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Matthew Sisk: How to train a cat with the click of a button

POSTED: April 16, 2017 1:20 a.m.

It’s a bizarre story, but it’s true. The next time I see Leia, she doesn’t see me.

No, her eyes are fine. But, the next time I see Leia is on YouTube. (Thanks goes to my staff for notifying me.) And I’m not alone. She’s racked up hundreds of views.

At first, I’m concerned it’s a rush of internet traffic interested in the macabre aspect of her intention tremors. The same part of our brain that makes us slow down to look at a traffic accident sometimes encourages us to witness the misfortune of animals as well. But I’m wrong.

Leia has become a minor internet celebrity because she’s learned several tricks, thanks to clicker training. Yes, her wobbles are noticeable, especially if you know what to look for. But the most impressive aspect of her video is she now has chores at home.

But before I get to that, let me offer a little background. Leia’s adoptive family has had a health challenge. The caring lady who brought Leia’s mother in after the cat was hit by a car contracted mononucleosis.

For weeks, she felt horrible and had little to no energy. She wasn’t bed-ridden, but she was stuck on the couch most of the day. Then she stumbled upon online videos showing clicker training for cats.

To sum up, you train the cat to associate an action (a “trick”) with a reward (a treat). Then you use a clicker noise at the same time as giving the treat, until the clicking noise becomes associated with the treat. Eventually, the clicker begins to elicit the “trick.” It works for dogs, cats and even humans.

Jump forward a few months, and Leia is now featured in videos showing her results. They’re impressive.

Leia now sits upon command (and click). She lays down. She fetches. She even goes to her cat bed, slips her head into her Halloween costume and returns to the camera to sit pretty for a photo opportunity.

Leia now knows at least six commands and is learning more. No matter what you’ve heard, cats can be trained.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at mattsisk2003@yahoo.com.



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