Make Use of Behavior Modification

Have trouble clipping your cat's claws, for example? Learn ways to gently accomplish the goal.

Lets face it: Sometimes we need to do something to one of our cats that the cat is just not going to like. No doubt we have her best interests in mind, but she is not likely to recognize that.

You would be right on track should you wish to check a small area of hair loss. Of course you should look into your cats ear if it is being held askew.

What can you do if, when you even begin any of these well-meaning gestures, your cat wiggles and squirms uncontrollably, you can find no bribe that your cat is willing to accept, and the discussion is over before it begins?

Do you just give up? You could. There is nothing wrong with bringing your cat to the animal hospital so that an expert can do the checking for you. In fact, should you discover a questionable physical finding during any home exam, you should certainly seek the advice of your veterinarian.

But in many cases there really is no problem. If only your cat would just sit calmly and allow you to do your check, you could both enjoy a quiet night at home.

The mission is simple: You must teach your unwilling cat to sit still. Is this mission possible? In most cases, yes. But you must proceed very slowly. If you try to rush ahead, you will not succeed.

First, define your ultimate goal. Lets use the ear check as an example. Your ultimate goal would be for your cat to remain stationary long enough for you to get a satisfactory look inside her ear. (Of course, if your cat is acting as though there really is an ear problem, get her to the veterinarian right away.)

Next, for the purpose of behavior modification, you will need to break this lofty goal into smaller components. One, your cat must sit still. Two, she must allow you to touch her ear. And three, she must allow you to hold her ear so that you are able to peek inside.

Remember the Reward!

Finally, since our treatment plan will be based on positive reinforcement, you need to find a suitable reward. Perhaps there is a special meal that is your cats meow. Is there a treat that can lure her from the warmest sunbeam? Does she melt when stroked with a soft brush?

Once you find that reliable reward, begin to offer it in a regular location on a regular basis. I prefer to use a fluffy towel set on a tabletop or kitchen chair as my training area. However, you may do these exercises in any location. In fact, you can even use your lap.

Whichever location you choose, try to schedule a daily lesson for your cat. Always end a session on a positive note, with both you and your cat relaxing together.

Lets say that you would like to teach your cat to sit on your lap for handling. Place a soft towel on your lap to signal that you are about to begin a special kind of interaction.

For the first few lessons, bring out the towel, get your reward ready and encourage your cat to sit with you. She will surely be delighted that you have agreed to provide her with such pleasure.

Before long, your cat will see you sitting with the towel and rush over for her pleasure. Indulge her for a few days. The reward is still free.

Then, move ahead to your next step: the application of gentle restraint. Begin your session with a few minutes of free reward. Then, using a word such as “steady,” gently but firmly restrain your cat in your lap for a few seconds, then give the reward. This “steady” practice should continue for at least one week. In each session, intersperse some short moments of restraint between rewards.

Once gentle restraint is consistently tolerated, add a brief touch to her ear. Dont tickle her, but do be gentle. Again, say “steady,” apply pressure to keep her still, touch her ear, then reward.

Vary the pattern that you use during your ear-touching sessions. Once the touch is well tolerated, you may begin to hold her ear for one or two seconds, then reward. Let her relax, brush or treat her and then repeat the manipulation sequence.

Keep Up the Good Work

From this point on, plan a handling session at least once or twice each week. Be sure that your cat seems to look forward to the attention. And end on a positive note in all cases. Then, when you really need a good look into that ear, you and your cat will be ready.

If there is any aggression during your sessions, seek professional assistance. A behaviorist will be able to customize a behavior modification program for you and your cat. v