Appointments: (02) 6251 1444
16-18 Purdue St, Belconnen, ACT
(Parking via Gillott Street)
Mon - Fri: 8:30am - 5:30pm
Saturday: 8:30am - 1:00pm
BOOK ONLINE NOW!

Canberra Cat Vet Blog

How do cats learn?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

 

 Dr Georgia told us at the info night that like us cats are learning all the time.  We often modify our behaviour based on the positive or negative feedback we receive. Cats are the same.

We are also training them all the time.  They take their cues from us – how cats act in the wild or as ferals is different to how they act with us because of the positive and negative feedback we give them. 

A common example of how you might inadvertently teach bad behaviour is when you are working on your computer and your cat walks past. She sees where your attention is and jumps up on your lap and walks across the keyboard.  If you pick up her up and give her a scratch and hug before putting her back on the ground you have just trained your cat to interrupt you on your computer. You have rewarded her with love and attention!

To stop a cat disturbing you while you are on your computer do not interact with her. Ignore her. If she jumps up,  pick her up and put her on the ground without talking, make eye contact or giving any positive attention at all.

So how do cats learn?

The simplest type of learning is habituation.  Cats learn to ignore parts of their environment that have no special consequence for them. For example, a telephone ringing.   

The opposite of habituation is sensitisation.  Repeated exposure to an event leads to an increased reaction or sensitivity.  If objects like nail trimmers, brushes or an asthma puffer are not introduced gradually and sensitively our cats learn to dislike them very quickly!

When we are aware of other more complex learning processes like classical and operant conditioning we can use them to make life easier for our cats and ourselves.

Classical conditioning occurs when a cat finds that a specific event reliably predicts that something else is about to happen.  The most notorious example of this is Pavlov's dogs.   Pavlov would sound a bell and then feed the dogs. The dogs soon learnt that the sound of the bell meant food, if the dogs heard the bell they would start to salivate whether food was presented or not. A common classic conditioning in a cat house hold is the sound of a can opening.

Classic conditioning helps train cats when we reward them with a treat and a verbal cue like “good girl”. Once they associate the phrase and intonation with the good feelings they get with the treat, just hearing “good girl” will conjure up those same feelings.

The third type of learning is operant conditioning.  Operant conditioning is when the consequences of a cat’s own actions influence how it feels and what behaviour it feels like performing next.

There are four types of consequence that trigger operant conditioning. If a cat performs an action it may have a positive or negative outcome, or something positive or negative might end.

Let's apply these principles. It's night time and you want to go to sleep and your cat curls up on your pillow. If you're a light sleeper like Dr Georgia this is not going to work. This is the story Dr Georgia told.

Alley Cat has learnt that at night when the night light is on and I am reading  she is allowed to nap next to me.  As soon as the light goes out and I roll over she gets up and moves to the blanket at the end of the bed.  She stays there until my alarm goes off in the morning.  When she hears this she is straight up for a cuddle before it is time to get up. Alley Cat learnt with operant and classic conditioning to leave my pillow at night and when it was permissible to return.

Every time the light went out and I rolled over, wriggled and moved her off the bed, I said “no”.  Something positive stopped – feeling relaxed and being patted - and something negative started as she was shuffled off the bed. I did this every night without fail , even when I was fed up and exhausted. Alley then looked for an alternative and chose the woollen blanket I'd placed at the end of the bed. She settled down there and presto! something negative stopped ie the wriggling and pushing her away, and something positive started, the comfy blanket where she could sleep. The accompanying phrase “good girl” reinforced the operant conditioning with classical conditioning so now she sees the light go off , hears "good girl" and she goes to the blanket at the foot of the bed.

 

 


Search Blog

Recent Posts


Tags

string urine spray worms competition blood pressure dry food kittens brown snake goodbye lick feline AIDS bed wet litter furball radioactive iodine enclosure signs of pain blind IBD thiamine deficiency weight blocked cat rough play best clinic pain hiding spraying eye rigid head love salivation information night cage snake herpesvirus snuffles mass weight control dymadon teeth kibble FORLS cat containment face rub vaccination desexing appointment pain relief FIV corneal ulcer liver dilated pupils euthanasia stiff open night bladder stones opening hours Hill's Metabolic poison depomedrol christmas wobbles vaccine allergy annual check sense of smell introduce poisoning cat runny nose introducing hyperactive discount ulcers scratching post panamax antiviral Canberra Cat Vet snakebite urinating on curtains or carpet snuffle diuretics introductions introduction lilies urine spraying pet pica weight loss cta fight AIDS ribbon sick cat health check restless adipokines sick joints home visit grooming decision to euthanase obesity off food litter box cat friendly virus wool holes in teeth physical activity biopsy urination best vet indoor cats new kitten photo competition lymphoma examination aerokat pancreatitis straining activity senior twitching dementia paralysed kidney disease catoberfest sudden blindness eye ulcer RSPCA pet meat tradesmen snakes prednisolone constipation cortisone painful petting cat hunter hypertension pred scratch hypertrophic cardiomyopathy tablet intestine kitten plaque echocardiography plants collapse aggressive urinating outside litter hunters fireworks changed noisy breathing enteritis thirsty yowling castration fever calicivirus cystitis fleas bladder new cat head New Year's Eve comfortis feline enteritis inflammatory bowel disease aggression hole cat worms cryptococcosis slow heart disease sore whiskers tapeworm sensitive stomach nose scabs mouth breathing award paracetamol snot mince tooth hearing lilly panleukopenia poisons exercise unsociable abscess insulin touch thyroid vet visit ACT best cat clinic behaviour sensitive vision tartar rolls training desex body language cat enclosures furballs old tumour ulcer vocal fat itchy foreign body headache conflict skinny attack blockage eye infection poisonous plants panleukopaenia cat enclosure lame litter drinking a lot hard faeces kidney blood test gifts panadol learning cognitive dysfunction lump xylitol fits massage cat behaviour new year hairball snake bite kitten deaths grass dental high blood pressure sore ears bump on heat bite arthritis asthma flu fluid pills home unwell visit abscess,cat fight worming roundworm cat flu cranky microchip socialisation mycoplasma polish pet insurance feliway sun scratching toxic meows a lot hungry gasping fight eyes aspirin hunting lily toxins pain killer spey hospital holes train change cough dental check enemies when to go to vet not eating sneeze pill revolution jumping holiday moving hunched over flea treatment cat vet checkup renal disease paralysis best veterinarian stare into space holidays feline herpesvirus open day return home cat history African wild cat cancer urinating advantage diet blood in urine crytococcosus vomiting behaviour change breeder nails groom vomit seizures drinking more client night diarrhoea computer overweight stress Canberra rash strange behaviour scale marking sore eyes senses anxiety skin cancer blindness tick diabetes outdoor cat free cat fight runny eyes antibiotics kitten play anaemia birthday rub mental health of cats pheromone check-up allergy, breathing difficult permethrin carrier odour paralysis tick blood prey kidneys food puzzles heaing ulcerated nose panadeine house call poisonous in season old cat dental treatment blue chlamydia skin flea prevention fear hyperthyroidism obese heavy breathing sucking wool fabric appetite bad breath

Archive

A calm, quiet haven for cats and their carers staffed by experienced, cat loving vets and nurses.

Canberra Cat Vet 16-18 Purdue St Belconnen ACT 2617 (parking off Gillott Street) Phone: (02) 6251-1444

Get Directions