Since May 2015, I have been a cat foster with Stray Cat Alliance, a no-kill org. Through them, I have helped rescue, reform, love, and adopt out 46 kitty lives and counting. I have two cat-related goals I hope to accomplish in the next two weeks.
- Raise $1000 for Stray Cat Alliance through their Crowdrise campaign: They are receiving matching donations, so every contribution you make is doubled.
- Get Duchess adopted. Duchess is our long-term adult foster. Read her bio and more information on her here and see more photos of her on my foster cat Instagram. Her bio is missing the latest update: I have been successfully pointer-and-clicker training her!
To this end, I will be making a post about SCA and Duchess at least once a day every day for the rest of this week. Donating will help me to meet one goal, but sharing my posts will help both goals, so those of you unable to give in other ways have the chance to make a huge impact. In other words, every single share you make of this or any other SCA/Duchess related post goes a long way, so thank you!
Today, I’m going to talk about how I have been clicker-training our now-reformed Duchess. Yes, that Duchess is being directed with a stick.
In May, The Amazing Acrocats came through my city. Being the broke cat lover that I am, I signed up to volunteer so that I could attend for free rather than shelled out for the tickets. Honestly, it was a boon to me rather to them, as I got to meet so many adorable kittens and cats as well as someone who is a personal icon to me who just happened to be attending.
During the show, the human performers assured us that training a cat is not as impossible or difficult as many think it is as long as you have patience, treats, a pointer, and a clicker, plus perhaps a whistle for certain kinds of training. I grew intrigued at the idea because not only would training increasing Duchess’s adoptability, but also it would engage her, as she tends to get extremely bored extremely quickly by toys, even her favorite one. At the end of the show, as we were packing up the merch area, I decided to acquire a training kit at the volunteer discount. That very night, I tried to lead Duchess around by the included purple pointer stick — and she followed it!
In the following days, I got her to more and more consistently follow the stick, though long stints of tracking its movement tended to bore her. Accordingly, I switched to getting her to do turns while following where I had indicated with the stick. Again, we made progress but then hit an impasse, so I switched tactics again. By then, a few weeks into training, I had realized that while following a stick bored her, Duchess enjoyed moving to areas where I had tapped the pointer end of the stick. I began focusing on getting her to where I needed or wanted her to be rather than trying to get her to do any kind of following to great success. She gets excited by her training, engages with me, and gets more consistent with her actions.
My latest experiment was to put a cat carrier down in the main area of the apartment, which is her domain, and see if I could point her into it. A combination of treats, the pointer, and encouragement got her in without a fuss. I have left the carrier out to habituate her to it and have caught her going into it to hang out on occasion without any sort of indication from me that it was where she was supposed to be.
A photo posted by Heina (@toomanysmolz) on
Honestly, getting her to where I want or need her to be as well as habituating her to her carrier is more useful than getting her to follow the pointer, which is more for performing tricks than anything else. A cat that gets off the counter or desk when you need her to, can be distracted away from something that upsets her (like, say, a kitten that managed to escape the kitten-designated guest bedroom), and will get into a carrier without issue is easier to deal with than most other cats. After just two months of training, Duchess is now that sort of cat.