Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Kitties

The Black one is Pekoe and the Orange Tabby is Oolong

Well for reasons that don't really have a place on this blog, I've been at my parents house a lot recently and have been unable to bring my pup. I also have huge gaps of down time and I'm going through some training withdrawal as well as a little boredom. But for every problem there is a solution! In this case my parents two cats, Pekoe and Oolong (see the picture above).

Training cats is exactly the same as training dogs with a few amendments. They get frustrated quicker. Which means training sessions NEED to be short! Really short, a few repetitions and that is it! They also keep you honest in the shaping process. If you move too fast, they get irritated and the whole training session is kaput! The other thing is that they can handle absolutely NO physical manpulation. If I nudged Pekoe ever so slightly to get him to a better position he'd yowl at me and dart off. End of training session, and ending on a bad note is not exactly the best thing. So it really keeps you on the straight and narrow. My obedience instructor likes to tell us "Every time you position your dog, you are making him stupider". So I guess I've learned that training cats is a great way to break bad dog training habits.

So without further ado, a video of what they've learned. Sit, I've worked on earlier, but the rest of the tricks were trained in about a week, with maybe two to three, one to three minute training sessions a day, give or take. Also, I recorded this video using my dads flip camera (I have to get myself one of those), and holding treats in one hand and trying to give hand cues with the other. So you'll have to forgive the shoddy camera work. (Also this was my first real dive into the world of imovie! Very exciting).

Now lets get analytical:

Sit was taught entirely with shaping and they got this really quickly. I think that's always true with the first thing animals are trained to do. It's both of their defaults now, though with Oolong down is getting there. I think mostly because he must sit on the way to a down so if he sits he gets the treat, if he waits a bit and realizes he hasn't gotten the treat he goes into the down. This puts in doubt whether he really understands the commands so I'll need to keep an eye on it. This can be fixed by waiting a count or two after the command sit to make sure he doesn't slip to a down and only reward him for maintaining the sit.

Both the sit and the down are verbal commands. I have found that it is much more difficult to teach an animal to respond to verbal commands than to hand signals. I guess they don't listen to us much. There is an interesting discussion! Any ideas on why verbal commands take me longer to train then hand signals?

The spin, high five and 'get my hand' command were all taught with luring and then fading out the treat VERY quickly at the beginning of the process (As a rule, 3 times with the treat then never again with a treat that training session). But this means that its difficult for me to phase out the hand command.

Two at a Time:

One of the biggest issues I've had while training the two cats is the fact that when I start a training session with one, the other isn't far behind. Training two animals at once is not the best and there are many challenges. First of all, its difficult to 'mark' one animal without marking an unwanted behavior in the other animal. Also, I can't keep prefect track of both animals at once, this means I may miss desired behaviors I might want to reward. Also, I only have two hands which means fewer treats per time, less frequent rewards mean higher levels of frustration. Not very good for training cats.

Now with a dog, there would be an easy solution to this. I'd tell one dog to go to his crate (Crate games are amazing!) while training the other and then call the crated dog out after the training session. Well my parents cats aren't crate trained (They also have no it's your choice so I had to be very careful where I kept the treats! Cats are thieves). So I tried many solutions, none of which really worked. I tried to isolate the cat I wanted to train (I took Pekoe into my room and closed the door). He was only able to get one repetition in before becoming preoccupied with the closed door. A little stressed about being trapped I think but he could also hear his brother Oolong throwing an absolute tantrum on the other side of the door. Have I mentioned how completely food motivated these cats are? I tried isolating the cat that wasn't being trained but this resulted in the same tantrum (no need to stress them out when this was suppose to be fun). In the end the best solution seemed to be 50% management and 50% just sucking it up. I found that it was much easier to teach them different things at the same time. Teaching them the same trick was troublesome because if one cat picked it up faster (we all learn at our own speeds) the other cat would get frustrated faster. Watching the person next to you get treat after treat while you are getting nothing is difficult (This was especially tough on Pekoe, Oolong is a bright little cat). Somehow if they were both working on different skills there seemed to be less jealousy (I'm not sure why though.)

Jealousy can be a good thing in training though as it can increase motivation and that was defiantly true for these two.

Clicker Blues:

Now I went to PetSmart and got a clicker at the beginning of this week because I thought it would make training easier. When I got home I did the "introducing the clicker exercise" where I clicked and then gave both cats a treat. They both did very well with this... until I actually started using it for training. Then Pekoe decided the sound of the clicking was scary and would dart off every time he heard this. This was sort of a blessing in disguise because it gave me more time to work with Oolong individually, which is why Oolong knows down and Pekoe doesn't.

Oolong was really understaning the shaping process by the end but Pekoe never really got the hang of it. Pekoe understands luring/follow the treat, which seems to still be a bit of a foreign concept to Oolong (Which means Oolong is using his brain more, which is great!).

So in conclusion it was an interesting experience and a lot of fun. I can't wait to do more whenever I end up home without the pup. (As the cats go into lock down mode when he's here. Which is understandable. More on Gaius and cats later).

No comments: