Jemma is a very clever cat, but she is also very playful, curious, a rather pathetic scaredy-cat, and generally just a drama princess. This cat definitely lets you know how she feels about what's going on. She loves attention so much, that I've got her trained almost like a dog. Don't laugh. Yes, cats are totally trainable. I really enjoy the challenge of pet training, I have had several animals and cats are the hardest (rats were the easiest) but they are not impossible. It just requires a different approach. Cats are just wired differently, and come at things with a hunter's perspective: if I invest in this, what am I going to get from it? You just need a lot of patience, and be willing to be flexible. Every cat has a different motivation, so you can't train every cat the same way. When something goes wrong, punishment does nothing- spanking actually makes them feel defensive and they appear to lash out in anger when it really might be fear. Cats have a strong sense of dignity and space, and feel threatened- not just angry- when challenged. The best way to deal with a naughty cat is to use a low but not loud voice, and either walk away or redirect them to something else.
Jemma sits, gives high fives and shakes, stands up, lays, and (sometimes- still working on this one) rolls over. I saw on Facebook a video of teaching a cat to jump through your arms interlocked in a hoop and thought this would be great fun. Last night I decided to begin teaching her this trick.
I made a mistake by beginning with me sitting on the floor. Jemma prefers to follow hand signals I have modified from American Sign Language signs and my body language alongside my voice, so when I tried to get her to walk over my arm for the Step 1 of this trick, she laid down.
I didn't realize what was happening so I told her "no" and she slapped her tail on the carpet and narrowed her eyes. Me, sighing, tried again, but she would not get up. I even showed her the can of whipped cream. Nada. Just squinting and tail-tapping and sighing back at me. Then I realized that she was frustrated because she thought she'd done as I asked since I sat down on the floor, too. I ended up having mom launch a hair tie over my arm twice in a row, and when she passed over my arm I used to clicker to indicate she'd done something I wanted. The pros do this all the time and call it conditioning. You first do a series of very simple steps to train the animal to associate the sound of the clicker as a positive thing. They look forward to hearing it because it means they will be rewarded. Once they know this, you can start training them to do more things! So you see your pet do something cut or fun; repeat the conditions that get them to do that thing and click when they actually do it. This is repeated until they understand that you want them to do that thing, and then you add a voice and/or hand signal to the action. They will soon learn that you are signalling that thing. Eventually, you can build step upon step using the clicker, and a treat when the steps are completed. It sounds complicated but it really isn't!
I have used this clicker technique for Jemma, a pet parakeet and a pair of rats. I hear it is very easy to do with dogs, and I have seen dolphins and otters trained at water parks using it.
Do you have a pet that you have trained to do something fun or unique? I would love to hear about it!