the contacts. I carried her to her favorite obstacle—the dog walk—positioned her at one end, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. As soon as she moved forward to sniff the cheese, I began walking along the dog walk while holding the cheese in front of her. Happily, Rainy followed. All the way to the end!

From there, I led Rainy through a series of other obstacles. We tried the table and a jump. I got her to do the tube again by throwing cheese through it to the other side. By now, the dog walk was nothing, and so getting her to “Walk It” again was not a problem.

After doing these obstacles a few times, I once again pushed Rainy to new heights. I brought her to one of her least favorite obstacles—the A Frame—positioned her at the start, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. Except I didn’t simply lure her by holding cheese in front of her. Instead I sprinkled cheese at the start, on the up side, on the down side, and at the end. After she successfully completed it, I brought her to another of her least favorite obstacles–the tunnel, and positioned her at the start. Here, I got her started by going in a few paces with her. All the while, Andy stood on the other end and called to her. As soon as her ears perked at his voice, unlike our previous visit, I stopped and let her finish on her own.

Once Rainy had attempted all obstacles except the weaves, Andy advised: “Let’s end on a positive note.” We’d been at it for less than 30 minutes, but that was enough for her second time. To wrap up, I ran Rainy through a mini-course. When she refused the A-Frame and tunnel, I didn’t push her but simply let her proceed to the jumps. At the grand finale, I rewarded her with plenty of goat cheese, praise, and caresses. We loaded everything into the car and began our one-hour drive back home where Rainy could look forward to a well-deserved nap with her sisters.

The Cat Training Series: Rainy Visits A Park

Training rule #6: Take precautions.

Training rule #7: Praise baby steps.

Last month, to better prepare Rainy for doing agility, I decided to expose her to as many new situations as I could. I started by introducing her to the great adventure of our front porch and then encouraged her to explore the stairs and sidewalk. I also began inviting more visitors over to see her. With the start of a new month, I decided it was time to venture beyond our yard.

Day #1: I took Rainy to a nearby park in a pet stroller. When we got there, I clipped a leash to her harness and took her out of the stroller to let her explore. Despite my feeding her treats, Rainy immediately found a bench to hide under. I picked up both her and the treats. Then I sat with her on a bench. Rainy nibbled at treats in my hands, all the while staying alert to the world around her. She’s a cautious cat, which isn’t necessarily bad; her caution keeps her near me and the stroller While we sat, a man strolled by, then stopped to glance back at us. “Is that a cat?” he asked. When I said yes, he told me that he takes his cat to the park too. His cat is old and loves the outdoors. He left and a family came along. The two children pointed and exclaimed, “A cat!” No one came over to pet Rainy, the way they would have if I’d had our dog with me, but from their excitement I could. Next another man walked by. He stared and then laughed, but he said, “Have a good day!” And you know what? We did. Rainy and I soaked in the sunlight and enjoyed the glorious bright and warm day.

Day #2: One of my training rules is to build on success. For that reason, I headed back to the park with Rainy. We were assaulted with a lot of chatter even before we reached the park entrance. Two large families passed us, with kids who once again acted happy or perhaps amazed to see a cat at the park. At the first bench, I took Rainy out and put her on my lap. Another of my training rules is to provide high incentives. Today I brought goat cheese. I didn’t even try to hand feed her, but just let her stick her tongue into the container. Although her body trembled at all the commotion going on, Rainy did relax enough to eat her treats. And while she ate, I caught up on phone calls. When I was done, I put Rainy on the grass. She just sat and looked at me. I tried multiple places and got the same reaction. I respected her stress and brought her back to the bench. Unlike the day before, however, this time Rainy didn’t dive under the bench. Instead she climbed up on it and looked around. I smiled and sat beside her. Baby steps!

The Cat Training Series: : Building My Bond with Rainy

This month has been an adventurous one for our Rainy girl! She has been introduced to the great outdoors, our porch, and the sidewalk in front of our house. She’s also met one of our neighbors. We wrapped up May with more visitors and outings.

Day 1: When a visitor stopped by today, Rainy came strolling into the living room. I picked her up and brought her over to see our visitor. Greetings done, I left our visitor to get something. When I returned, I found that Andy was giving treats to Rainy and having the volunteer give her treats as well. He told me later that Rainy was frightened by our visitor. This surprised me because she had been fine in the living room. Cats are territorial. Did she not like our visitor having access to other parts of the house? Pets bond with their owners. Was Rainy timid because I wasn’t there? I don’t know, but her reaction makes me realize I need to be less casual about our new activities. Rainy is no longer a desperate stray kitten, and there are situations in which she’ll need time to adjust, and I should respect that as her guardian.

Day 2: Years ago, as a naïve new cat owner, thought that my years of experience with dogs and the insights from other cat friends was enough. Now I am not content to settle, and so I read lots and lots of cat books, the latest being Adventure Cats. In it, I learned a little tidbit. If one decides to introduce an indoor cat to the great outdoors, one should carry them out. Why? To avoid teaching them that it’s okay for them to go out the door, and thus decrease the chance that they’ll run away. Today I carried Rainy outside and I like that strategy a lot better. When I was coaxing her walk out the door, I was sending her mixed messages: When she’s on leash I encouraged her to walk out the door, otherwise I would shoo her away from the door. By carrying her outside for training, I can give her the consistent message that she’s never allowed to walk out the door.

Day 3: Last week I tried to build on success by encouraging Rainy to explore outside a little more each day. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how people and animals often get comfortable with each other simply by spending time together. For that reason, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Rainy and I just spent casual time together on the porch. I read a little from a book and researched a little on my laptop, while Rainy checked out the sights and sounds. One day there was rain and wind; another day there were bikers, kids, and dogs. On both days, after settling into the porch territory, Rainy searched for the treats I had scattered. In addition, Rainy tugged on her leash when she reached the stairs. I asked her, “Do you want to go for a walk?” Then I packed up my stuff and headed into the world with her. We walked one way and then the other on the sidewalk outside our house. I kept watch for dogs and other potential dangers. Both days, after about five minutes, Rainy calmly returned to the porch and stood at the door.

Day 4: Another visitor! A friend of mine drops by to talk about cat rescue. She meets the pets. We look at photos and share bios of cats needing homes. Then I bundle up Barnaby and Rainy for an outside jaunt. I walk Barnaby on a leash while my friend pushes Rainy in the pet stroller. Barnaby sniffs the grass. Rainy watches the world from the safety of the enclosed stroller. It’s another ordinary day in the neighborhood. We complete our trip around the block, head to our house, and then stop. My friend removes her water bottle from the cup holder atop the stroller as she gets ready to push the stroller onto the grass. Suddenly, Rainy retreats to a corner and then starts twirling around and batting at the stroller. Something about my friend taking the water bottle from the stroller and putting the bottle into her pocket startled Rainy. I take the stroller and talk in a soothing voice to Rainy. When she’s calm, we head inside and I have my friend give her treats. I want the visit to end on a positive note so that Rainy doesn’t associate strangers with bad stuff.

This month’s attempts to better prepare Rainy for doing agility have been enlightening. Part of me has wondered if our quiet home environment has made Rainy less suited to being an agility cat. But indoors she bounces off the walls with curiosity and activity. In addition, on the one day that I recently took Cinder out onto the porch, she reacted in a much more introverted manner than Rainy. I know Cinder likes her home, but she does go on stroller rides with me, and I thought she might do okay on the porch. She immediately found our living room window, stood up on her hind legs, and peered into it. When I didn’t take her inside right away, she searched out the door and parked herself in front of it. There is an obvious difference between her and Rainy, enough that I am satisfied Rainy could come to love the agility life.

Even if Rainy ends up making it clear that the agility life is not for her our attempts to achieve that dream are forging a stronger bond between us. She views me more and more as a source of fun for her life. And I am being reminded repeatedly that, just like people, each cat is unique. In turn, I am trying to train and hang out with each of my cats in the ways that they most prefer, and thereby growing in my relationship with them. What better could I and the cat trio ask for?

The Cat Training Series: : Rainy Ventures Beyond the Porch!

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!