Clicking with Cats!

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.  Isaac Asimov

how to train a cat

Who says you can’t train cats??
… A lot of people.

Most people I meet (even my cat and dog clients) believe you can’t train cats to do a darn thang.   Here’s the truth: Folks who believe this are not properly communicating with the cat, they’re not listening to the cat, and they’re not reinforcing the right behaviors.  Also, they have yet to learn that cats are crazy cool, wicked smart, and very easy to train.  But I have hope for the nonbelievers.

One of my clients is a believer; she is seeing the proof in action.  She also has an advantage because she is very familiar with the world of felines.  She works at one of the best cat veterinary practices, Just Cats Clinic.  Taking into account the needs of my client, the cats’ needs, and what I see possible, my client and I have been working together to create consistency, health, harmony, and a lot of fun in her life … and the life of three of her cats, Coco, Brighton and Disco.

Brighton and Teri_Cat Clicker Training
This clever kitty and their dedicated person say You Can train cats!

Coco and Brighton are two of three cats in my client’s home who are learning various behaviors, all with the help of clicker training and target training.  Coco is 9 years of age and Brighton is 8 years of age.  They are a breed of cat called the Cornish Rex.  If you haven’t heard of the Cornish Rex, they are very cool cats. They’re incredibly affectionate and very clever. –Check ’em out here.

Coco has a book out right now, so she and her person travel a lot for book signings, and meet and greets.  This training program is geared toward helping Coco to feel safe, secure and content, while creating a better connection with the people who come to see her.  This training process is also teaching Coco’s person to recognize when Coco has had enough during her public appearances.  Brighton and Disco (the male cats) don’t have a book deal, but they are just as eager to learn new behaviors.  Clicker training and target training are allowing all of this to happen!

clicker training for cats_how to train your cat
Coco and her person learning together

Cats of Any Age Can Learn

Do you have an older cat?  Do your friends or family members live with an older cat?  Please share this with them: If you believe that an older cat cannot be trained, have fun in his/her senior years or learn new behaviors, think again.  Cats of all ages are capable of learning.  Just ask our senior cats Beaux and Albert, or Brighton and Coco!

Ok, so you can’t ask them, but I am here to tell you that older/mature cats are easily trained, enjoy learning new behaviors, and they need this kind of mental and physical stimulation.  This kind of training changes your life and their life, far beyond what you thought was possible.


Feline Fact:  Older cats (7-10 years) are considered “mature” or “middle age”. “Senior” cats are 11-14 years of age.


senior cats_how to train my cat
My client working on new behaviors with Brighton before she heads off to work for the day

There is more to come about what we are training these clever cats, what they are teaching us, how we do it, and how you can do it, too!  Be sure to stay tuned!


Time spent with a cat is never wasted. ― Colette


From Cat-Nappings to Trusted Travels!

how to get my cat to the vet
King Albert The Grey carefully checking out the cat carrier

Traveling with your cat doesn’t have to be a crazy, stressful experience. It can, and should, be a stress-free even for both of you!  You can take trips together, and you go to the vet when needed, without having to catnap your cat.

Below are some tips and techniques that I have had success with over the years, with wild and domestic felines.  I hope these tips can help you and your feline family members, too!   Please note: this is an abbreviated list. If you would like more detailed help, feel free to contact me.


Your Goal:  Turn the Cat Carrier into a Safe Place.

How:  

  • Leave the kennel out weeks prior to transporting your cat to the vet (or any car ride).
  • Better yet, leave the cat kennel out all the time; it looses its “fear factor”. Your cat will start to see it as neutral as the rest of the furniture.
  • Put your cat’s favorite treats, food, catnip, and toys in the crate to help  your cat associate the “scary kidnap machine” as a yummy, fun, safe place!
  • Play games around the cat carrier.
  • Place familiar scents (ones that you know your cat feels safe with) in the kennel. This can be a blanket, your sweater, their bedding, etc.
  • If the sound of the metal carrier door is a fear trigger for your cat, remove the door. You can put it back on after he/she is using as a kitty condo.

Your Goal: Reward Your Cat for Being Near the Carrier

How:

  • Reward your cat when s/he looks at the cat carrier.  Toss treats in her direction when she glances at it!
  • Have a Treat Party and praise her calmly when she walks near it.
  • Offer huge rewards if she peeks her head into the carrier.
  • It’s ok if your cat walks away. You are building up her confidence of just being near the carrier.

 

Your Goal:  Build Up to *Asking* Your Cat to Go Into the Carrier

How:

  • Reward your cat for walking in, then close the door for a few seconds. Open the door, toss treats, then walk away.  This teaches your cat that you’re not going to slam the door on him and CatNap him/her.
  • Gradually work up to keeping the door closed for longer periods.  Always reward your cat.
  • Your cat will learn that the door closing will open again soon.  This helps cats to feel safe, and not trapped.

Your Goal: Quick Trips

How: 

  • Once your cat is feeling safe at this point, and walking in and out of the carrier, you can carry her around the house, then let her out.
  • Remember to reward and praise!
  • Slowly build up to walking outside to the car with your cat in the carrier.  Keep it short and sweet.  Continue using lots of treats and praise.
  • At this stage, you don’t need to even turn on the car, just place the carrier inside the car, offer your cat treats, and see if she’s calm enough to eat.
  • After your cat is feeling comfortable and safe with this stage, you can turn on the car, offer treats, and then turn off the car and end the session.
  • Eventually you can work up to driving down the street, then coming right back home.
  • All of this will involve lots of treats, praise, and patience.

Your Goal:  Go Slow.  Be Patient.  Allow Choices.

How:

  • Cats respond well to slow and steady progress.
  • Cats respond positively to being given choices.
  • Choices create security, safety, and improve their well-being
  • Forcing cats to do anything only creates fear.
  • Fear creates distrust, anxiety, and even health problems.
  • Forcing your cat to do anything they are uncomfortable with breaks down your bond and erodes their trust.
  • Your cat is very sensitive to your energy. Be mindful of this!

Remember: Always ASK, REWARD, ENCOURAGE, and BE PATIENT!

You and your cat will make tremendous progress together, and create life long bonds if you can remember these 4 things.


Kitty Tip:  Easy-Traveler has also helped to transform car rides for our cats! I highly recommend it!

Spirit Essences helped Albert and the other cats to relax the entire 10 hour car ride!
Easy Traveler allowed Albert and the other cats to relax and fee safe the entire 10 hour car ride!

 Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis

King Albert The Grey enjoying a much needed break out of his kennel to do manly cool cat things. This was at the 7 hour mark of our trip to our new home.
King Albert The Grey enjoying a much needed break out of his kennel to do manly cool cat things. This was at the 7 hour mark of our trip to our new home.

How have you transformed your cat-nappings to safe travels? Please share your tips with us!

Try Giving Instead of Taking

There is a very common myth that taking an animal’s food or toys away while they are enjoying them, will teach the animal to allow anyone to come up and take things from them.  This “technique” at best, is usually viewed as an annoyance to the animal, but at worst it can trigger or create defensive behaviors such as resource guarding, growling, and even biting.

Instead of taking food or toys away from an animal, offer Good Things to whatever they are enjoying!

For example, calmly approach a relaxed pet (cat, bird, dog, pig, etc.) when they are eating their food, or chewing on a toy, and add another yummy piece of food, or another irresistible toy to his/her bowl or play area, then walk away.

This teaches your animal companion that approaching humans or brief touches that happen while they are enjoying their valued resource are Good Things!  This technique helps to prevent resource guarding and other defensive or aggressive behaviors. It also helps to build confidence and trust with you, other people, and other pets!

You can see an example of how to do this here:

For it is in giving that we receive. ― Francis of Assisi


Recommended Reading: Myths, Truths, and Tips about Resource Guarding

Related VIDEOS:

The Fourth of July Doesn’t Have to Be “Feline Fright Night”!

cats and fireworks how to keep cats safe on 4th of July

The 4th of July is a favorite day of celebration for many people, but let’s be honest.  It’s a day of terror for many pets.  And while we’re at it, let’s be even more precise: the Forth of July might as well be renamed “Feline Fright Night” for most cats.  So what’s a devoted cat guardian to do?? There is a cornucopia of clever advice for dog owners to help their canine companions on the Night of Assault on the Senses, but what about the cats??  Cats need help, too!

Feline Fact:  Hearing is a cat’s best developed sense.  A cat’s sense of hearing is far more acute than that of dogs and humans!  A cat can hear sounds up to 64,000 kHz.  By comparison, dogs can hear sounds up to 45,000 kHz, while humans hear sounds only up to 23,000 kHz.

So why does this matter? Well, it means that all sounds are much more intense for cats.  Combine this fact with a cat’s lack of understanding (or appreciation) for a day dedicated to deliberately making things explode, and you have the perfect recipe for a full on Feline Freak Out.

Here’s the good news:  family festivities such as the 4th of July don’t have to become the Feline Fright Night to our kitty friends!  There are many things that you can do to help your feline family members successfully cope with the Big, Bad Booms and Bangs this weekend.  Below are some of my most valuable tools to help you become a Conscious Companion, and change Fourth of July Fright Night into a stress-free experience for everyone in the home!


How to Make Your Home a SAFE, CALM Haven for your Feline BEFORE The FIREWORKS Begin!

  • Keep Kitty Indoors!  Even the savviest of kitties can become startled, scared, disoriented, or confused and stray far from home when those frightening sights and sounds begin. More pets go missing on/after Independence Day than any other day of the year! Why risk it?  Keep your cats inside the day and night before, during, and a few days after July 4th.  Be aware that Independence Day is on a Friday this year. It’s a safe bet that the firework festivities will last long into the weekend, so be sure to keep your Pet Guardian guard up!  Don’t assume that once the 4th of July passes, that the booms and cracks have passed, too. Be ready for anything!
  • Create Safe Zones. – Make a Feline Fort Hideout!  Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for your cat(s) in the home.  If you don’t have a “safe room” yet, I strongly recommend that you create one today.  It can be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, the bathroom, or a covered crate that feels like a cozy kitty den.  Even the space underneath a bed can comforting to cats.  Be sure to set up this Safe Zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest.  Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin.  Offer treats and attention when they are in this area.  By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.

    Our youngest cat, Knox, hiding in his favorite box that we refer to as
    Our youngest cat, Knox, hiding in his favorite box that we refer to as “Fort Knox”

TIP:  If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each cat chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated.   Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits?  Where do they hide?  That’s where you want to build Fort Hideout!

TIP:  If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead of time for their comfort and safety.  Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready.  If they love boxes, provide one or two for them to explore. You can also consider adding a dash of catnip to get them relaxed and increase their confidence! Remember that some cats become relaxed on catnip, while others can become very wound-up.

scaredy cat
“Help! My world is exploding all around me!”
  • Play Calming Music. Soothing classical music is beneficial for many species. Therapeutic music such as Through a Cat’s Ear  and iCalm for Cats has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats!  It is psycho-acoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the feline nervous system.  However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed.  Animals will start to associate the music with being calm and content.  Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime.  Check out these free sound samples!

NOTE: Don’t just crank up any old tunes or the T.V. in an attempt to make the inside of the house louder than outside. That will only create more stress on the cats. Keep the energy inside peaceful and calm.

  • Consider homeopathic calming remedies.  Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Feliway (cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit Essences, HomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are very helpful with calming an cat’s nerves on the big bad boom day.  We use Spirit Essences —This product does wonders for stress levels!  Check with your veterinarian before you use them.

    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.
    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.

Note: Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.  You can spray it on their favorite napping spots to make them feel more secure.

Note:  If your cat has reacted very badly to fireworks, etc. in the past, you can consider discussing stronger medications with a veterinarian who specializes in feline anti-anxiety medicine. I recommend trying the above products before rushing to the vet for prescription meds! We have seen incredible success with these products.  Medication alone is generally not going to “fix” much of anything.  It’s can be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment.  It needs to be paired with counter conditioning techniques.

  • Utilize Tactile Tools.  There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help pets with noise phobias.  The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress.  Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many cats.  Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms.  The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms.  Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!

    thundershirt for cats
    Thundershirts can be very helpful for many cats.
  • Reduce the Visual Assault.  Close the windows and blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses.  Turn on lights around the house. This will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.
  • Comfort Your Cat! If your cat is displaying fear and anxiety when the fireworks begin, stay calm and stay near them. Contrary to some belief, this is NOT rewarding fearful behavior!
  • Distract them! Start playful game and break out the treats if they are beginning to show signs of fear and anxiety.  You can also offer novelty items such as cat nip, special treats, and enrichment toys. Grab some of that recycling material and create a fast, homemade puzzle toy!  The idea here is to turn Fright Night into Fun Night!

TIP: Withholding these toys for a few days ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.


How do you keep your feline family members safe on The Fourth of July? Please share your tips!

Things That Go BOOM In The Night

fireworks

Soon people all over the U.S. will be celebrating the Fourth of July and our neighbors to the north are preparing for Canada Day!  Folks everywhere are getting ready for the visual and sound Smörgåsbord paired with good food, great friends, and family.  However, most animals would probably order the food, but hold the fireworks. So while we are preparing to party, let’s prepare our pets, too.

If you have worked or lived with an animal, you know that most of them are frightened of loud or startling noises.  The fear of loud sounds is called noise phobias.  Even if your animal companion has not displayed this fear before, the sights and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears.

scared-parrot
“What are those loud sounds and flashing lights?!”

Put yourself in their position.  Imagine the scene: what is normally a peaceful evening at home suddenly turns into chaos.  All of a sudden there are bright, flashing lights, loud banging sounds, people hollering boisterously, and things exploding over and over.  These stimuli, paired with the unusual smell of burning sulfur and smoke, can bring on a full blown animal panic attack.

Even children can be frightened by all of this, but since parents and kids both communicate in the same language, we are able to explain to them what is happening.  When our rabbit, cat, dog, or parrot is freaking out during moments like this, we cannot just sit down with them and have a calm little chat to explain, “There is really nothing to fear, so just settle down.”  Anything unexpected, out of their ordinary routine, or that involves sensory overload, is a recipe for a full-on Animal Freak Out.

Whether you will be enjoying the festivities at home or away this year, you will need to prepare your home well before the festivities begin.


HOW TO MAKE YOUR HOME A SAFE, CALM PLACE BEFORE THE FIREWORKS BEGIN:

  • Sound Therapy:  Playing calming, classical music is beneficial for many species.  Therapeutic music such as Through A Dog’s Ear and Through a Cat’s Ear has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats and dogs!  It is psychoacoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the canine and feline nervous system.  However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed.  Animals will start to  associate the music with being calm and content.  Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime.  Check out these free sound samples!
  • Sound Therapy combined with Desensitization:  The Canine Noise Phobia series (CNP) consists of four CD’s that can be used individually or as a set: Fireworks, Thunderstorms, City Sounds, and Calming. CNP is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention of sound-sensitivities and noise-phobias.  This article by Mary Strauss, published in the Whole Dog Journal, gives a comprehensive overview of possible treatments for sound phobias.
  • Scent:  Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Canine CalmAviCalmFeliway, and D.A.P (dog and cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit EssencesHomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are extremely helpful with calming an animal’s nerves on the big day.  Pet Rescue Remedy works on everything from horses to reptiles.  You can find Pet Rescue Remedy at most health food stores or animal supply stores.  Applying a few drops to their food, water, or directly into their mouth BEFORE the booms begin can do wonders for stress levels!  Essential Oils such as lavender and valerian can also help with various anxieties. Learn how here.  Note:Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.  You can sprayitontheirfavoritenappingspotstomakethem feel more secure.

    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.
    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.
  • Tactile:  There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic pets.  The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress.  Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many dogs and cats.  Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms.  The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the dog’s fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms.  Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!
  • Visual:  Close the blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses.  Turning on lights around the house will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.
  • Fort Hideout:  Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for them in the home.  If you don’t have a “safe room” for your pets, I strongly recommend that you create one.  Itcan be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, the bathroom, or a covered crate that feels like a real den.  Even the space underneath a bed can comforting.
    IMG_4242
    Hocus Pocus finding comfort under the bed

    TIP:  If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each of your animal companions chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated.   Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits?  Where do they hide?  That’s where you’ll want to start building Fort Hideout.

NOTE: Be sure to set up this safe zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest.  Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin.  Offer treats and attention when they are in this area.  By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.

If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead for their comfort and safety.  Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready.  If they love boxes, bring one or two for them to explore. You can also consider adding a dash of catnip to get them relaxed and increase their confidence! (note: some cats become relaxed on catnip; others can become very wound-up.)

The most important thing an owner can do for their fireworks-phobic dog is to provide them with a bolt hole – a place where the dog can escape to when the festivities begin.  Providing the dog access to this safe place is essential at all times, particularly during an owner’s absence.  This might be a closet, bathroom or a basement, the best places usually being the ones that have no windows, but with plenty of artificial light (to mask flashes of fireworks).  Music can be played close to the safe haven so that sounds can be masked.  ~ Victoria Stilwell, internationally respected dog trainer

 

You are welcome to share this image with others!
You are welcome to share this image with others!

 

 



Conditioning a dog to feel differently about the sound of fireworks can be achieved by gradually exposing the dog to audio recordings of fireworks at low volume levels and, if the dog appears relaxed, playing his favorite game or feeding him his favorite food.  Allowing the dog to play and relax in the presence of the soft noise for a period of ten minutes, taking a break of five minutes and repeating the exercise ensures that the dog doesn’t become bored with the training.  Introducing the audio at a low level again and slowly turning up the volume if the dog continues to be relaxed and able to concentrate on playing the game or eating the food allows the dog to habituate to the noise without a fear response.  If the dog shows signs of stress, going back to the previous level and building up the noise level again will take pressure off the dog.  The object of noise desensitization is to gradually expose the dog to louder and louder sounds over a period of time, progress being determined by the dog’s reactions.  Going too fast might make the dog even more frightened, so taking things slowly will ensure maximum benefit from the process.  Some dogs will respond well to all of the above therapies, but will become panicked when the real fireworks start.  It is therefore important to tackle this phobia in other ways by using effective management strategies and by masking any audio and visual stimuli that elicit a fear response during an episode.

~Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer


IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Ideally, you should desensitize them to loud noises well ahead of time.  When you have the opportunity, gently pair loud or startling sounds with their most favorite treats, new toys, and playtime.  You don’t have to walk around the house banging pots and pans, but you can  help them to associate startling, loud sounds with positive treats … days and weeks before the fireworks begin.
  • If you know when the party and fireworks will begin, get potty time, walks, and dinner done ahead of time.  If these noises are frightening to them, they will often refuse to eat, go outside to do their business, or even use the litter box.  Getting these evening “business” routines done ahead of time will make everyone more comfortable. When walking them, be sure to have a secure hold of them; fireworks can start earlier than you expect and could easily startle them!
  • Get them tired! (not exhausted): If you can give them a day of play at a puppy daycare facility, or even a just couple hours of romp and play time before the Big Bad Bangs begin, their stress levels can be greatly reduced if they are already content and tired from a fun day of play and exercise.  Healthy play and exercise is great for reducing stress in cats, too!
  •  Know the signs of STRESS! Cats and dogs, birds and other exotic companion animals show anxiety and stress in a variety of different ways.  Be a Conscious Companion; learn to recognize their individual stress signals, which may include any (or all) of the following:

                           – Panting

                           – Drooling

                           – Pacing

                           – Hiding

                           – Decreased appetite

                           – Abnormal urination or defecation

                           – Dilated pupils

                           – Excessive grooming

                           – Feather plucking + other signs of stress in parrots!

 


  • BEFORE they are even beginning to show signs of fear and anxiety, offer them Good Things! Be playful with them!  Play games and break out the treats!  You can also offer novelty items such as cat nip, frozen soup (marrow) bones, Bully Sticks, and enrichment toys, such as KONG for cats and dogs! If you have parrots, check out these goodies from The Leather Elves.  Grab some of that recycling material and create a fast, homemade puzzle toy!  The idea here is to turn Fright Night time into Fun Night!
  • TIP: Withholding these items for a few days or week ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.
  • Medication alone is generally not going to “fix” much of anything.  It’s can be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment.  It needs to be paired with counter conditioning techniques. — Read how and why here.
scaredy cat
“My world is exploding all around me. Help me!”
  • Avoid scolding or reprimanding them when they are frightened or nervous.  Their anxiety doesn’t have to be understood, but merely respected.  Many animals have fears that to us are not “rational,” but they are still very real for them.
  • Note: Always comfort the animal. You cannot reinforce Fear! If you don’t believe me, read this!

It is essential that if an owner is present, time be spent with the dog in the safe haven or attention given to the dog if it comes to seek comfort from its owner.  Far from reinforcing fearful behavior, an owner’s comforting arm and presence can help a phobic dog to cope as long as the owner remains calm at all times.  ~ Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog trainer


If you absolutely must take them with you during the fireworks show, always keep them on a safe, force-free harness, or in a fortified carrier.  When an animal becomes startled or frightened they will run, and often run very far.  Keep them attached to you at all times.  Make sure their identification tags and your contact number are clearly marked on their collars; if they do break free from home, or from you, they can be reunited faster and more easily.  Having your animal companion microchipped is also another important safety measure.  It’s inexpensive and can be done within minutes at your vet. More pets go missing on the 4th of July more than any other day of the year.

Animals are family, so it is natural to enjoy having them around you when you are celebrating.  However, the 4th of July is not be the best time to have your animal companion tag along if you’re headed out, even if you’re going to what is supposed to be a “pet-friendly” party.  If you have set up safe zones, prepared the house, and your animal companions appropriately, they are going to feel safe at home when the noise chaos begins.  Home is familiar, and home is safe – so please keep them inside until the celebration is well over. 

10462983_792005364153371_7222867396740942441_n


Suggested reading for cat guardians: Fireworks & Festivities Cat Safety Tips!


Provide Comfort When They Are Afraid.

Image

(Posted May 2014)

Have the Memorial Day weekend fireworks and celebrations started in your neighborhood yet?  They started here several nights ago, and none of the animals were pleased, to say the least.  As their guardian, it’s my job to take the time to help them cope with the onslaught of noise, and change they way they feel about those sounds.

Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this common myth:  Don’t comfort an animal when he/she is afraid; you’re only reinforcing their fears.

Here’s my science-based response to that myth:  Always Comfort the animal. You cannot reinforce Fear.  Ignoring their fear and terror is borderline neglect.

In this video you will learn (just the tip of the iceberg of) why we *should* be providing comfort when our pets are nervous or scared. You will learn why you *cannot* reinforce fear.

Fear is an emotion, not a behavior.  Comforting a fearful animal will not make the animal more afraid, and it will not “reinforce fear” (unless this is the only interaction the animal ever receives).   Petting, cuddling, or comforting an animal when they are afraid can help them — worse case, it may not do anything.  However, comforting them will not reinforce their fear.

Fact: Animals in a constant state of fear or stress are more susceptible to diseases, and their immune systems are not as effective (cited) .

Because of this, fearful animals must be helped. That’s where we, as their guardians come in.  In the video below Suzanne Clothier explains how and why:

So when the pops, cracks, booms and bangs begin, and you see that the dog/cat/bird, etc. is clearly frightened, remember to remain calm and comfort them.  You are their guardian and protector.  You can help them.  Providing comfort and a sense of safety is the sensible, loving thing to offer to anyone in need, especially our animal companions.

Learn more about why You Cannot Reinforce Fear in these links:

 

TRAINING TIP: A better approach than comforting alone, is investing some time on counterconditioning, a behavior modification technique meant to change the animal’s emotional response toward a feared stimulus by encouraging an emotion incompatible with fear. In Counterconditioning we use food to change the animal’s underlying emotional response to the perceived threat so that he/she learns that “scary things” are now good things. To “condition” means to teach, and to “counter” means to change.

—> If you would like to learn how to do this, check out my tips on how to help your pets cope during fireworks, HERE!


 

Don’t worry about rewarding a scared dog who is behaving ‘inappropriately’. You wouldn’t wait for someone who was drowning to stop screaming before you pulled them out of the water.   – Debbie Jacobs, author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dogs”

 


Do you have any tips for helping your animals when they are afraid? Please share below!

 

Fortify the barriers! Be proactive instead of reactive!

dog fears

Today’s tip for ‪#‎NationalDogBitePrevention‬ Week:  Be proactive instead of reactive!

If you are expecting a certified letter or a package to be delivered to your front door, place your dog(s) in a separate room, and securely close that door before you open your front door. Dogs have been known to break through screen doors and even plate-glass windows to get to the “Stranger Danger”.

This playful video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) demonstrates how to calmly redirect your pup from the “intruder”, and not yell at the dog, while the dog is upset:

It’s our job as dog guardians to remain calm, and be proactive.

To learn more about how to counter condition your dog to “intruders”, check out my tips, “Calming the Canine in the Castle”.

dog behavior mailman barking
Be PROACTIVE! Don’t allow this to happen.

It is far better to be proactive than reactive. – Che Garman

Cat Agility Is Here To Stay!

The only difference between your abilities and others is the ability to put yourself in their shoes and actually try. ― Leonardo Ruiz

The world is full of crazy people doing crazy cool things, so it takes a lot to impress me these days, but a young girl from the Czech Republic has trained her cat, Suki, to do agility.  So have many others.  Yes, you read that right: Cats are now doing agility.  The sport no longer belongs to just dogs.

If you haven’t heard about dog agility, then you are missing out on some pretty amazing dog and handler skills.  My dog Hocus Pocus and I absolutely love to do agility together!  Nothing has strengthened our bond more.  We are not experts by any means, but we do have a blast, and I discovered that she is incredibly skilled at this sport.  Dog agility competitions are so much fun! Dogs soar through the complex obstacle courses with determination and speed.  Now, just imagine a cat doing that.

Well, they can and they DO!  Most people (even the most loving cat guardians) don’t realize that cats are easily trainable.  If you have a cat that is willing to follow a dancing feather toy, or favorite food treat anywhere, then you have the tools to begin cat agility!

cat tricks cat agility training

The videos below show cat agility in action.  It’s amazing not only because cats are doing agility – quite well I must say – but it’s so inspiring to clearly see the bond that the cat and the person share together.  This makes my heart sing, because it’s what I strive to teach young people; that they are capable of doing this and more with their feline companion!

Watch the 16 month young Suki’s agility in action, and performing cat “tricks” with her person! What a team!

suki the agility cat

 

Suki the cat at 8 months young and her person run the homemade agility course together:

You can view more of their happiness here.

Young people are practicing and perfecting cat agility in their homes all around the world.  This young man has taught his cat, Cashmere, to rebound off of walls, all through the use of clicker training!  Check out Cashmere and Puff!

cat agility

Feline agility competitions have rapidly grown in popularity all around the world.  The Cat Fancy Association started agility competitions in 2004, and other clubs have “jumped” at agility courses! The International Cat Agility Tournament is another example.  The first agility competition was held in Portland, Oregon as part of the Oregon Cats show.  It was titled, “Let the Cats Entertain You”.  Forty-five cats entered. Some were pedigreed and some were moggies! They ranged from kittens to adults!

You can find upcoming cat agility shows (where you can enter your cat, or just watch the event) on the CFA cat show schedule and here.  You can see a video of a kitten in training for the CFA Feline Agility here.

cat agility

With the insight and right tools, you can train your feline friend to do all of this!  Once you begin training your cat, you will interact in ways you never thought possible.  It’s really quite easy, and it’s FUN for both you and your feline friend!  Clicker training is how you can do it!

cat-training-kit-3

 If you can dream it, you can do it. ― Helen Keller