Saturday, May 24, 2008

How do you train your human to buy the right cat food?

Dear George,

I was brought up on Gourmet cat food, one of the more expensive and delicious kinds. That's what I eat. That's what I like. But I am currently stuck here in cat rescue being fed an inferior food. There's plenty of it, which is good. And it is perfectly nutritious. But I don't feel it is up the standard I am used to. So I worry about my next home. How am I going to make it clear to my new humans, that they have got to get out to the supermarket, ignore the tins, ignore the inferior envelopes on special offer, and buy this particular brand. Have you faced the same dilemma. Can other cats help with training tips?


Dear Florence,

This is the classic dilemma facing all us cats. We can't buy our own cat food. We have to accept what humans buy for us. This is a serious difficulty and yet, if you were a human looking at the huge variety of cat food available on the supermarket shelves, it would be obvious that cats rule in this area. We don't eat just anything - unless we are starving strays. We train our humans to get what we want. All training tips are welcome in the comments area.
The principles of all human training are to ignore bad behaviour and reward good. This is reward training practised by all good trainers. Punishment has a part in the cat-human relationship but only because we enjoy it not because it is superior to reward training. For most training, rewards, not punishments, are most effective. And, if you think about this, this is a tricky area. We have to train a human to leave the house, go to the supermarket, ignore the special offers, pass by the cheaper brands, buy the right expensive brand and pay for it. Yet we do it. What an amazing feline feat.
If the principles of reward training are followed through you must reward your human for buying the right food. Move to the food dish smartly, eat ravenously (at least the first bit), purr loudly while eating (yes it is possible) and, if you can handle it, knead as well as purring while eating. Most humans recognise purring and kneading as signs of pussycat happiness (well, they are almost right). That is the reward bit of the food training ritual.
The second bit is to ignore bad behaviour. Here you go to the food bowl, sniff disdainfully, look up imploringly at your human and move away. Just don't eat it. Not the tiniest scrap. Do this several times during the day. If you have trained your human to respond to you by leading it to the bowl, do this several times a day. The message is clear. You need food. But this is not the food you can eat.
A further training mode variation on this is to go up to the bowl, sniff disdainfully giving the human your best imploring look, Then treat the food as if it is litter. Paw it as if hiding a lump of you know what. If the bowl is a plastic one, tip the food out of the bowl and hide it under the bowl. Clear message. I think this food is s..t!
What if I am really hungry, you ask. Be firm. Don't eat it. Don't weaken. Training a human requires true consistency and persistence. Leave a minimum of 6 hours  before eating any of it - preferably 12 hours. They won't hold out, I assure you. They never do.
 If you are really really hungry lick up the gravy and leave the solid bits. All of them. But it will take much longer to train your human if you weaken.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A word about me....

I am interrupting my normal business of answering questions from other cats, in order to tell you cats out there about me. It is part of a Meme tag game played by my US counterpart, George, and the rest of the crew. (Wow, that is my first link in text!). 
I hope I am playing the game correctly by doing this. My secretary, Celia, is only half competant with the blog format - something I find very embarassing. I keep her on because I don't have the heart to fire her. I am sure many of you cats will share my mixed feelings about my human - I love her, but I do wish she was a bit brighter.
My agony column exists to share with other cats these conflicts of emotion and the real conflicts of interest that we cats have with our humans. Being a human owner takes real commitment. We have to put up with their clumsiness, the inability to sense our true feelings (all that picking up and cuddling when we want to get on with other more important things), and, of course, their ridiculous idea that they own us. Deluded creatures in total denial.
I have added one of my favourite pictures of myself. You may notice that I am black. Black is beautiful, say I. Here in the UK black is also lucky as in lucky black cat. I am here looking at a dragonfly (out of the frame so I have added a small picture of it below) with a view to slaughtering it and then crunching it up. The garden pond has many of these brightly coloured insects and the larger ones make an enticing chitinous noise with their wings. They don't taste very good but the texture is delightful - like pork crackling cut thin enough for a feline to crunch up.
My day starts with waking up Celia at the time of my choosing. Usually that is 6.30am. Her timetable starts at 7.30am which is why I have to go through the bother of waking her. She's particularly difficult to wake at weekends. Indeed she is lucky to be allowed on my bed. She takes up a horrifying amount of room, she breathes and snores very loudly indeed, and keeps changing position trying to find more room for her legs. In some ways I wish I had trained her to use the sofa downstairs but when I first arrived in the house I was a kitten and unable to anticipate the fact that I would need more space.
The rest of my day goes like this - get up, eat food out of bowl, go out, patrol territory and hunt, come back, eat food out of bowl, sleep, go out, patrol and hunt, come back, eat food out of bowl and sleep - repeated numerous times. Occasionally I pause to greet the family - maybe wake Ronnie when he is having his afternoon nap, jump on Celia's word processor or press the keyboard. That sort of thing. Just to show the humans that they matter to me.
And once a week I answer queries about human behaviour from other cats. I would like more of them particularly those reflecting on the silly side of humanity.
Here is my me-me. I've just seen another of those very large dragonflies flitting by so I must go now.  

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are we sure we should neuter humans?

Dear George,
While I agree with some of Jonesey's points in the previous letter, my own feeling is that neutering might not have the "calming' effect on humans that we might hope for. After all, I was neutered, way back in 2002, and I can't say it changed my life in any significant way. Sexuality had always been a bit of a grey area for me anyway; originally, until the vet inspected me properly, I was told that I was a girl called Prudence. These days, I find that my needs are amply catered for by the weird skinfur from the big fluffy baa animal that my owners (not neutered) drape across the arm of their sofa - although it's important not to get this confused with the other skin from the less fluffy horn animal that likes mountains (scratchy! eugh!). To see me padding and humping away at this, with a string of drool hanging out of my mouth, it would be obvious that I still have needs and I see no reason why, having undergone the appropriate surgery at their special vets, humans wouldn't still have them as well. I say, leave them as they are! After all, if they did get neutered or spayed, who's to say that they wouldn't start seeking their pleasure on MY special fur too? And then there really would be trouble. It's bad enough having to share it with my brother Shipley and our four step siblings, but you can sod off if you think I am letting some galumping six food human dribble all over it as well.

Dear Ralph,
You are being too generous to your human, Tom Cox. Are you being quite honest? I happen to know that he has just made you and your friends famous by publishing 'Under the Paw. Confessions of a Cat Man' (Simon and Schuster £12.99). Has it gone to your head? Are you cutting him slack just because he is making you into a celebrity cat?  Shouldn't you be taking a firmer line. After all, after neutering he could still write about you. Indeed it might make it easier for him to concentrate on the higher things of life like cats.
Just to recap. The Meezers (see comments below the last post) and perhaps the Cat Realm guys are in favour of it on a revenge basis. I can't help feeling there is something in this. After all we cats suffer at the hands of humans. Why shouldn't they suffer at ours, just for a change. Do it to them as they do it to us. Smudge thinks it's only the males should be snipped and I have heard female humans who seem to agree with her (which seems a little unfair). Others like Oscar Snuggles and the Crew simply get on with making sure they have comfortable surroundings undisturbed by human mating rituals. Anonymous makes sure that there are  no human kittens by simply interfering by leaping on the beast with two backs - splendid stuff, Anonymous.
So, putting aside the natural feline desire for revenge, I think we need to take a second look at the topic. Humans don't just do it to us, they do it to horses, dogs, bullocks, and other farm animals. Why would they bother, unless it was in their interests to do so. Let us take a look at the issue. 
a)Neutering gets rid of unwanted young. What cat can say with paw on heart that human kittens are desirable in the home. They can't use a litter tray for months and months. They can't wash themselves. They don't eat solid food for months.  They are noisy, can't walk properly and dribble. Appallingly backward when compared to feline kittens!
b) Neutering changes behaviour. Most trained animals, like dogs and horses, are easier to train after neutering - that's why humans do it to them. The horses and dogs don't go off on their own looking for mates, nor do they get distracted when they see an attractive female. Incidentally, Smudge, you are right in some ways. Humans tend (with the exception of cats and dogs) to go for castration rather than spaying. It's the quick snip and it's over op. They leave the females alone.
c). Should we consider vasectomy? Humans never seem to vasectomise their pets (except for ferrets), because that would get rid of the tackle but leave the behaviour. OK so the human would be shooting blanks (no human kittens thank goodness) but that disorderly bedroom behaviour (and elsewhere) would still be rampant.
I go for the Cat Realm message - YES! SNIP AND OP!
PS. Ferrets are vasectomised because the female ferret can't get out of heat until she has been mated and if tiny ferrets are unwelcome a vasectomised male does the job. Makes you pity the female ferret.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Should we neuter and spay our humans?

Dear George
There are only two domesticated species that walk around with their sexual bits still attached - dogs and humans. Both would be better off without them. My humans are completely ruled by theirs. They can't think of anything else and sometimes they completely neglect and ignore me because they are so obsessed by each other. A chap can't get a decent night's sleep for humping and bonking. They act as if it's their bed. And they stay out late. And he goes out and sprays his territory late at night - upsetting all my careful territorial marks. I think it's time we cats got our humans spayed and neutered. What is your opinion on this topic?

Dear Jonesey,
I agree with you that humans would be happier if they were neutered and spayed. You only have to compare the behaviour of the older ones with the behaviour of younger ones, to see what a great deal of their time and effort is taken up with worrying about, searching for, or interacting with mates. The older ones, who have given up that sort of thing, seem so much more serene and happy. It would obviously be in their interests if we could just put a stop to their sex lives. 
And their mating attempts are so crude and noisy. As you say, you can't get a decent night's sleep if your humans are at it. And sometimes they even do it in the day time, interrupting those magic after lunch hours of sleep.
It's obvious really. Many human behavioural problems such as staying out late, escaping from the house, roaming the neighbourhood, fighting, inappropriate sexual behaviour and intraspecies aggression would just die away after the op. Just a snip and the male human would become so much better behaved a pet with far less likelihood of needing medical treatment. There would be less competitive urine spraying in the garden - indeed the behaviour might die away altogether (except where it has become a learned response). Just a neat little op and the female would stop all that separation anxiety - the Bridget Jones syndrome as it is sometimes called.
Then there's the question of over population. There are just far too many of them. If we could stop them breeding, there would be far fewer unwanted human kittens, feral youths, stray humans, and humans only just managing to make a living. It's a bit of a campaign for me. What do other cats think?

Help for cats whose humans show behaviour problems.

This blog is devoted to the study of human behaviour. We cats, who live with this sometimes unpredictable and always feeble minded species, can benefit from seeing their behaviour in its proper scientific context. The study of feline dilemmas, training problems, and difficulties with humans, can only benefit all of us. All of us train our humans - to buy the right food, for instance, but many of us do not have knowledge of how to improve our training methods. The human species is obviously not as intelligent as the cat, but nevertheless can learn quite a lot - if properly managed. Topics of interest include the use of claw and order, purring as a human reward, rubbing your human up the right way, when to bite, spraying as a method of making our wishes known, ignoring the human, human harassment, human inattention and sheer human stupidity. I welcome your questions. Photos can be sent via my secretary's website, This blog has been chosen as one of the top 50 feline blogs by Online