These days, school is not just for people. It’s also for pets including cats.
Cat School is an online clicker training program that offers courses to teach people to clicker train cats to learn fun and practical behaviors.
The school’s founder, Julie Posluns, created Cat School when she realized that cats were missing out on the enrichment and practical skills that clicker training provides.
ALLISON: Tell me about your background with animals.
JULIE: In 2003, I enrolled in a dog training course in British Columbia. It was “accredited” and I thought that meant something about the quality and content but the program was a sham. I returned home and immediately started learning about positive reinforcement methods.
Around the same time, I acquired a new puppy. A few months later, Tyson, started showing severe signs of aggression including pinning and shaking puppies, and lunging and biting skateboarders.
As soon as I was ready to start working with dog training clients, the realization hit me: my dog was a behavioral mess. I felt like a phony and so I took a step back from training to spend more time learning about dogs and seeing if I could help my dog.
I became a dog walker, and my business started to grow. I spent many years walking dogs and operating a busy dog walking company.
In 2013, I decided I was ready for a new challenge. I returned to school to pursue an M.Sc. in Animal Behavior.
ALLISON: Why an online Cat School?
JULIE: Although my local dog walking business was going well, I was tired of the responsibility and wanted more freedom to travel. I knew it was time to shift to something more computer and education based. Because people were always asking me questions about the business of dog walking, I started doing consulting work with dog walkers.
Meanwhile, on my Instagram, where I was featuring both my dogs and cats, I was getting lots of questions about training a cat. I would spend hours on Instagram messenger helping people train their cat. When I looked around and saw the limited resources available for clicker training cats, I decided to shift gears and focus my attention on creating Cat School.
ALLISON: Why did you get interested in clicker training?
JULIE: Clicker training made a profound difference in my dog’s life. It helped me manage his aggression but also have something fun that we could do together. One day I saw this fantastic canine freestyle routine, and I decided I would teach my dog all the steps. This work kept him happy, focused and out of trouble.
ALLISON: What other experience(s) qualify you to run Clicker Cat School?
JULIE: From a training perspective, I’d like to think I can create training plans that any cat owner can follow. I think that’s why my Jump through Arms tutorial featured on the Dodo, became so popular. Cat owners were inspired to try, and their success inspired others.
When I create a training plan, my goal is that the cat will move through a progression of steps in such a way that they never make a mistake. This style of training, called errorless learning, is so essential for cats.
ALLISON: Tell me about the reaction to Cat School.
JULIE: Most people react positively to cat school. It’s like they knew all along their cat could be trained.
There are a few people who vehemently disagree with training cats. Interestingly, those who oppose it most are cat lovers that associate the work, i.e., jumping through hoops and tricks, with the circus. They think it’s degrading for such a majestic animal to perform tricks.
Some people don’t see that for indoor cats, training is enrichment and activity in what can be an otherwise monotonous day.
ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?
JULIE: The biggest mistake I made was not taking enough time to figure out the barriers that cat owners might have to work with their cat. For example, helping people with their cat’s lack of food motivation often due to free feeding. Now, I have a free 7-day course to help people overcome the initial challenges they face.
ALLISON: What lessons have you learned from this business?
JULIE: Training cats and creating services for cat owners is a tiny part of my job. Not only do I need people to find Cat School, but I also need to show them the value. To accomplish this, I need to be good at social media marketing.
ALLISON: Tell me a little about your cats.
JULIE: When I started Cat School, I had two cats. Unfortunately, my cat Mackenzie passed away last November, and now it’s just my black cat Jones. Jones has a perfect temperament. He’s smart and motivated. He’s got a lot of characteristics like a dog. He’s very attentive and responsive.
ALLISON: Why did you start to train them?
JULIE: When I was training my dogs, Jones was very interested in what we were doing. Our other cat Mackenzie was a lot less confident than Jones but also wanted to learn. Training became the highlight of their day.
ALLISON: What have you learned about cats from running the school?
JULIE: I didn’t know a lot about cats when I first started the school, so there’s been a lot to learn. I was surprised to see how quickly cats can learn and how much they enjoy clicker training. Many people have cats that are extremely food motivated and will swat food right out of their hand, so I have to help the owners with that as well. However, this motivation makes them excellent candidates for training.
ALLISON: What have you learned about people from running the school?
JULIE: I was surprised at the deep and fulfilling relationships people have with their cats. I get a lot of questions about training therapy cats.
I also see people enjoying the cat community that exists via social media, such as Instagram. It’s an excellent platform for people to show off their cats and help one another.
The cat world is new to me, but so far I love it. I attribute part of that to the rewarding relationship I’ve developed with my cat. Jones is the perfect pet. He brings me so much joy.
ALLISON: What advice would you give to someone just starting to train their cat?
JULIE: Keep the sessions short and highly reinforcing. If after one try the cat gets it wrong, go back and make it easier, so they have another win. This way you avoid frustration, and the cat will love working with you.
ALLISON: Share anything else you’d like.
JULIE: I’m excited to see more people get on board with cat training. Practically speaking, there is so much value in teaching cats behaviors such as going into a carrier, wearing a harness and responding positively to nail trims. Clicker training is an excellent form of enrichment; there are endless tricks and behaviors cats can learn, and cat agility provides an opportunity for physical activity. Spending 15 minutes a day training your cat will strengthen your bond and create a more fulfilling relationship.
Interested in enrolling your cat in Cat School? Access the free course on the website: www.catschool.co and follow cat.school on Instagram