Kitten School has not just been fun and party tricks. Kitten School helped me save Brie’s life because it gave him fundamental skills that I could rely on to teach him to accept an inhaler in less than 24 hours. When I posted on Facebook that Brie and I had managed this, much more experienced trainers asked me to video and to write up what I did. (This will be published soon, and I will be sure to share the link!) A trainer I respect a lot wanted to show video of Brie getting his “puff” in her presentation at a conference for veterinary professionals. Talk about positive reinforcement!
The condition I set myself when I adopted the Cheeses two years ago was that we would give back to the community that has so generously supported them. Brie is clearly helping other kitties’ people learn to use inhalers and giving vets confidence that they could prescribe them. (Our veterinarian told me that although vet schools introduce inhalers, most vets rarely prescribe them because animal guardians don’t think they can deliver the treatment.) Perhaps, we could build on this work, I thought.
Shortly after Brie and I started inhaler treatments, I attended a force free training workshop with expert trainer Barbara Heidenreich at the San Antonio Zoo. Two days of lectures, videos, and demonstrations of training with the intention of teaching elephants, big cats, wild pigs, fish, and any other animal you can imagine, to participate voluntarily in their medical care made it clear that I was on the right track.
Hands on practice training zoo animals confirmed it. If a tiger can present her paw for injections and blood draws, domestic kitties can be partners in their medical care too. The Cheeses and I can model and teach techniques to help make going to the vet less stressful for cats, easier for the humans who pack them up and take them to the clinic, and for the vet staff too. We can help cat guardians deliver continuing treatments if necessary.
We will be adding regular posts about training that focus on finding the path of least stress that leads to the veterinarian. These “Training Tuesdays” will feature videos, descriptions of what we did to make all things veterinary less scary for cats and humans. We’re starting with the first set of bottlenecks for cats: going in the carrier and riding to the vet.
I’m starting with a challenge: help Meggy feel better in the carrier and in the car. She visited our vet this week (now that Brie is stabilized, I can give more attention to everyone else as well), providing a great opportunity for a “before” video. Keep in mind that it takes about 30 minutes to drive to our vet. That’s 10 times as long as the video, with a similar soundtrack.
We shot this video in the parking lot at the clinic before we went inside. She’s a little less vocal when the car is stationary, but she’s still unhappy.
The first step in her training is going into the carrier voluntarily. We have started to shape her behavior by bringing out the carrier (with the door off) and some of her favorite treats. She gets a small treat when she heads toward the door of the carrier and a bigger treat when she goes inside. I use a clicker that makes a fairly quiet sound, but a clicker isn’t necessary. A voice marker (like “good girl”) works just fine, especially when she gets her treat almost immediately after doing what I want her to. I don’t make any attempt to keep her in the carrier; she’s learning that good things can happen in there. She’s also learning that the carrier isn’t The Hotel California; when she decides to check out, she can leave.
Next week (actually on Tuesday!) I’ll report on our progress.