A Simple Trick You Can Teach Your Cat
By Aidan Bindoff
Have you ever wondered if your pet cat can learn tricks? Sure! Follow these instructions to teach your cat a simple trick which forms the foundation for a whole range of new tricks.
This trick is known as targetting, and it is the same trick we teach dogs, dolphins and exotic zoo animals. It forms the basis for a number of other tricks from competition obedience, to marine mammal shows, to animal acting on TV, to animal husbandry and veterinary handling.
We simply teach our cat to touch the end of a target stick with his nose. The same target stick can be used to teach a cat to go somewhere for a movie scene, or to stay on the vet’s exam table, or to run around an obstacle course!
You will need:
* A chopstick or knitting needle
* A spoon and a can of your cat’s favourite food (for most cats we will just use canned food, but some cats go crazy for plain tuna)
* A hungry cat, just before dinner time, who hasn’t been fed for several hours.
* A clicker, which is a little plastic box noise maker sold at pet stores, alternatively you can make a “cluck” noise with your tongue.
Have a small amount of food on your spoon, hold it away from your cat. Present the target stick (chopstick or blunt end of knitting needle) to your cat for three seconds.
If your cat shows any interest in the target stick, click and let your cat have a lick of the food on your spoon.
If he turns his head, reaches forward, or takes a step towards the target stick, click and let your cat have a lick of food (we will call this “click and treat” from now on.)
Now put the target stick behind your back. Wait a second or two, then re-present it. Again, any interest in the stick gets a click and treat.
Keep doing this until your cat reliably shows interest in the target stick whenever you present it. Remember not to present it for any more than three seconds, then put it away. If your cat starts to walk away from the target, don’t click. If he completely loses interest, try again some other time, but make sure you click and treat even the slightest interest shown. It can speed things up to rub just a little food on the end of the stick.
If your cat is reliably showing interest in the target stick, then wait until your cat is actually touching the stick before you click and treat. When he is reliably touching the stick each time you present it, try selectively clicking and treating only the times he touches the end of the stick, anywhere on the last 2 inches.
Now, try moving the stick a little, just half an inch. See if puss will follow the target stick with his nose. Click and Treat if he makes any effort to follow the target stick with his nose.
When he is reliably following the target stick just a little way, try moving it a little further, then a little further. This is a process known as “shaping”, where we make the criteria a little harder, bit by bit.
There you have it! Puss is now trained to follow a target stick. You could set up a little obstacle course and run him through it just for fun. Remember to “shape”, build up each step piece by piece with lots of clicks and treats for each step along the way.
Now show your friends how clever puss really is!
Aidan Bindoff is intensely interested in animal behaviour and training. He is editor of Positive Petzine, a FREE resource for people training their own dog (or cat!) http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/positivepetzine/
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