You Can Teach an Old Cat New Cat Tricks
By now, ya’ll know, I love cats. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that when someone says, “Why? They’re stupid. You can’t teach them anything.” I instantly boil. They are totally trainable, it just takes time and patience. You can teach cats to do cat tricks. Here’s the exact moment I decided to teach MJ the word “treat.” He already knew “toy.” Watch what happens:
Formerly Neglected and Abused Cats Need a Slower Approach
I haven’t seen signs that MJ was abused. If he received any inappropriate correctional actions, it was nothing to the extend of what Lucy experienced.
Ignoring a pet that is completely infested in fleas, covered in raw skin and sores and is basically scratching herself to death is neglect, which is a form of abuse. So why would I want to teach this type of animal tricks?
Making her think, forcing her to use her brain in different ways, is a way to decrease anxiety. And if there’s one thing Lucy has, it’s buckets of anxiety.
Step 1: Treat, Intro
To gain trust, you need to find out what motivates a cat. Lucy is motivated by food, making my job much, much easier. I used cat treats.
You know you have a cat’s interest when the nose starts moving and you see them actively smelling, which is what Lucy did. She still didn’t want my hands close to her, so I would toss treats across the room, and she’d eat them off the floor. As she was chewing, she would growl, even though no one was near her trying to take her food.
Slowly, over time, I inched closer and closer to her, until I didn’t have to throw them, and I could just put them down in front of her. She started to recognize the treat bag, and was instantly at attention when I’d shake it.
Step 2: Treat, Hand Up
To graduate from the floor, I offered Lucy treats that I’d hold in my fingers, with my palm up. That’s very important, especially for a cat that’s been through any sort of neglect or abuse. Showing your palm with the treat communicates to the cat that you aren’t going to strike, and they are safe with you.
Lucy slowly started taking treats from me, but she’d take them and back up super quick – like she expected something to happen. It was heartbreaking to know she might have been the victim of physical abuse, but I choose, and still chose, to focus on how to help her, and not live in a past I can’t change.
Step 3: Treat, Hand Down
Holding your hand above an aggressive cat’s head takes some cojones, because if they don’t trust you, they will attack. That’s why the first time I did it with Lucy, I was a little nervous. Is she ready?
She was hesitant, and initially, she did was she did during Step 2, she’d snatch it and back up. But over time, she gently took it out of my hand, stopped growling, came back for more, and I realized, Lucy trusted me. Finally.
Here’s a video with a breakdown of the steps:
Mild Tricks for Lucy, a Silly Goosey
Hey, don’t hate – it rhymes.
With trust secured, I started saying, “Nose,” and if she touches my finger with her nose, she gets a treat. I was also able to train her to go up on her hind legs for treats. I’d hold it above her head and keep repeating “Up, up,” until she takes the treat. She’s also gotten to the point where she allows her acupuncturist to give her treats and she will do these simple tricks for them. All progress, and signs of trust.
Is that it?
Nope. Lucy’s story is constantly evolving. Stay tuned for more.
If this is the first time you’re reading a post themed “The Lucy Chronicles,” you aren’t familiar with my wonderful long-term foster and ever-going project, Lucy. I recommend you catch up on previous posts about her severe flea allergy dermatitis and the impact abuse had on her brain to fully understand her challenges.