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Behind the scenes

Here a student volunteer shows her very photogenic guinea pig.

One of the most important aspects of any profession is to continue practicing your skills and to continue working on a variety of techniques. As a result, once or twice a week, the staff along with volunteers gets together for either a presentation or hands on training.

Earlier this week the session consisted of socializing some 2 week old guinea pigs. The guinea pigs were nervous and vocalized to each other at first, but quickly felt comfortable enough to take treats. They need to be handled regularly (every day) to help ensure that they will be well adjusted and comfortable and enjoy being handled when they get adopted out to their new homes.

Once the guinea pigs had had some handling our session focused on free-shaping cats. With free shaping, you’re not allowed to lure or guide the cat in any way. Instead you click and treat for a behavior that you can capture and systematically reward behaviors closer and closer to your goal behavior.

Chewy’s First Training Session

With this cat, Chewy, the goal was to train him to turn his head 90° while simultaneously training him the click treat association. Every time the trainer clicked, she got the food reward up to his face within a second. By the end he understood to turn his head to earn the food reward but he didn’t quite understand the click-treat association yet.  He’ll probably know the click –treat association after one more session.

To see what this behavior looks like, watch Training a Lion – Head Turn.

Dante the Resident Cat Learns to Step into a Box

Dante, the resident cat, already knows the click-treat association and has worked on a head turn, so the goal behavior for him was to shape him to step with all four feet into a box. At first, every time he just looked at the box, the trainer, Rica, clicked and tossed a treat into the box. Once he got the idea that something about the box earned the click-treat and looked frequently, Rica switched the criteria to click-treating only when he stepped towards the box, then only when he stepped with one paw in the box, then 2, then all four. Really by the time he understood to place one paw in the box, she no longer needed to help by tossing the food reward into the box, she could just hand it to him.

Then, she moved the box and repeated part of the process with the box in a new location. At first he didn’t know what to do, but after a few reward for looking towards the box, he remembered the behavior that had worked so well in the other location.

Here he puts two paws in the box and looks to see if that’s good enough. When it isn’t, he places the other two feet into the box too. Then he gets a click and a food reward.




Jonesy and Lincoln patiently await their turn. Sorry Jonesy, you have to wait until later.


What have you trained your cat to do? Share here!


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