web analytics

September 22, 2017

My New Caricature

Ask a Behaviorist

Ask a Behaviorist: Caricature of Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Guess who this is! This is a caricature of yours truly and I love it! I’ve been writing two articles a month for Catster (Ask the Behaviorist) since February. Starting with my May 23rd article, this is my new visual identity in Catster. The artist is the talented Nigel Sussman. Although, I think he did an exceptional job on the whole image, his depiction of the Bengal rocks. The first of my articles that displayed the new identity is my piece about clicker training: Can You Actually Train a Cat? Sure — Here’s How.

Shy Cat Tip: Encourage Socializing

05.19.13 Don’t approach, corner or force attention on shy cats. Instead, encourage them to socialize with you. Sit or crouch a distance from the cat and invite her to come to you by extending one finger towards the cat at her nose level. If she feels secure, she will approach your finger, touch it with her nose, turn her head and rub her mouth and her cheek on your finger.

Helping a Grieving, Elderly Cat Adjust to a New Home

My mom's shoes

My mom’s shoes

I recently inherited Pillow when my mom died. He’s a large, declawed* Maine Coon Cat who spent 13 of his 16 years either decorating a chair in my mom’s kitchen or sleeping in the dog’s bed in the art studio. Pillow, a lovely cat, was always a source of comfort for my mom by just being near her—especially during the last month of her life. Pillow is one of those cats who through the art of non-action, elicits quiet smiles from everyone who meets him. My mom chose right when she named him Pillow.

Before my mom died, we spent hours searching for a perfect home for Pillow’s buddy, Abby the dog. Lynn, A family friend, who adores Abby was thrilled to be chosen as her new mother. Abby and Lynn are a great match—they go everywhere together. We could not have found a better home for Abby.

My mom thought that even though I have my own menagerie of felines, Pillow would be best off with me. I eagerly agreed. My mom left us, knowing that her two beloved companions will always be loved and well cared for.

My resident cats

My cats’ activity levels are 180 degrees away from Pillow’s. I live with four active Bengals and a busy Savannah. Stillness and the Zen of Inaction are not part of their life styles. My cats are always on the move, talkative and active.

Integrating them with Pillow will be interesting.

Grieving cat

Pillow misses my mother. He also misses the kitchen and the art studio where my mom spent most of her waking hours painting. He had grown accustomed to the smells of the paint, the radio tuned to my mom’s favorite talk program, the sound of her footsteps, her voice and smell. He knew where the sun’s rays hit the floor of the studio and where to catch the summer breeze as it wafted through the screen door. Pillow spent 13 happy, comfortable years with my mom, living in her art studio and kitchen.

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Generally, cats do not easily adjust to change. It is common for cats to stress when they are relocated and when there are changes to their household. Older cats often have more problems than younger ones adjusting to new situations. In addition to a change in venue, Pillow had lost his favorite person. This is a lot for a cat to adapt to in a short time.

Cats display grief in different ways. Pillow became more lethargic than usual. Normally a foodie, he did not show much interest in eating. He ate, but just not as enthusiastically or as much. Some cats walk from room to room yowling, others won’t eat when they are grieving. Pillow showed his feelings by sleeping more and eating less.

Preparing the home for Pillow

Before bringing Pillow home, I prepared an area for him that would help him transition with a minimum of stress to his new digs. His area had to be inaccessible to the other cats while simultaneously located where I spend a lot of time.  Because Pillow had spent 13 years as a kitchen cat, I chose the sunroom and the kitchen as his private suite.

To help Pillow adjust, I outfitted both rooms with the objects he had grown accustomed too. I brought over his favorite dog beds, blankets and chairs and his scratching posts. I bought him a new, large cat carrier and placed a towel in it that had my mom’s scent on it. I kept it at my mom’s house, open for him to go in and out of as he wished. It quickly became his favorite sleeping place.  I placed a few items with my mom’s scent on them in zip lock bags and brought them home. When it is time for Pillow to come to my house, an item with my mom’s scent will be placed where he naps. It will be replaced every day with other scented items from the zip lock bags.

In addition, familiar sounds can help reduce anxieties. Since Pillow had spent 13 years relaxing to my mother’s favorite talk radio show, I made sure the sunroom had a radio, tuned to the Ronn Owen’s show on KGO Radio.

I hoped to make the transition to my home as stress free as possible by bringing in the objects, scents and sounds that he had grown accustomed to in my mom’s house.

One small detail

Baby gates

Baby gates used to keep the cat within specific areas

The kitchen and sunroom were perfect locations for him—but there was one problem. The kitchen has a doorway without a door and it opens into the dining room. Although the other cats don’t hang out in the dining room, I still needed to limit Pillow to a couple of rooms for awhile.

Baby gates are a wonderful invention—especially when used to keep cats in specific areas. I ordered two inexpensive baby gates, placed them on top of each other and wired them together and to a couple of nails I hammered in the door frame. Perfect!

It was time to bring Pillow home.

*He came that way.

Biting the Hand that Pets: Petting Induced Aggression

04.07.13 Cats usually give warnings when they do not want to be petted any more. Learn the signs: tail swishing, skin twitching or rolling, ears back, whiskers flattened against cheeks, vocalizations. When these signs are ignored, cats will typically look at the hand petting them and then in an extreme effort to communicate their wishes–bite.

Fake is Safe: The Dangers of Easter Lilies

03.31.13 Lilies are highly toxic to cats. Every part of the plant is highly toxic, causing kidney failure and usually death. Instead of live lilies, buy artificial ones. Lilies made out of silk are beautiful and safe for cats. And, they don’t need watering!

Communication Cat Byte: Signature Stamps

03.24.13 Cats have scent glands on their paws. Whenever they scratch an object they are marking their territory and broadcasting information about themselves.

Apologies from the Cat Coach

03.17.13 Due to a recent death in my immediate family, I have not been able to update my Cat Bits. I will resume posting my Cat Bits and Bytes next Sunday.

Phase II Introductions the Happy Way: Food as Social Lubricator

02.10.13  The second phase in the introductions includes feeding the cats at the same time on each side of the closed door. Start by placing feeding stations a distance away from the door. At each meal, move the food bowls one inch closer to the closed door.

Myths about Cats and Cat Behavior

Myths and misconceptions have been spun about cats ever since people started sharing their world with them. Some paint cats as mysterious, others put them in league with the devil. Different factors shaped these inaccurate beliefs—one of the strongest contributors to these myths is that people have found cats and their behaviors puzzling. Many of these erroneous beliefs persist today. Unfortunately, some are harmful and life threatening for cats.

Four of these misconceptions I frequently encounter are:

Cat behaviors can’t be changed

“I used to have a cat, but he peed on the furniture so he had to go”.

Many people believe that once a cat is repeatedly displaying an unwanted behavior, the behavior can’t be stopped. This is a dangerous myth because the consequences include surrendering cats to shelters, abandoning and euthanizing them for fixable behavior problems.

Although some behavior challenges are unpleasant to live with, they can be resolved through a combination of addressing the reasons for the behavior, behavior modification and by making changes to the environment. This is what I do.

Cats can’t be trained

 “No way can cats be trained like we trained our dog!”

The concept that a cat can open his carrier door, go in and close it behind him is often met with eye rolls and heads shaken in disbelief. Many people usually stare in blank befuddlement when told that cats can be trained to do tricks such as shaking hands and jumping through hoops—tricks acceptable and expected from dogs. These folks mistakenly think cats do whatever they want, only when they want and that they cannot be trained. Popular quotes support their misguided beliefs. “Dogs have owners, cats have staff”. “Cats take a message and get back to you”. Although, these idioms may sound catchy and cute, they perpetuate the stereotype that cats are un-trainable.


Cats, like all animals, are trainable. Clicker training, a scientific and force-free method is a popular and effective training technique. Felines can be easily trained to do many of the same tricks dogs are taught to do, such as sitting, shaking hands, playing dead and jumping through hoops. An added benefit is that clicker training is fun for both the learner and the teacher. It’s also a great tool for helping to resolve behavior challenges such as fearful behaviors, furniture scratching, counter surfing as well as many other troublesome behaviors. My book, Naughty No More! details how to use clicker training in conjunction with other force-free methods to solve behavior problems and teach tricks.

Cats are independent and self-contained

“My cat can be alone for a couple of days. I’ll leave enough food for him to eat while I’m gone”. 

There is a widely held belief that cats are self-sufficient and can fend for themselves. The results of this fallacious assumption include cats left to fend for themselves while their people enjoy a holiday away from home as well as being left alone for hours every day without the benefit of a companion or environmental enrichment.

Often cats are chosen as companions over dogs because they are said to be more self-contained and require less maintenance then dogs. To a small degree that is correct. Cats don’t need to be walked and they spend a good portion of their day napping. They are also proficient litter box users.  Regardless of the differences, they still need fresh food and water every day and their litter boxes need to be scooped minimally once a day. Additionally, cats need companionship and mental stimulation. Leaving them alone while on holiday or for hours every day with nothing to do and no one to socialize with can lead to depression, obesity and destructive behaviors.

Cats need privacy

“I spent $500 on a painted designer litter box cabinet. It functions beautifully as a side table and hides the cat box!”

Myths about cats and cat behavior

Litter box hidden in a cabinet

Litter boxes are often placed in cabinets, closets and other out-of-sight areas because people are under the impression that cats need privacy when they go to the bathroom. These may seem like ideal locations for litter boxes because they are out of the way, hidden from view and private. Although this might be a perfect solution for people, it’s not for cats. They have a different perspective on ideal places to eliminate. Often what is perfect from a cat’s viewpoint clashes with their people’s preferences for litter box placements.

Survival and safety take priority over privacy any day. Cats prefer eliminating in areas where they can’t be potentially trapped or ambushed by another animal. Cabinets and closets are perfect set ups for ambush. The types of boxes make a difference too. In addition to the trap potential, covered boxes retain unappealing odors.

An ideal location for a litter box is against the wall in a large room—not in a cabinet or enclosed in a closet. The view from the litter box should be expansive. The cat needs to see the whole room, out the door and down the hall (if there is one). A box with a view is perfect for identifying any potential threat which can then easily be escape from. Litter boxes should not be placed in high traffic areas or areas with lots of noise and activity. Although cats aren’t into privacy like people are, they do not want to do their business in high traffic areas either.

Help for Cat Behavior Challenges is Available

For help with cat behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

 

My Cat is Mad at Me

I know my cat is mad at me because she is: (urinating on the bed, defecating on my clothes, biting me when I sleep, scratching the furniture—fill in the blank—). People sometimes jump to the conclusion that their cats have a vendetta against them or are mad at them when they engage in unpleasant behaviors. I hear this frequently from my clients.

Behavior does not occur in a vacuum. There is always a reason for behavior, cats being mad at their people or trying to get even with them is not one of them. Cats do not hold grudges. People do.

Look beyond vendettas and grudges.

Check the environment—look for the circumstances that contribute to the behavior. Inadequate litter box maintenance, poor litter box locations, lack of scratching posts and vertical territory, changes in schedules and household tensions are examples of situations that set the stage for unwelcome behaviors.

Additionally, check out the consequences of the behavior. Consequences predict if a cat will repeat a behavior. It is common for cat parents to unknowingly reinforce behaviors. Attention seeking, night time/early morning demands, counter surfing and aggression are some behaviors that people easily and accidentally reinforce.  A cat who wakes her favorite person at dawn will predictably repeat the annoying behavior if her person feeds and pays attention to her. The cat has learned that when she wakes her person, she gets what she wants—food and attention. A cat who bites when soliciting play most likely has been played with using hands and bites during play. The cat, enjoying the interaction with her favorite person, will try to solicit attention and play from her favorite person through biting.

There are other times when no one is reinforcing the behavior. A cat who urinates on their favorite person’s bed or couch may feel safe eliminating in those locations (always rule out any medical reasons by first having the cat examined by a veterinarian). Beds and couches usually have extensive views—perfect for a cat to identify and then escape a potential threat. Feeling safe is the consequence of urinating on the bed or couch.

It is easy to understand why people make ethnocentric assumptions about cat behavior. Humans hold grudges and they sometimes indulge in vendettas against each other. Cats don’t hold grudges, neither do they engage in unpleasant behaviors because they are mad at a specific person. Look beyond initial assumptions for the reasons for a behavior. After identifying the triggers, a successful behavior modification plan can be designed and implemented.