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Showing posts with label reward. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reward. Show all posts

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Reward and punishment (occasionally) are the key to a good relationship.

Dear George,
I have adopted a new human family - male, female, and two human kittens about half grown and therefore a sensible age. You know my background growing up which turned me into a growling, biting and scratching adolescent.
This is my third home - first the bad one, then with Celia, and now this. Of course, I can adapt. I don't miss Celia at all though I miss the games I had with Toby. Within two days, I was sitting on the male owner's lap and (good news) he was keeping his hands away from interfering with my grooming routine!
So these are sensible humans. I have taught the children that if I sit up and beg or jump over a stick, they must give me food. What else should I do?

Dear Tommy,
Reward and punishment are the basis of a good cat-human relationship. In the first month of your new home, you should at all costs avoid punishment. This is the time to reward them with cute looks, lots of purring, rubbing and making them feel loved. As Barnum said: "You gotta get the suckers into the tent." These humans need all the reassurance and kindness you can give them so that they form a deep bond with you.
After the first month you can lay down a few boundaries - no interference while I am grooming: no human thrashing about the bed I allow you to share: if you use your hands to play with me you must expect to be nipped; etc. These cat rules will vary from individual to individual and in the second month you should be training them to obey by very small nips. And don't forget to purr when they behave well.
By month three, all four should be trained into proper cat servants. The key is good timing and consistency. Good luck.
PS. If you need to bite, you haven't made your rules clear to these dumb humans.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I'm learning to trust humans - but worried about a feline bully

Dear George,
I’m a rescue and, of course I live in a multiple cat house. I’m the only girl and very shy.
I’ve always been very shy and not very trustful, especially of humans. One of my “brothers” is a bully and I don’t know how to deal with that. My humans are very supportive of me but they work late hours. Lately I started going to them for an occasional rubbing and petting and they seemed to be very happy. Yesterday, after quite few hours of playing time with them I heard them saying “she’s coming out of her shell”. I got nervous as I don’t know what that means? Am I going to lose my coat? What shell are they talking about?
Princess Penelope

Dear Princess Penelope,
Feline bullies are difficult to deal with. Do you have your own safe sleeping area, where he cannot intrude upon you? Doe he block your way to the litter tray? Or have your humans got several trays so that you can always get to one without anxiety? The same with food. You should not have to eat in close proximity to him. There should be several food and water locations. 
I am so glad that you are beginning to trust your humans. I hope that you are able to spend some time with them, without the bully being there to intimidate you by staring or blocking. You should train them to feed you cat treats when you go towards them, so that you are getting rewarded for overcoming your fear. Patient humans will be rewarded by your love.
Yours sympathetically
PS.  Celia has taken to taming a feral kitten instead of concentrating her time on serving me. I am fed up. You can see it here.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Gratitude is not a Cattitude. No excuses for poor service.

Dear George,

I’ll try to be short since I’m using my laptop and I don’t know how long the battery will last. We have a major black-out in Toronto and we are “in the dark” J so to speak!

I have two issues to write about; one is about my teeth and one about my human.

But, let me start with my teeth. If you remember I’m a rescue. I lived my first few years on the streets and this took a toll on me. Lately I couldn’t eat and I lost a lot of weight. Thanks God my human is not dumb and she took me for a check up. The vet found out that I had a terrible gum and teeth infection and I couldn’t eat because of the pain. He operated on me and pulled out all my teeth except for the canines.

My Mom panicked that I won’t be able to eat now with no teeth. Au contraire! I eat very well and have no more pain. My picture attached will prove that I’m well and quite rounded (I got back to my 11.5 lbs). George, I hope other cats and their humans will learn from my experience that actually a cat with no teeth can still live a normal life – I’m an indoor cat, that’s true!

The second issue I want to write you about is my human. She spoiled me more then usual when I was sick and in pain. Now, that I’m back to normal she refuses to get up at 4 am and feed me or play with me. She is trying to ignore me. Can you imagine this? Her excuse? She’s too tired and stressed from work and she wants to sleep and rest.

But….how comes that she could do it when I was sick? I have a little trick to make her get up but I can tell she’s very upset. I start scratching the walls in the bedroom.

I don’t know what drives her nuts – the noise or the damaged wall?

Anyway, do you have a better solution? Please help.



Dear Shumba,

Humans do something called gratitude. It is an attitude of mind, an attitude of gratitude, which means that they are pathetically pleased when we pet them. We cats don't do it. Yes, your human has been an excellent house servant. Yes, she rescued you off the street. Yes, she paid the vet bills.

So what? She is only doing her duty.

Duty well done is rare in humans and of course, it needs rewarding with purrs and head rubs. But rewards given too freely, without being contingent on proper human behaviour, are devalued. Training theory is absolutely clear on this point. Never give a reward for nothing.

Punishment, in which I include scratching the wall, also works well on humans though there can be what is known as "fall out". When the punishment is administered, the human becomes aggressive. This is the risk of your very clever punishment device of wall scratching. The technique may need reviewing.

Of course, scratching is an understandable way of you expressing your frustration. Punishment is almost alway an emotional relief for the punisher, which is why both cats and humans purrsist in using it. If your human had her wits about her she would block the wall with furniture and supply a good scratching post. (I have tested several and decided that the Fat Boy post is the best for a good stable scratch). However, being a dumb creature of an inferior species, she may not go for this solution.

Aggressive humans throw stuff, scream and sometimes even hit cats. If you think this may occur at night when you scratch, I suggest you forget punishing her for lack of response and instead try rewarding her for the right response. Wake her up with loud purring in her ears, snuggle into her arms, turn round and round butting her face. She will be charmed into waking.

Mew piteously. Walk towards the door then jump back on to the bed. Start the laborious process of purr and rub all over again until she gets up to feed you. Keep doing this ten or twelve times.

We cats can out purrsist any human.

Love George

PS. Love the fat photo. Your tummy looks gorgeous.

Friday, February 06, 2009

How can I stop my human disturbing my afternoon nap?

Dear George,

This is a serious matter and I need all your help as I’m close to losing my temper!
What could possible be in my human male’s mind to make him think he’s doing me a favor by DISTURBING my afternoon nap?
George, imagine this; I’m in a profound sleep, dreaming sweet dreams, and there he comes making some strange noises like “ciu-ciu-ciu” or “tzi-tzi-tzi” trying to hold me, kiss and pet me! He got this crazy idea that I’m his “daddy’s little girl” (see how well I trained him?) and he can’t live a minute not holding me.
I mean….I don’t mind to be his “daddy’s little girl” BUT ON MY TERMS, not his.
What does he think? Do I wake him up at noon? NO! I wake him up at 4 am – that’s when we, cats, want to play! Do I make some strange noises? No! I lick his face and kiss him. And…what do I get in return? His grumpiness – at 4 am.
Is this fair? Sometimes I even pretend I want to eat, but he won’t get up to serve me.
Some nerves he has! So, dear George, how can I make him stop waking me up at noon and making him play by my rules?

Dear Fluffy,
This is a claw and order issue. You need to administer punishment. Remember, as with all training issues, the punishment or reward must come within a second or two of the human behaviour. They are not bright. If you leave it for half a minute they will not understand that it is linked with their behaviour. So, as soon as he puts a hand on you, swiftly claw him. You will see from the comments below that Oscar Snuggles also uses this technique with skill. Claws work.
Is this kind to humans you ask? I always consider human welfare. Kindness to humans is a feline responsibility and I will have no truck with cruelty. Humans are in our care and it is important that, while as the superior species we put our own interests first, we should never wholly forget theirs. But as I see it, a well-trained human is a happy human. Allowing bad behaviour to go unpunished is simply to allow a good human to turn into a bad one. It is in their own interests to receive swift punishment when their behaviour is over the line.
Punishment works. After you have administered a swift and sharp scratch several times, the male human will think twice about harassing you when you are asleep. You have laid down a boundary for him. You have, by the scratch, communicated to him in clear body language what you require - sleep that is uninterrupted. You will see by his rapid withdrawal of the hand that he has got the message. Because humans are wilful and stupid, it may take two or three punishments before he finally understands, but, I assure you, he will...
As for his unwelcoming attitude at 4am in the morning, we cats require not just obedience but willing and instant obedience. However, this attitude of grumpiness is best dealt with not by punishment but by reward. Purring, nuzzling, and licking are very rewarding to humans. If you have properly become ruler of the household, the humans are in a submissive and appeasing mood state towards you. In the human-cat dyadic, you are top cat. When top cat purrs, humans are excited, pleased, even a little bit overwhelmed with sheer gratitude at our condescension. What we are aiming at is a human attitude of gratitude. Happy humans are grateful for any feline attention or kindness.
So, purr and claw does the trick. It's called operant conditioning and we cats do it all the time to our humans. Only they are so dim, they don't realise.

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.


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