Focusing today on a fun update about my emotional support cat Tuca. As of this week, it’s been one month since I adopted Tuca! She’s a very high energy cat which makes play extra important. Anyone who has ever watched “My Cat from Hell” or other Jackson Galaxy work knows that many times when cats act out it’s because a lack of behavioral enrichment. This is a fancy way of saying not enough fun things to do that exercise their natural behaviors.
Some would say that I’ve gone full “crazy cat owner” with the amount of cat toys, scratching posts, and random balls of paper I’ve acquired. But really I’m just a biologist whose focus in undergrad was animal behavior and I understand that she NEEDS to play and just like us what she wants to play with with depend on her mood.
One way I’m creating play time that is engaging for both of us, is trying out some clicker training. The basis for clicker training is that the best motivator for animals is positive reinforcement. And the closer you can link a reward to a behavior the easier it will be for an animal to learn the association of this behavior gets me this reward. Because there is a lag between a behavior and giving a treat a clicker is used as a “bridge” to give instantaneous feedback that they did the correct thing.
So I started out by simply using the clicker any time Tuca made eye contact with me and then gave her a treat. So this established the relationship that the sound or the clicker = treat. Because Tuca is a very skilled jumper, I’m trying to train her to jump through my arms. But we have to build up to that behavior in progressive steps. Currently we’re on jumping over my arm following a specific hand gesture from me.
Trying out some clicker training with Tuca has been great for reinforcing our bond, rewarding Tuca for getting out some jumping energy, and for me to exercise some of my animal behavior knowledge.
[Photo: Tuca mid jump over Tina’s arm pressed against a wall about 1 foot off the ground]