Teaching My Cat to Love My Husband — Step 2
Vetstreet contributing editor Kristen Seymour’s husband, Jared, loves cats. Unfortunately, their cat, Trixie, doesn’t care much for Jared — so they’ve enlisted trainer Mikkel Becker to help them teach Trixie that Jared’s actually kind of a catch. This post is the second in a series — you can check out part one here. And be sure to follow along for the next month as Mikkel and Kristen report back on their progress.
As the cat guy in our house, Jared was a little bummed that Trixie wanted nothing to do with him. So we turned to Vetstreet resident trainer Mikkel Becker for some help in what we are calling Operation: Teach Trixie to Love Jared. Mikkel was happy to help, and Jared and I were anxious to put a plan in place and get the kitty snuggles going.
Changing the Routine
Based on our overall goal of teaching Trixie to love (or at least like) Jared, Mikkel shared a few thoughts with us up front. She suggested that we have Jared feed Trixie all of her meals, something we had been doing since we brought her home. Mikkel recommended that we make one significant change to our current routine, though: She told Jared to give Trixie her food and immediately walk away. The goal is to turn every interaction into a cat party, with all the things she likes and nothing she doesn’t. Having him approach Trixie specifically to deliver a reward (her meal) and then walk away without any other unwanted or uninvited interaction shows her that good things will happen when he comes near her. Eventually, as she begins to show signs of eager expectation and increased confidence, he can start to take a little more time between serving her food and leaving her alone.
Mikkel also recommended that Jared always use sideways body language when he approaches her to minimize any sense Trixie may have that he’s threatening her. Between the cat parties at mealtime and the changes in Jared’s posture, we’re already seeing improvements; we can’t wait to implement additional ideas and training techniques to help Trixie continue to bond with Jared.
Getting More Information About Trixie
But before she could suggest specific changes to our routine or behavior, Mikkel needed more information about the cat, the human and the environment. As a starting place, she sent us a set of questions to answer. It was fascinating to see what information Mikkel was seeking — though we’d certainly considered things like how Trixie’s history with males might be affecting her behavior and how to best use rewards to motivate her, we hadn’t given much thought at all to whether certain times of day might be a factor in her behavior or how Jared’s body language might bother her. The questions were a good way to start thinking about how we could train Trixie to love Jared.
Q. What’s Trixie’s history? Was she ever around males?
A. This is really tough for us to answer; Trixie was a stray adult cat with kittens when she was rescued, so we don’t really know about her history with people before she arrived at the shelter, where the staff was largely composed of women.
Q. What has Trixie’s relationship with other significant people in your life been like? Is she fearful of most people or fairly friendly?
A. She’s not fearful in general — she’s not exactly a cuddly lap cat, but she’s friendly and somewhat affectionate — and she’s friendlier with basically every significant person in our life than she is with Jared, including other men. She’ll get on their laps and rub up on them, which she won’t do with him. And she’s very vocal with everyone, including Jared, especially when there’s the possibility of food. She’s also not afraid of our two dogs; she rubs up against both of them and will give one of them tongue baths if she’s in the mood.
Q. What is her day like? Does she have any preferred hangout places? How much and what kind of activity does she get?
A. Jared and I both work from home, although Jared travels frequently, and Trixie will hang out on her cat tree in our office during the day. She also spends time in the living room, especially on the couch (the one we’re not sitting on, of course) or in the kitchen. She has another cat tree on our screened-in back porch; when the dogs go outside to play, she watches from there or walks around on the porch. She sleeps quite a bit — she will nap in just about any sunbeam she finds — although in the mornings and evenings, she tends to follow the dogs and me around, I suspect, in search of food. At night, we often try for a play session before bed, although she’s not always into it.
Q. How does Trixie behave around Jared — does she run? Hide? Aggress? Avoid?
A. Trixie mostly avoids when it comes to Jared. She will occasionally walk away or crawl under the bed when he comes into the room, but she does not generally hide and very rarely aggresses.
Q. Are there certain movements or behaviors of Jared’s that seem to concern Trixie?
A. Jared has some allergies that make him cough, and she definitely doesn’t like that, so it’s possible that’s a factor. The coughing is unpredictable and could certainly be alarming to her.
Q. Are there certain times of the day or certain places in the house that seem worse than others?
A. The time of day doesn’t seem to affect her too much, although she is more open to Jared touching her if it is both near mealtime and she’s on her perch, where she’s fed. She’s definitely more comfortable (with him and in general) when she’s up high, either on her cat tree or on the back of the sofa.
Q. What else does Trixie like to do? Does she have any favorite treats? Games? Activities? Does she enjoy petting?
A. She likes to rabbit kick and sometimes she gets really into chasing wand toys for a minute or two. And she really likes to eat — food, treats, whatever. This is new within the last six months; she was very picky before that, but now she seems to have decided we’re not trying to poison her. Petting is something she enjoys but only in specific parts of the house and only when she wants it to happen. Occasionally, she’ll climb into my lap (which is also new within the last six months or so), but even then, the petting needs to be minimal or she’s out of there.
Mikkel’s customized suggestions will be laid out in the next installment of this series: Teaching My Cat to Love My Husband — Step 3. If you’re dealing with a similar issue, give the cat party and body language recommendations a try! They’re simple changes to make and so far have been quite effective.
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