Sunday, April 15, 2012

problem solving

Sorry for the lack of action here at GPG. I am in the middle of writing my thesis and I have had little time for anything else. I will hopefully be back soon though at full force!

Bodhi and I are doing very well. I am now taking dressage and western riding lessons! In between lessons I sharpen what we have learned from the instructors by having a shaping session with the clicker. It is amazing how much we are getting accomplished considering we have just a few hours a week together. I feel like we are really training smart now. I will be going to a multi-day clinic with trainer Shawn Seabrook in the beginning of May. I will have to write about that as well!

Now I wanted to share a funny anecdote about Sarge the cat:

Sarge and I were in a battle of wills. See I wanted to feed everyone (Stella the dog, Pele and Sarge, the cats and Brie and Truffle, the rats) at 8:00 pm every night. Sarge thought he could convince me to feed him earlier if he just tried hard enough. So that meant when I get home from work and start working at the computer he starts his cat antics--- meowing, scratching at things and sometimes even pawing me on the shoulder! The more I said no the more he dug in. You have to admire his persistence! I am sure everyone with cats understands just how persistent they can be!
I had no idea how to stop this behavior until I started thinking about an anecdote given in Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. This story was about a dog that would not stop scratching at the door if I remember correctly. The crafty caretakers decided to use a conditioned stimulus to solve their problem. They hung a towel on the door and let the dog into the room every time he scratched. Then, they alternated having the towel on the door and off the door and only let the dog in when the towel was on the door. Soon the dog learned that his request for admittance would only be heard when that towel was on the door. They made sure to have the towel on the door sometimes giving the dog the chance to ask and they finally got a good nights sleep!
I love this story because it gives a creative solution to reduce a behavior without punishment and it also gives the animal a voice. That dog was obviously frustrated his requests to come in the room were not being heard. By teaching the animal when it is appropriate to ask for something it really reduces their stress and your stress. It is a win win.

So back to Sarge the cat--- I wanted to do something similar to the dog and the towel but what? I know he naturally loved to paw and scratch at everything. So I decided to make Sarge a sign that he could paw when he would like to be fed. The first night I put it up I kept an eye on him as he did his evening antics and sure enough he just happened to paw the sign! I said good! and immediately got up and fed everyone dinner. Amazingly, it only took him a few nights for him to understand the game! Now I put the sign up at around 6pm. He can choose when he would like to be fed from then on. He will nap on the couch, stretch and walk up and tap his sign when he wants to be fed-easy as that. Sometimes he wants to be fed even before I put his sign up. He walks up and looks for his sign and when he does not see it he just goes and lies back down. Amazing! I know we are both happier. Sarge is an intelligent cat and he must of felt so frustrated when I ignored his attempts to communicate. Now that he has an outlet he seems more content.

Here is a video of Sarge patting his sign to get his dinner!

Have you solved any human-animal conflicts in a creative way? I would love to hear about it!


  1. That is so cool!!

    Good luck with your thesis. :)

  2. I LOVE this! Sarge is one smart cat and you are one smart mom. :-)

  3. Loved it, what a smart cat, and smart cat Mom you are.

  4. That is awesome! Good job to Sarge for figuring that out! I'm going to file that concept away in case I need it!

    My big cat would start howling non-stop at 5am to be fed in the mornings - tried a few things - spray bottle, ignoring him, etc. The solution that worked at the time (only had 1 cat) was to get an automatic feeder. The howling stopped within 3 days and he hasn't meowed for food since. (Although we had to tie the feeder to the wall because he figured out how to get food out of it on his own!)

    Hope all goes well with your thesis and your riding! :-)

  5. Laura that is smart! Cats are really good at negotiating what they want. :)