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.

 

 

Training cats and other smorgasbords

Friday, October 20, 2017

An eager crowd heard Dr Georgia talk last night on training cats - before they train us. Earlier Dr Kate spoke on how cats perceive their environment, surprising all with the sharpness of cats' hearing, smell and vision in poor light.
A supper of delicious sandwiches and wraps kept energy levels and interest up and everyone went home with gifts for the felines in their lives and renewed interest in their cats' behaviour.
The text of the talks will appear here shortly.

Search Blog

Recent Posts


Tags

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

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