Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shaping cat behavior or How to get the new kitty out from under the bed

Cali arrived on Thursday and promptly made herself at home under the bed in the office bedroom. That's normal cat behavior, so no big deal. But I really wanted her out from under the bed sooner rather than later. I heeded the good advice of experienced breeders to let her have the space to hide until she was comfortable enough to come out. I also made plans to apply some positive reinforcement to encourage her to join the family. Friday, she stayed under the bed while I periodically went up to visit her. Each time I would pull her out from under the bed with no objections from her. She loved to snuggle and visit. When I left, she headed back under the bed. 

Now here is a key point you have to remember about shaping animal behavior using positive reinforcement. The animal decides what is reinforcing, not you. Heath is easy. He loves food. Even crunchy Greenie treats are very reinforcing for him. The opportunity to play with toys is a good reward (reinforcement) for many cats. It was quickly apparent to me that one of Cali's top rewards is cuddling and be loved on. Not many cats necessarily find this rewarding, but she loves it! I put that information to work. By Friday evening she was very comfortable in her zone, the office bedroom. I began bringing her down to the family room to sit on my lap for cuddles. As soon as she wanted to leave I would return her to her safe zone in the office. I decreed that from then on all petting and loving would occur outside the office. She was comfortable there. I wanted to reward her for choosing to be in other areas of the house. Friday night she came over the baby gate to explore while the household was sleeping. On Saturday her comfort zone had expanded to include the entire upstairs. She spent a lot of the day at the top of the stairs or on the stairs where she has a good view of  most of the main floor of the house. She spent most the night on our bed! She only returned upstairs when the dogs started moving in the morning. Today was the same. She likes the top of the stairs. This is great progress. She is still a little uncomfortable with the level of noise in the house and the dogs, but she is coming around quickly. I also took all food out of the office today and fed her in a main floor bathroom. All good things now happen in the main parts of the house. 

Cali and Heath met up on Saturday and for now I will just share that it is going well. I'll save the story of their meeting for Tuesday. Cali was pretty funny! Heath is doing really well in his recovery from his VBO surgery. He has no neurological side effects which is great! We are focusing on keeping him from being too active just yet, because he really is feeling good. 

You call this positive reinforcement? I just call it kitty fun!

Of course I'm just as beautiful as my brother!

Don't bother me. I'm following doctor's orders to rest and recover. 

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