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October 14, 2019

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.

“My Cat’s Story” Video Contest Winner Announced!

The wait is over!

We loved checking out all of the videos that were submitted for our contest. It truly was heart-warming to see the bonds people have with their cats.

We are excited to announce the winner of the “My Cat’s Story” video contest. It was a tough decision because the judges had some wonderful submissions. It was so heartwarming to see the relationships the entrants had with their cats and how lives have changed with love.

The judges, Pam Johnson-Bennett , Marilyn Krieger and Steve Dale, all certified cat behavior consultants, felt the winner best showcased the relationship she has with her cat and the change in the cat’s behavior. The judges also wanted to highlight the two runners-up because they also did an awesome job of presenting their cats’ stories.

The winner will receive a $150 pre-paid VISA gift card, an autographed copy of THINK LIKE A CAT by Pam Johnson-Bennett, an autographed copy of NAUGHTY NO MORE by Marilyn Krieger, and the e-book GOOD CAT by Steve Dale. Additionally, the winner will appear in the TICA Trend magazine and also be featured in Bengals Illustrated.

The “My Cat’s Story” Winner is Lana Lingan and her cat, Handsome. Congratulations, Lana!

Judges’ Comments: We liked the story about Lana and Handsome because it clearly showed how Lana was able to transform a scared cat who was abandoned into a sweet, affectionate cat. Lana let the cat progress at his own pace, never forcing him, always encouraging him. We loved seeing the bonds that the two share. Clearly they enhance each others lives.

We had two runners-up who also shared their wonderful stories of how love, patience and understanding were rewarded with a strengthened bond with their cats and positive changes in behavior. Congratulations to both runners-up. We hope you enjoy their stories.

Runner-up Andrea Dorn and her cat, Mewdy Blue. Congratulations, Andrea.

Judges’ Comments: We like this video because not only did it showcase how an outdoor-loving cat can be transitioned to a fulfilled and enriched indoor life, it also shows how cats are very trainable. It was also heartwarming to see the strong bond Andrea and Mewdy Blue clearly have.

Runner-up Jason Girouard and his cat, Millie. Congratulations, Jason!

Judges’ Comments:
We were impressed with the dedication and patience that Jason and his family showed toward saving and socializing this young kitten who grew into a very loved member of the family.

A big thank you to everyone who spent the time and effort to enter our contest. We are very pleased!

 

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.

 

Change Unwanted Cat Behaviors

12.30.12 Too many cats are surrendered to shelters and euthanized for fixable behavior problems. Behaviors can be changed through environmental and behavior modifications along with other force-free methods. A certified cat behavior consultant can identify the behavior triggers and develop an effective plan.

Cat Litter Changes

12.09.12. Most cats do not adjust well to abrupt changes. When transitioning to a new type of cat litter, do it gradually, mixing one cup of new litter in the old litter every day. Changing over to a new kind of litter takes between 7-10 days.

Moving Litter Boxes

12.02.12 Abruptly moving litter boxes to other locations can be stressful for cats and cause them to eliminate outside the litter box. Instead of immediately placing the litter box in another spot, move it gradually, a few inches a day to its new destination. Another solution is to leave the litter box in its original position and place another box in the new location.

Ninja Kitten! Play Aggression

Today I met an adorable kitten—a 12 week old orange fluff ball, appropriately named Fluffer, who had been adopted when she was 8 weeks old. This tiny little ball of fur was terrorizing her adoring humans, biting and scratching whenever she wanted to play. According to the sleep-deprived cat parents, the only down time they got was when the kitten ate and eliminated. They were desperate for help and asked me to come to their home.

I was greeted at the door by Brittany and her frustrated mother, Anne. In the middle of the room Christopher, Anne’s husband, laughed and giggled as he delighted in playing with Fluffer, rolling the kitten on her back and petting her irresistible tummy. I watched for a few minutes as Christopher hid his hand under a newspaper, moving his fingers, encouraging Fluffer to stalk and pounce.

According to Anne and Christopher, Fluffer stalked and attacked at every opportunity. The time of day or the circumstances didn’t matter—when Fluffer wanted attention, she jumped, attacked and then bit. Usually she didn’t break skin, but occasionally she did. The problem, instead of getting better had worsened. Christopher admitted that when Fluffer went into attack mode, he usually responded by roughhousing with her.

I wondered if Christopher would be willing to change the way he related to Fluffer.

90% Human Behavior; 10% Kitten

It is natural for kittens to play intensely. Although play is fun it is also serious business. Kittens learn important survival and social skills when they play. Play also helps kittens develop coordination.

Kittens are little sponges when it comes to learning—they have to be in order to survive in a hostile world. Like all animals, one way they learn is by repeating behaviors when the behaviors are rewarded. Christopher reinforced Fluffer’s biting by using his hands when playing with the kitten. He also encouraged the kitten to grab and bite him during play—rewarding the kitten with attention when she attacked. Fluffer, being a bright kitten, assumed that biting was acceptable so now whenever she wants to interact with her favorite people she does what works—biting.

Brittany caught on right way. She thought a possible solution would be re-homing her dad so that he wouldn’t roughhouse with Fluffer anymore. Brittany wanted a kitten she could snuggle and cuddle with, not a Ninja kitten who pounced and attempted to kill anything that moved.

Changing Behaviors

The kitten’s behavior can be changed, but everyone in the household has to be on board—modifying how they interact with Fluffer. Christopher has to stop using his hands when playing with the kitten and he needs to resist roughhousing with her. His task is to learn how to play; using pole type toys and other interactive play items instead of his hands.

Time outs will also help change Fluffer’s behavior. Whenever she becomes over-stimulated or solicits attention through biting, Fluffer’s victim needs to stand up and leave the room without interacting with her. Time outs are short; a few seconds are usually all that is needed. Fluffer will quickly learn that when she bites and attacks, her favorite playmates disappear.

Everyone in the household promised they would do their part—changing the way they played with the kitten. Brittany could now look forward to stashing the first aid kit in the cabinet and safely snuggling with her little kitten.

Cat Carrier Trauma! Trips to the Veterinarian

Many cats and their favorite people view cat carriers with trepidation. As soon as the carrier looms into view the cats hastily retreat as far away as possible, usually securing themselves in hard to reach places. A typical scenario is one where stressed cat parents risk injury while chasing, cornering and then depositing their cat kicking and screaming into the carrier. Because of traumatic carrier experiences, many cats do not benefit from being examined by their veterinarians on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of a place to avoid, the carrier can become fun for your cat—a place where the cat enjoys playing, napping and eating favorite treats.

Plan ahead!

Start changing your cat’s fearful feelings about her carrier several weeks before the visit to her veterinarian. The best carrier for the job is a hard carrier because it can be easily taken apart both at home and at the vet clinic.

Typically carriers are stashed out of the way in between the dreaded visits to the vet. This isn’t the best tactic since it doesn’t take long for the cat to figure out that when the carrier appears something bad is about to happen. A less stressful approach is to permanently place the carrier in an area the cat hangs out in. That way the carrier becomes a fixture in the environment and with encouragement, a place to sleep, play and eat treats.

Influence your cat to change her fearful association of the carrier through activities she enjoys. If she loves playing, drag her favorite toys over the carrier or toss them in for her to chase. If she adores treats, place them in the carrier.

Scent can also help her view the carrier as a non-threatening place to hang out. Pet her with a soft towel and then place the towel in the carrier. Placing a towel or article of clothing that is saturated with the cat’s favorite person’s scent will also help change her perception of the carrier.

Whenever the cat chooses to go into the carrier on her own she should be reinforced with something that she loves. If she loves treats, then give her a favorite treat. If she enjoys a little loving, then pet and stroke her when she is relaxing in the carrier.

Cats are individuals—some change their feelings about cat carriers in about a week. Others require a few weeks or a couple of months until they do not have a fearful association with their carriers.  Clicker training also helps speed up the process. There is a chapter in my book Naughty No More! that focuses on using clicker training along with other force-free methods to help cats improve their relationship with their carriers and veterinarians.

Maulee enjoys napping in her carrier

The Problems with Laser Pointers

Play!

No. Well maybe… there are exceptions.

As a general rule, I recommend against using laser pointers when playing with cats. I don’t like them because they frustrate cats. Cats need to catch their prey, to have the satisfaction of feeling their hard earned prize beneath their paws.  Because cats can’t catch the elusive beam of light, it leaves them frustrated. I usually encourage people to avoid laser pointers; there are so many other exciting toys to use. But, sometimes there are situations when laser pointers are the only way cats can be played with. It’s either laser play or no play.

The best way to play with a cat is to mimic hunting by dragging the toy away from or across the line of vision of the cat. Pole type toys are perfect for this. Unfortunately, some people may find it difficult or impossible to drag the toy or flick it in the air. Their movements may be restricted for a variety of reasons, including physical challenges, or they may be living in a small crowded space. People still want to play with their cats and cats need to play. In these circumstances, laser pointers may be the best tool for the job.

Laser pointers can be played with in a way that minimizes the cat’s frustration while still mimicking the hunt. In addition to the laser pointer, soft toys and coveted cat food need to be recruited for the job.  The toys are placed strategically in the play area so that the cat will be able to “catch” the prey. Food is at the ready.  Using a variation of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s hunt/play technique, play by aiming the beam in front of the cat and zigzag it away from her. Periodically, let the cat “catch” the beam by resting it on one of the stuffed animals that is doubling as prey. The cat should be able to feel the toy solidly under her paws before moving the beam away.  Although the length and intensity of play sessions vary, don’t end abruptly. Slow the beam down until it lands on the final catch of the session. Immediately feed the cat. She will eat, groom and then take a nap.

Considerations

  • Care must be taken to play within the cat’s limitations. Consider the age, health and general condition of the cat. Play should be fun, not painful.
  • Laser beams should never be shined in the eyes of cats or any other animal who happens to be hanging around.

Another Litter Box Tip: Choice

08.11.12 Litter boxes should not be placed together in one location. They need to be in different areas of your home so that your cat has a choice of which box to use.