Rupert did quite well over the weekend. He ate a treat in front of my husband, which is a monumental thing, and my touch therapy has been going well with sighs and snorts and overall body relaxation. We had the door cracked a little on Sunday and he didn’t run to hide in his litterbox even when I was running the vacuum in an adjacent room. However, the sci-fi movie we were watching on Sunday night did freak him out. I guess it was just too much too soon.
He’s still trying to climb the window sill, so I had to reapply the double-sided tape and thought that today I would talk about training.
Aversion therapy is a form of psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort. This conditioning is intended to cause the patient to associate the stimulus with unpleasant sensations in order to stop the specific behavior.
A helpful guide to all types of training can be found in the Merck Manual, though they use the word “Punishment” instead of “Aversion.” I hate that. When people think of the word punishment, they often think of a physically violent act like the newspaper across the nose. That sort of training is cruel and never works, unless you want the animal to be afraid of you. If causing fear and apprehension towards you are the goals, then go ahead with the physical violence because that’s all you are going to gain: An animal that hates and fears you.
Cats do not like to be dominated in any way, so get Cesar Milan out of your head. His positive energy principle is monumentally important, but the whole you being the alpha pack leader thing isn’t a cat thing.
Aversion therapy with cats is a passive form of scolding that keeps you out of the picture. You should only ever be associated with good things like food and affection. If the cat associates the bad stimuli with you, it’s exactly the same thing as you hitting or screaming at the cat.
The types of training I like to use and find work the best are:
Habituation, which for a feral cat means you being in their proximity again and again and again for longer and longer periods of time, and, touch therapy. I’m not talking about grabbing the animal and forcibly holding it against its will. I’m talking about gradually introducing your touch to the animal so that it realizes that petting feels good. The Zen art of massage, if you will, and it’s just as relaxing for you if you do it correctly. Never force the issue though.
I also like Reinforcement, Desensitization, Extinction, and Aversion.
I don’t want Rupert tearing at the curtains and or the blinds to get to the window. Windows are a magnet for cats. We know this. Depriving them of the window experience is not the most effective way to solve the problem, so in this case, I like aversion therapy.
The first thing I do is spray any hanging curtains with feliway so that the cat feels as if they have already marked the fabric. Tying them back out of way a little also helps. If you have blinds, raise them a little so the cat can see out of the window and give them a vantage point to do so: a chair, a cat-tree, whatever. Once you’ve given them an acceptable option for looking out of the window, you want to deter the unwanted behavior, and in this instance, double-sided carpet tape will become your go-to in the tactical arsenal. Just put the tape on the window sill and on the blinds too if you think you need to. I generally just start with the window sill. Then walk away. Cats cannot stand sticky stuff on their feet. They hate it so much it usually only takes one or two attempts and they learn the lesson. You don’t want to be around. You want them to think the window sill caused them the discomfort, not you. This principle is also why vibrating pads and air canisters work.
It’s how you get a cat to do what they want to do in the way you want them to do it.
The only time I ever get vocal with Moon is when he tries to play attack me. In that case, I do kind of a cat howl to let him know he hurt me (even if he didn’t) and then I walk away. Basically I am telling him that if he is going to play that way then play time is over. He has his wooly for that sort of thing. Mommy doesn’t like pins in her skins.