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 is actually kind of a catch. This post is the fifth and final in a series — be sure to check out parts one and two (from Kristen) and three and four (from Mikkel) to get the full story.

cat in cubby

All About Trixie: What We Learned

When we started this process, we felt like we knew Trixie pretty well (she’s our cat, after all) but through our conversations with Mikkel, we learned a few important things about her. For instance, we knew that while Trixie was definitely not a scaredy-cat, certain things tended to make her skittish. Mikkel helped us realize that Trixie’s biggest fear trigger is probably hands reaching for her, especially from above.

Learning that Trixie wanted to be near us but that petting — which was our way showing her love and affection — was scary for her was a total game changer. By adjusting the way we interacted with her, we were able to make her far more comfortable with us… and with everything else.

Small Adjustments Get Big Results

I’ll be honest: Putting a stop to the petting was tough. It’s surprisingly hard to resist reaching for your kitty’s soft fur when she comes trotting by. In fact, I caught Jared reaching toward her out of habit on multiple occasions. But the more we resisted the urge to pet her, the more confident Trixie became in our presence. She began spending more and more time near us, and her previously rare nighttime visits to our bedroom the room she’d always visited least in the entire house increased in frequency. And she wasn’t only spending time with me she even began snuggling up with Jared for a few minutes here and there.

In addition to not reaching for Trixie, Jared made a point to adjust his body language when he interacted with her and to reward her with treats as often as possible. He continued to feed her whenever he was home and able to do so, but while he was serving her dinner, he kept his body turned to the side, rather than facing her head-on. Before we knew it, Trixie wasn’t just allowing him a brief touch while he fed her — she began actively seeking his affection while up on her perch near her bowl, even when it wasn’t mealtime. When he’d stop petting her, she’d rub up on him for more.

And it just keeps getting better: One night recently, Jared was laying on his stomach on our bed talking to me and Trixie hopped up and stretched out on his back for a solid five minutes. And! Just yesterday, she climbed up on his lap as he sat in his desk chair and she purred while he petted her. This went on for several minutes, and when she’d had enough, she just left no biting, no running, no reaction. She was just ready to move along. Talk about success!

I don’t know which makes my heart happier seeing him smile as he loves on our kitty or hearing her purr loudly from across the room.

The Benefits of Training

At Mikkel’s recommendation, we also introduced training with a target stick, which our food-motivated feline took to instantly. We used the target stick as well as a clicker and found it provided a really simple (and fun!) way to create positive, predictable interactions between Jared and Trixie. In fact, Trixie even responded to the target stick when she was distracted by things she usually dislikes: During the training period, my parents left their cat, Tebow, with us for a few days. Tebow is probably at the very, very bottom of Trixie’s list of favorite individuals. Like, way below Jared, even. But this time, his visit hardly seemed seem to phase her. Instead, her increased confidence and comfort level was evident as she ignored Tebow and followed the target stick.
Now here’s where things get really interesting: In the midst of all this training, Jared and I (and Trixie and the dogs) moved out of our home and into a new house in a new city. After dealing with the several weeks we spent packing up the only home she’d ever known, Trixie went to stay with my parents (and her nemesis, Tebow) for a week while Jared and I moved into the new house. Given her history, we expected all of this to cause a pretty major setback in her behavior. After all, it was a lot for us to handle, and we’re humans who actually chose to make this move and understood what was happening! How was our scared little kitty going to react to all this change?

I’ll be honest: The initial intro was rough the dogs knocked some very loud items over just as Trixie arrived and she bolted for a hiding spot under a guest bed. We were sure we wouldn’t see her for days. But that evening, she was out and about, exploring the entire house. Her body language was totally relaxed and she was rubbing up on everything she could find. She clearly felt comfortable in our new home from the very first day.

Trixie Loves Jared

Trixie is adjusting well to the new house; she is calm and curious, and she seems extremely confident. On our first night in the house, she spent an hour or two with Jared and me as we slept, and she has actively been seeking affection from both of us. In fact, when I sat down to work this morning, she hung out in my lap for a minute, although as soon as she realized that I was going to be too busy typing to pet her, she decided to take her affections elsewhere and went off to give our dog, Rudi, a bath.

While we haven’t quite convinced Trixie to curl up on Jared’s lap while we catch up on episodes of "Castle," we are seeing real improvement in her interactions with him. It’s great for us, of course Jared and I love having the chance to cuddle her a bit but we’re far more excited about the changes we’re seeing in her, both when she’s spending time with us and when she’s just going about her business and exploring her world.

I never would have guessed that just a few fairly simple changes in our behavior (and a lot of treats) could do so much to bring out this self-assured, poised side of Trixie’s personality. And after coming so far in just a few short weeks, I think we may be ready for a new challenge soon. I wonder if she’d enjoy walking on a leash

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