Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mue Mue The Great

   I have a very talented cat, take a look for yourself!

  I love my little guy, but he can be feisty. Mostly, I appreciate a feisty cat, but not when his sassy side leads him to terrorizing my other darling cat! Poor Wendel has to walk on eggshells because Mue Mue is a bully. Wendel and Mue Mue have very opposite personalities. Wendel is gentle, sweet and timid. Mue Mue is confident and sometimes ferocious. They do have one key personality trait in common which is their charisma.
  Because of my work (working with dogs and cats at an animal rescue) I have been wanting to learn more about animals. I read Temple Grandins book "Animals Make Us Human." This book inspired me to work with Mue Mue on training! 
   Grandin said that often a cat acts out in an aggressive way because he is bored and needs enrichment. Knowing Mue Mue, who is a very intelligent cat, this made absolute sense. I have tried different methods of enrichment for Mue Mue including lots of play time and getting him his very own cat tree (well, he has to share it with Wendel. I call it their palace.) But the idea I was most excited about was training. In Grandins book she also encouraged clicker training with cats. She said that training provides enrichment through learning. People often think that cats are untrainable, unlike dogs which are considered highly trainable. The common belief is either cats are too dumb or too stubborn. But the difference between cats and dogs in regards to training isn't that dogs are smarter or more willing, but that dogs and cats have been domesticated in very different ways. Cats were originally domesticated to catch mice. They were independent killing machines. But dogs were basically domesticated to be our friends. At this point in their evolution, dogs are highly tuned to humans. Dogs often know what we want before we even say it because they can read our expressions. Dogs, unlike cats have very expressive faces. It is easier to train dogs because their personalities are more human like and their motivations are social.
  The way I trained Mue Mue was through his desire for treats. Mue Mue is very food motivated. I still tell him he is a good boy when he shakes my hand, but I don't know how much my encouragement means to him. It is the the treat that he wants and it is the treat that convinces him to to shake my hand.
  Shortly after I read Grandins book, I bought a clicker for Mue Mue. But then I got distracted by the the details of life and I never ended up working on training with him. But then at work, our trainer taught us how to use clickers with the dogs. It was a lot of fun working with the dogs, and I was re-motivated to work with my Mue!
  Clicker training is all about positive reinforcement. With animals, I really believe positive reinforcement is the best way to go. This does not mean you cannot correct them when they do something wrong, but encouraging them when they do something right goes much further! Clickers are used to reinforce good behavior. If your animal does something good, you click the clicker and give him a treat immediately. Eventually, the click itself will be a reward.
  With Mue  Mue, I taught him to sit first. This was fairly easy, because he sits a lot on his own. When he sits, I click and give him a treat. If he didn't want to sit, I hold the treat up and slowly move it toward his back which often will cause him to sit on his own. Then of course I click and give him a treat.
   Teaching him to shake is more complicated. I would ask him to sit first. Then I would pick up his hand and say shake, click and give him a treat. At first he would protest when I picked up his little paw. He'd go "meowowow!" in a very grumpy tone. Eventually, he realized that he was getting treats when I picked up his hand and he seemed less perturbed. After a while I started offering my palm and asking him to shake. Soon enough, he was shaking on his own. It really didn't take long at all! When it became clear that he understood what I was asking, I was thrilled and oh so proud of my little rascal!
  He still on occasion picks on his little brother, but this has become less frequent since starting training and other enrichment activities.
  We are working on another trick that is a little bit harder, but once he masters it I will definitely be sharing it! Actually, I have probably annoyed everyone I know by forcing them all to look at this video of Mue Mue. 

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