Monday, January 22, 2007

The Cat Whisperer

Mike and I have been watching a lot of The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel (best channel ever!). I know his techniques are a bit controversial, but I think that for the most part Cesar has it right about dogs being pack animals and needing a leader to follow. We sort of started wondering what would happen if we tried applying (some of) his techniques to training Biggs.

First a couple of things about Biggs. He is a black cat, 12 years old or so, and pretty set in his ways. He doesn't make friendly with pretty much anybody (animals, people, plants, etc.). Other than Mike and, to a lesser extent, me. It is fairly clear from our interactions that he is still asserting that he is dominant over me. I think he has accepted that he is not dominant to Mike.

The thing that has driven us crazy of late is that he likes to go walk on the kitchen counters during and after Mike and I eat. I think he is showing that he can do something that we don't like and that he intentionally does it while we are eating to prove a point.

So the other evening, we decided to set the boundary and enforce it. Edge of the kitchen. The fact that his water (and snacks, but not main food dish) are located at the edge of the kitchen makes the task more difficult, but why move those things when it is so much more interesting to have to work around that problem?? So for one entire night, every time he headed for the kitchen or a counter leading to the kitchen, Mike or I got up, reprimanded and removed him from the area. It seemed to be all we could do. A constant effort for the whole night.

He got mad at us. Primarily at me, because I was the more vigilant one, dishing out my own brand of Texas-style justice*. And because he is pretty sure that he outranks me. Over the course of the evening, I think that he shed an entire coat of fur. Primarily on my sweater. He also made some pretty angry screeching noises. The kind which should not be made by any living creature at any time (possible exception: when being slaughtered).

At the end of the night, I think we had an understanding. Even for part of the next day, he seemed a bit more hesitant to run in and jump up. I actually think that if (1) Mike and I took a consistent approach and (2) we had the energy to devote to this effort and the vigilance to catch him every time he did it in our presence for a few weeks, we could quite possibly train him not to do it (when we are around). However, neither (1) nor (2) seems particularly probable on its own, much less both (1) and (2) at the same time.

So enjoy the counters, my non-pack animal, dominant pet. Dammit.

*I hope that this is a show slogan that I picked up somewhere, because otherwise I am a bit (more) concerned (than usual) for my sanity.


Fringe said...

National Geographic Channel -- owned by Fox!!!

Transplanted Lawyer said...

Cats aren't really pack animals like dogs; there's a different evolutionary mindset going on. If your cat is anything like mine, he is hunting for food and goes to high places like countertops and tables to get advantages for both spotting prey and defense. We found that the best tool for training a cat is a water gun. The water doesn't hurt the cat at all but he sure won't like getting squirted, and he'll learn to associate the squirt with bad behavior pretty quick.

Leila said...

Thanks for the tip, tl. Biggs was trained with the squirt bottle technique some before I was part of his life. He's a really good cat, and I understand that they have things going on instinctually that probably aren't worth the headache to try to train away. I was sort of joking about applying dog techniques to cats, though I was surprised that some of the stuff seemed to work a bit with him.

fringey, does that mean you get the Season 1 (and 2?) DVD's of Seconds From Disaster for free? Because, as you know, that is a really freaking cool show.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that a training technique to use in this circumstance is to put mousetraps on the counter with enough newspaper on top of them that they'll snap but not catch anything. A different form of negative reinforcement. Our cat never got on the counters (as near as I could tell), so we never tried it. He did like to scratch a chair, and our training succeeded in getting our German Shepherd to run at him and chase him away, which in turn taught him to scratch quickly and then bolt before she got there. After a little while we didn't need to play a role.


Fringe said...

I can probably get them at 20% off, but I think we only get free movies, and even those are kind of random apparently. I am told a couple times a year, and in true corporate silliness, the free ones go to VPs and above only -- the people who can most easily afford to buy them. Sigh. OTOH, that means I get free ones!!!! My boss apparently brings hers in (free ones and I think just ones she has) and leaves them in a stack on her assistant's desk for anyone to borrow. So now I have seen the entire first season of How I Met Your Mother. I kinda like it.

Fringe said...

OK, I think someone bought How I Met Your Mother. I realize on rereading that I sounded inconsistent. I will check with the assistant, who Knows All.