21 April 2017

Cats and Us Revisited

Henry and one of his
many puffballs.
Welcome back. I don’t know about you, but I know a thing or two about cats. I’ve lived with cats much of my life, blogged repeatedly about cats and even published an e-book about cats. (Yes, No More Pets, Please!, is still available from Amazon and other e-book sellers, and as Trump would say, It’s great!)

I would have predicted where we (i.e., people) rank in a recent study of cat preferences, yet I could not have guessed what I found when I dug deeper.

Cat Preferences
Researchers from Oregon State and Monmouth universities conducted a two-step, free-operant assessment of adult cat preferences, testing both pet and shelter cats.

First, they presented three stimuli simultaneously to each cat to determine which of the three the cat preferred based on the time the cat interacted with each. All three stimuli were from a single category of stimuli. In this way, the researchers determined the top preferences in four categories: human social interaction, food, toy and scent.

Then the researchers presented the four top preferred stimuli simultaneously to each cat. By monitoring the proportion of time spent interacting with the different stimuli, they determined each cat’s single most preferred stimulus.

What was number one? We were! Most pet and shelter cats chose social interaction with humans as the single most preferred stimulus. Food ranked second.

I doubt that would surprise many cat owners. Still, they shouldn’t carry it too far. As I described in a review of an earlier study, adult cats are quite autonomous and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of security and safety (Cats and Us Addendum). Although cats don’t really need us, they apparently put a high premium on social interaction. Oh, don’t fret. I’m sure your cat adores you.

When Henry was left with us for a year, he
preferred interacting with people but amused
himself with whatever was available.
Cat-Human Interaction
When I followed up on the cat preference study researchers, I learned Oregon State University has a Human-Animal Interaction Lab, one focus of which is on cat-human interactions and cognition. The lab offers free classes in training kittens to sit, come when called, go to the mat and stay, walk on a harness and leash, target (teaching a cat to look at or touch a certain part of herself to a hand or other object or area) and do trick behaviors like standing and fetching.

Contemplating those opportunities for kittens to socialize, play and learn and for cat owners to be schooled in dealing with problem behaviors, I searched online further. I found website after website on training cats, specialists who would solve any cat problem and certification programs in cat training and behavior.

Wrap Up
I never realized so much help was available and that a whole industry had evolved beyond academic majors in veterinary science, animal husbandry and animal behavior. Where was I when all this came about? I was clueless about the world of training rather than just living with cats.

Rex liked being carried, cuddled,
brushed and petted, but never for
more than a few minutes.
Of course there was getting the cats to use a litter box and stop shredding the carpet, furniture and curtains. Getting them to come when we called? That would have only been a problem with a sweet, sort of traumatized shelter cat, Rex (Time for Pets--Cats). 

I suppose if we had Rex now, we could call a cat behaviorist, coach, therapist, psychologist, counselor, whisperer and probably others. Or we could just let her be happy, staring at walls and disappearing if anyone were to visit. You never would have seen her, but thanks for stopping by.

Cat preferences study in Behavioural Processes journal:
Oregon State University Human-Animal Interaction Lab kitten training: thehumananimalbond.com/current-studies/kitten-training/
Oregon State University cat training videos: maueyes.com/category/cat-training-videos/

Links to No More Cats, Please! booksellers:

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