Clicker training as an attempt at peacemaker

Cooper checking out the treeI'm pleased to say we had absolutely no issues with the Christmas tree. Each cat got a good sniff of it when it first came in the house, and they all liked to sit under it. One branch stuck out a little extra, so the ornament on that one was a small wind chime to remind the humans not to knock things off the tree. Mickey made the happy discovery that he could ring the chime with his extra long tail as he passed by the tree, which he did as often as he could.

 

At treat time just before bed, Mickey goes in his crate so he's right there but won't get in the way. Scamper and Cooper get their treats in little dishes about six inches apart. As long as there's food, there are no problems. I'm right there on the floor with them, just in case. As soon as the small treat is gone, all bets are off! Recently Scamper has stopped immediately hissing at Cooper, and Cooper has stopped trying to go for her and turns and walks away to sit and take a bath. This may be a small step, but to me it's major progress. One night I didn't have any small dishes clean for the treats, so I took a shot at doing a clicker routine with them, dispensing the treats one at a time. Cooper was fine with that idea. Scamper was a little worried and reluctant to sit or turn her back for a spin or anything else that took her eye off Cooper or rendered her even slightly less ready to run, but the whole thing lasted about three minutes and everybody got lots of praise afterwards.

Scamper Elizabeth....ready to pounceI quickly switched to a high value treat - bits of fresh cooked chicken breast - and after about three nights of this Scamper was much more confident and willing to spin, sit and do whatever I asked. Cooper is also very willing, whereas sometimes with Mickey he chooses not to participate. Mickey, after all, is extremely enthusiastic about anything that involves food or his favorite wand toys, and Scamper and Cooper are both right to be worried about getting run over by Mickey!

CooperEventually I decided to let Mickey out of his crate for treat time so he could be part of the game. He did very well, sat between Cooper and me with Scamper on my other side. We had several days of successful three cat training - and then we had the day that Cooper was on one side of me one second and the next he was on the other side on top of Scamper, with her shrieking. He gives no warnings, no growling, hissing, tail twitching, ears laid back, nada. They broke up as soon as I yelled, and five minutes later both of them were fully recovered. Poor Mickey, however, was convinced that there must be a monster in the hallway that caused this commotion, and it took him all night to settle down. He doesn't understand any better than I do why his two friends can't be nice to each other. Anyway, three or four weeks later, Scamper was still refusing to take her treat in the same room with Cooper, never mind anything that required turning her back on him, and we were back to square one yet again.

Cooper checking out the treeNow in late spring I'm ready to try again - Scamper has been taking treat time with the two boys most of the time, although some nights she insists on being in another room. I recently switched the boys' food from chicken to turkey and all that tryptophan seems to be having an effect. Instead of having to be shut out of the bedroom anywhere between 2:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. both are now willing to stay quiet until I'm ready to get up without needing to annoy me. Cooper seems a bit calmer and more playful. I've occasionally been holding him in my arms with Scamper in the same room so he can see her be calm, confident and playful instead of just apprehensive.

Mickie looking at giftsMickey is still my quick learner, and it only took him a couple tries to learn to touch my hand with one paw or the other for "gimme five". The other two just looked at my hand and had no idea what to do. However, after watching Mickey for a couple of weeks, 9 Scamper offered her paw when I gave Mickey the command, so now she's on board with that one. Cooper continued to put his nose on my hand for "gimme five" for some time, but somewhere along the line he caught on, too. And Mickey now paws my hand or arm when he wants anything, like a little kid going "MomMomMom!" What's most impressive to me is that they will go through all their commands with Bill as well as with me, so it's not just a "mom game".

Cooper eyeing the ornamentsAnyway, now that we have all that under our belts, we need to think about what to try next. So far none of them can figure out why I would want them to "lie down", but once down, "roll over" should be pretty easy since all three are seriously into belly rubs, odd as that is for cats! We also have a couple of new products to try for calming Scamper and Cooper's issues, so hopefully we'll have some good things to report next time. We all wish everyone a sunbeam-on-the-screened-porch kind of summer!

Adventures in Clicker Training for Cats

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Holistic Veterinary Center
34 West Street
Concord, NH  03301
Phone: 603-225-9680 • Fax: 603-227-0945
holisticvetcenter@gmail.com