Mr B Goes to School

Right: Mr B marches over for school!

I enjoy animal training boot camps. It is the ideal training scenario for me and the animal because it is sans the owner’s habits and the training complications involved when working with the owner.

My initial concern over Mr B was related to the behavior modification of his biting and scratching habits.

However, since I’ve been in the area he and I have become buddies.

His interest in me is purely in the fact that he learns things and LIKES learning things. Plus he earns good things like food.

My interest in him is that he is a smart, feisty student.

Most animals are great at behavior modification. They learn how to manipulate (read “train”) their owners to get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

Most pet owners are great at obliging–which is why many pet households experience so many behavior problems.

Humans tend to not recognize when they are rewarding bad behavior and fail to address it until it becomes a problem.

Mr B’s bad habits were entrenched from his previous life of which we know nothing about.

He is the sweetest kitty in the world BUT he is also a very determined character when it comes to getting just what he wants.

I should have known–all my animal students tend to be really smart or really sensitive–or a combination of the two. This is why they are difficult.

Anyway, his mom has owned cats most of her life and provides a great cat household but, like most people, her interpretation of animal behavior and motivation is skewed (at least from the view of an animal trainer or behaviorist).

She is in the majority because most pet owning people don’t think like an animal, they think like a human.

The issue is that animals are not humans and so many of those assumptions, when it comes to behavior and the motivation behind that behavior, are usually incorrect.

That wrong assumption and the actions that follow is why people have animals that behave badly.

Animals living with humans can, and should, have good manners–and they can if they are raised right and then put into school.

Now Mr B has a time clock that is amazingly accurate. Feed him at a certain time and he would be back at the food bowl the next day at that exact time. It doesn’t matter if it was a snack or a feeding–he will be there.

Also, he does not give up.

Mr B will persist until he gets what he wants–so, if his human relents, it just raised the bar to that level.

Do you get that?

Either ignore the behavior until it stops and YOU initiate the behavior at a much later time–or just relent right away.


Because if you delay in acting, when you finally give in, you are rewarding the persistent demand.

Hence the behavior gets worse or more intense.

Get it?

So, what happened was that Mr B arrived knowing he could get what he wanted by being persistent and he had no real inhibitions about the use of his claws and teeth.

Some animals do not learn restraint (and many other things) at a young age and rough behavior, normally mitigated by their siblings or mother, continues since proper behavior skills are not learned if the animal is removed too early from the litter.

We suspect Mr B’s problem was that he lived in a household that allowed rough-housing, that he lacked any restraints to begin with, and so he learned that the behavior was acceptable.

It is not!

When I first came to meet Mr B, I had a 60cc syringe concealed on my person. When he attempted to bite or bat me–squirt.

Guess what? Three bite/bat attempts, three squirts–and he did not do it again.

Now there is a whole discussion related to reprimands from out of the blue (not associated with the person or trainer) but that is a long post in itself for another time.

The point is, he “got” that his rough housing did not work for me, it was not acceptable and so he stopped.

Okay, here is the breakdown:

It was not fun.

It did not get interaction.

The water squirt wasn’t something he liked.

He controlled whether or not he got squirted by adapting his behavior.

Refraining from biting or batting means no squirting.

He learned biting and scratching had a consequence.

That consequence did not hurt him, wasn’t a big fuss, and was effective in stopping the behavior.

Now that the biting and scratching ceased–we could start training.

When he is in a training session Mr B purrs and purrs. This is because he enjoys figuring things out and getting food treats for doing the right thing.

The only consequence in his training now is the time variable.

I use the “window of opportunity” model so if he does not respond within a certain window of time–the session ends.

This means that I am not sitting around waiting for him to decide when he is going to respond–plus it gets him to engage in the training session instead of getting distracted.

There is no real negative–only the loss of opportunity and the chance for more reward.

But Mr B likes opportunity and I’ll share some of the actual training with you next.

Cat Training with Mr B

Above: Ark Lady with New Cat Training Student “Mr B”

Last week I started training a new cat student, referred to here as Mr B.

Many people think that you cannot train cats. That is a bunch of hooey if I have ever heard any.

Most people allow their cats to train them and perhaps that is what creates the big confusion! Any animal can be trained–it just takes work.

My last cat was trained and loved to travel. People were always stunned at his behaviors–but if you watch television for any amount of time, the animals that appear in commercials and any shows are always trained animal actors.

My animal training career had a lot of cat training in the early years–only difference was that they were the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, etc.,).

Mr B has been in my supervision for a couple of months. I put him on a diet as he was morbidly obese–and food reward is very motivating to him–which is not the case with all animals.

Anyway, back to Mr B…

I am using operant conditioning and a clicker to “mark” the behavior.

Marking a behavior is associating a signal with the behavior to indicate that the critter is doing the right thing to get a reward.

You can use anything to “mark” a behavior and lots of people use the word, “good.”

Prior to it meaning anything the signal has to be “charged.”

What does that mean?

Until the clicker is charged, the click is just a noise until it is associated with a primary reinforcer–in this case kitty kibble.

I wanted the clicker to become an IOU (for food reward) which also makes it a “secondary reinforcer.”

So, by association, the secondary reinforcer can be used instead of food in what trainer’s call a variable reinforcement schedule.

Confused? Don’t be, I’ll write on this more later but you can also click into the Animal Training area to explore more in-depth.

Anyway, to “charge” the clicker a trainer just clicks and delivers a treat.


Every animal is different but the first few sessions are just done to create that association. Some animals get it in about 40 clicks while others get it earlier or later.

Next step was to mark the behavior I desired.

In this case, he rushes into the kitchen in expectation at certain times of the day. The problem is that he is overly aggressive and pushy over the food.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you now…it is NOT normal. He draws blood from his owner’s legs by batting or biting.

Anyway, since he is adopted after six months of being confined in a small cage, we suspect his lack of social grace is why he was in lockup for so long.

Now the biting and scratching has been almost completely extinguished–it was the first thing I did before we even started the training program.

The problem is that the owner often fails to take action or actually incites the behavior by her actions…more on this later.

Anyway, back to Mr B’s training…

Once he understood the clicker association, I began to click him for responding to “Out of the Kitchen.”

Imagine my delight when he “got” the process and began purring.

It surprised me since he is my first cat student to purr during training.

In fact, he purrs through every training session.

LOL it is very reinforcing for the trainer!

Now he does not rush into the kitchen but positions himself outside the perimeter in a variety of places.

Why, because it is more reinforcing!

He gets rewarded only outside of the kitchen. We also began varying the places where he was getting fed to extinguish the link between the food bowl location and the obsessive, aggressive behavior.

So, in every training program you have to have a plan. My training goals for Mr B are:

  • keep him out of the kitchen unless called or traveling to another destination,
  • extinguish the obsessive behavior around the food bowl,
  • understand different words and their meanings,
  • sit and wait for the okay to eat,
  • step on a scale for weighing,
  • and stop injuring the owner when she does stupid owner tricks.

Stay tuned for more updates in this series.