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December 21, 2014

Cat Introductions: Pillow and Sudan

The stage was set and it was time to start the cat introductions– introducing Pillow to Sudan, through a combination of clicker training, management and environmental changes. Since Sudan does not like other cats, except the ones he grew up with, the introductions between the two cats needed to be slow and gradual. The good news is that my other cats, Maulee, Olivia and Jinniyha were already playing and interacting with Pillow under the door.

Hello

One month ago we started the first phase of the four-phase cat introduction process. Phase one used scent exchanges combined with clicker training to help develop a friendly or at least a tolerable relationship. Both cats were already clicker-savvy—having a positive association with the sound of the clicker.

Cat introductions & scent exchanges

Cat Introductions: Clicker, towels and treats

Clicker, towels and treats

I focused on the pheromones secreted by sebaceous glands on cat cheeks. These are sometimes referred to as “the friendly pheromones”. They can help promote a remote, but friendly relationship

All of the necessary tools were assembled: soft towels, a clicker and treats. I conducted the scent-exchange exercises twice a day—once in the morning and then again at the end of the day.

 

I began the exchange by gently petting Sudan’s cheek with a towel. Taking the second clean towel, I stroked Pillow on his cheek. The towel with Pillow’s pheromones was placed in the hall where Sudan hangs out and then I placed the towel with Sudan’s scent on it in the sun room.

Cat introductions: petting Sudan's cheek with a towel

Petting Sudan’s Cheek with a Towel

Sudan immediately went over to investigate the towel. Since he did not display any stress or fractiousness towards Pillow’s scent, I clicked and tossed him a treat. I aimed the treat so that it landed about six inches away from the towel. After he ate the treat he checked out the towel again. I waited a couple of seconds while he explored it and then clicked and treated him again. There were no signs of anxiety or aggression. I am always very alert for these signals.

Cat introductions in a stress free fashion

Sudan checking out the towel

After a few cycles I focused on Pillow who had picked up the towel and carried it over to his table-bed. Of course he was reinforced with a click and a treat.

I repeated the scent exchanges twice a day, each time with a fresh towel. Both cats responded positively to the scents on the towels. Sudan became very attached to the newly-Pillow-scented towels, rolling on them immediately after they were placed on the floor.

Usually, after one-two weeks of positive responses the second phase of the introductions can start. Because of Sudan’s reluctance to accept other cats, I extended the pheromone exchanges to one month.

A serious setback

Cat Introductions: Sudan darts through the door

Sudan

The first phase was progressing nicely, but then two weeks ago, a friend of mine accidentally opened the door to the sun room. Sudan, waiting for the opportunity, darted under his legs into Pillow’s room. My friend yelled, startling Sudan. The Maine Coon was sun bathing when Sudan spotted him and ran at him. He first gave Pillow a nose touch and then immediately launched himself at the unsuspecting cat. Although it was an aggressive attack, neither cat was injured.

This is not a good sign. I am not sure if Sudan will ever tolerate another male cat in his territory.

Help for cat behavior problems is available

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

Older Cat is Adjusting to his New Home: the Further Adventures of Pillow the Cat

Pillow, an older cat is adjusting to his new home and life. He’s the cat I inherited when my mom died recently. To help make the adjustment as stress-free as possible for him, I brought home the beds and blankets he favored at my mom’s house. Pillow is ignoring them, preferring to shoehorn himself in a small table that I converted into a cat bed. It is circular with a little wicker frame around the edges, barely big enough for him to curl up and sleep in. It also stands about 4 feet high—perfect for viewing the sunroom and the kitchen.

Pillow's new bed

Pillow’s new bed

When Pillow isn’t favoring his table-bed, he enjoys sleeping in his carrier. The carrier is always open, available to him and is complete with a comfortable towel and a favorite banana toy. Sometimes he nibbles on treats as he lounges in the carrier. As evidenced from the pictures, Pillow continues to enjoy his meals to the fullest.

Pillow loves his cat carrier

Pillow loves his cat carrier

Pillow and I have established a routine that includes hobnobbing while I eat breakfast and drink my morning coffee. He sits on a stool next to me, never begging or trying to grab my food. He is a great cat. Part of our morning ritual includes my grooming him after breakfast. When he lets me detangle and de-mat his fur without complaint, he is given special treats—making what could be traumatic into a pleasant and rewarding experience for both of us. The daily grooming sessions are becoming easier every day. Pillow, being a Maine Coon with fur that easily mats, needs to be groomed at least once a day.

Pillow has adjusted well. It is about time to start introducing him to the rest of the gang—one cat at a time. I share my home with Bengals and a large, male Savannah. Bengals and Savannahs are highly energetic cats, who love to spend their days climbing, running and playing. They are not calm, mellow cats. Pillow, a portly cat prefers napping—the exact opposite of my other resident cats.

Jenniyha loves to play

Jenniyha loves to leap and play

Although I live with more than one cat, I will concentrate on introducing Pillow to Sudan, my male Savannah. Sudan will have the most difficulty adjusting to a having another male cat in the household. Because the Bengal girls will be a little easier to integrate with Pillow they will meet him after he is introduced to Sudan.

Portrait of Sudan, my Savannah Cat

Sudan, my Savannah Cat

A four phase approach

I will introduce Pillow and Sudan to each other in as stress free way as possible, following the four-phase approach detailed in my book Naughty No More!.The two cats will be encouraged to share mutually enjoyable experiences while they remain separated from each other. Although this may sound a bit strange, cats can start to build relationships without meeting face-to-face.

During the first three phases of the introduction, the cats will be kept separated from each other, Pillow in the sunroom and kitchen, while Sudan and the girls stay in the hall, office and bedrooms. They will only be allowed to switch rooms during the last phase of the introductions.

Cat pheromones

The first step will involve building social skills through doing scent exchanges and basic clicker training. Cats have scent glands on different parts of their body that produce pheromones—some are friendlier then others. The pheromones that are produced by the sebaceous glands on cat cheeks, are sometimes referred to as the friendly pheromones. Cats often say hello by approaching their fave people and rubbing their cheeks and head on them, marking them with their scent. I will use these friendly pheromones, along with clicker training, to encourage good will between Sudan and Pillow.

Clicker training—not just a dog thing

Clicker training is not just for the dogs—it is for all animals, no matter the species. It is a reward-based training technique that has its roots in classical and operant conditioning. Clicker training is based on the premise that animals will repeat behaviors when their actions are immediately reinforced.

It is easy to clicker train cats. Two essential tools are needed—the first is something that the cats love. In clicker-speak, this is called a primary reinforcer. Both Pillow and Sudan are very food motivated, they live for treats. The second tool is a device that always does the same thing whenever it is activated. This will become the secondary reinforcer. I use an iClick clicker. If one of the cats had hearing challenges, I would have used a quick flash from a flashlight as the secondary reinforcer.

iClick clicker

iClick clicker

After assembling the tools, my next step was to pair the treat with the click so that Pillow would have a positive association with the sound. After the click is paired with the treat, it will become a powerful communication tool that will let the cat know when he is doing a desired behavior. Since Sudan was already a pro with the clicker, I focused on training Pillow.

Pillow was a fast learner. It was easy to pair the click with a treat. I started by clicking once and then immediately giving him a treat. After he inhaled the treat, he looked up at me and I repeated the process, clicking and treating him again. It took ten repetitions until Pillow made the connection between the click and the treat. Years ago, when Sudan was introduced to clicker training, he made the connection between the click and the treat after the fifth repetition. The sound of the clicker is now a powerful communication tool for both cats—alerting them the instance they are doing a desired behavior.

The three of us are ready to start phase I of the introductions.

Help for cat behavior problems is available

For help introducing cats to each other, as well as other cat behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

 

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.

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.

 

Doing it the Happy Way

01.06.13  After explaining why using force-free approaches for behavior change is extremely effective and do not have the negative fallout of punishment-based methods my client wrote the following: “Doing it the happy way will be much better”. She is right.

Cats for a Busy Life Style

Life styles are changing. People are spending more time away from home—working longer, harder hours. Some, out of necessity, are working two or more jobs.  Understandably, cat-parents are concerned that their grueling schedules are adversely affecting their cats.  They wonder if there are specific breeds they can adopt who do well when left alone. Recently I was interviewed for two different publications, both interviewers asked me the same question “What breeds of cats are best for people who spend long hours away from home?

Although some breeds are sedate and seem more self reliant then others, no cat does well when left alone for long hours every day without companionship or stimulation. They can become depressed, bored and lethargic. Some develop behavior challenges such as over-grooming, litter box avoidance or other destructive behaviors.

Busy cat parents with active life-styles do not have to forgo cat companionship. They can take steps to keep their felines stimulated while working those long hours away from home.

A buddy

© Konstantin Kovtun - Fotolia.com

Two cats are better than one © Konstantin Kovtun – Fotolia.com

People who do not spend much time at home should seek out and adopt cats who are bonded to each other. Bonded friends keep each other entertained while their favorite people are away. Adopting a new friend for the resident cat is also an option. It is essential that both cats have histories of getting along well with other felines.  Adopters should be aware that successful introductions could take weeks, sometimes months.

Environmental enrichment

Creating cat-centric home environments will help mentally stimulate cats. Although homes do not have to become Cat Disneylands, they do need to be equipped with cat furniture and toys.  Toys cats can interact with by themselves will keep them engaged and active. Puzzle boxes, Turbo Scratchers, puzzle feeders as well as ping-pong balls are good toy choices. Boxes and paper bags without handles become intriguing places to explore and hide in.

Homes need to be furnished with vertical territory such as shelving, window perches and tall cat trees. Cat trees put in front of windows are perfect places for cats to relax and watch the daily happenings in the neighborhood.

Activities

Cats are predators—their feral counterparts hunt for a living. Meal and treat times should become mentally and physically stimulating. Instead of placing cat food in bowls or tossing treats directly to them, encourage cats to work a little for their food. Treasure hunts are the perfect solution.  Before leaving for the day, busy cat parents can hide treats and dry food throughout the home—on cat trees, shelves, in tunnels, paper bags, cardboard boxes, puzzle boxes, Turbo Scratchers and in other toys.

Don’t forget clicker training and play! Clicker training is a fun activity for everyone—cats and their people alike. It helps keep cats mentally challenged, physically active and strengthens relationships between cats and their people.

Daily play sessions using pole-type toys will also help keep cats from becoming bored. The toy is pulled away from the cat in a way that imitates hunting. These types of toys should always be placed out of cat reach when no one is around to supervise.

Quality time

In addition to activities and creating a cat-centric environment, cat people need to spend quality one-on-one time with their cats every day. Special times together include cuddle and lap times and active play and clicker training sessions. Quality time benefits all participants—cats and their favorite people alike.

More help

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

A big thank you to everyone who voted. I won!!!

2012 About.Com Readers Choice Award

Winner of About.com 2012 Readers Choice Award for best cat behavior book

Late last night I received an e-mail from About.com’s Franny Syufy. Her e-mail informed me that my book Naughty No More! was voted the best cat behavior book in the 2012 about.com’s Readers Choice Awards.  It won! I won!!! I’m thrilled and I’m honored. I am really pleased that so many people have found my book useful and fun.

This means a lot to me—thank you again to everyone who voted for me.

YIPPPEEEEEE!!!!!!

Every Month is Senior Cat Month

Maulee helping me write

I love senior cats. OK, I love all cats, but there is something special about senior cats. Maybe it’s their grey-around-the-whiskers-look or their fragility, maybe it’s the purr. I don’t know, there is just something very special about elderly cats.

Maulee is my special senior cat. She is overseeing today’s blog entry about senior cats. This isn’t unusual, because she loves to keep herself warm, napping on the hot modem next to my monitor when I write. Maulee is an 18.5 year old Bengal Cat who is in relatively good health. Although she still loves to play, napping next to me is probably her second favorite activity—eating is her first. She is a food hound.

We share a special bond. Although I am bonded with all of my cats, the bonds Maulee and I have are different. She is constantly at my side, on my lap or napping next to my monitor. She prefers purring, chortling and talking to me over wandering the house and interacting with her younger cat companions.

Like many senior cats, Maulee occasionally has cognitive challenges. Sometimes, late at night she finds herself lost and confused in the house. I know, because she will start howling and screaming for me to help her. I will follow the calls and find her sitting, facing a corner yowling. Other times she’s standing in the middle of a room. Her calls of distress, although heart wrenching, quickly change to purrs and nose kisses when I sweep down, pick her up and carry her into the bedroom.

Maulee’s cognitive challenges have dramatically decreased since I made a few changes. The first two involve changes to the environment, the third increases mental stimulation. I am limiting the areas she and her cat buddies can go at night. Hall doors are closed—keeping the cats in the back of the house. The area they can roam is still large, but now all of the cats are more inclined to sleep in my bedroom. I have also increased the number of night lights around the house. Although, these two simple environmental changes have helped Maulee, I found that using clicker training to mentally stimulate her has vastly improved her cognitive state.

Yes! You can teach an old cat new tricks

At twelve years of age, Maulee was no spring chicken when her clicker training career started. She quickly caught on to the concept and became my clicker star. When Animal Planet’s Cats 101 filmed her for their Bengal and clicker training segment she was 17.5 years of age. Before the show she had never jumped through hoops. It took her only five minutes to learn the new trick. Just because a cat is a senior, doesn’t mean the cat can’t learn new things. Maulee is proof.

Clicker training is more than teaching tricks. Since increasing the frequency of Maulee’s clicker training sessions, I’ve noticed a decrease in cognitive challenges. She hasn’t gotten lost in a corner in many months and our nights haven’t been interrupted by her howls of distress.  I have also observed that Maulee is more alert, interacts and plays a little more with the younger cats. Clicker training is mentally stimulating. Maulee is thinking through problems. She is highly food motivated and likes to figure out what she needs to do in order for me to click that clicker and toss her a coveted treat. Clicker training is one of her favorite activities. I know because she purrs and chortles throughout the sessions. Clicker training is helping to keep her young in mind and spirit.

November is Senior Cat Month. Every month is senior cat month—every day senior cat day. If you are looking for a new cat companion, I urge you to adopt a senior cat. Just because they are old, doesn’t mean they don’t have many fulfilling years ahead of them. Look at my Maulee—18.5 years young.

Maulee sometimes enjoys napping on her back