Anyone who owns a Bengal cat knows they can be Herculean meowers, and Sophia’s Bengal cat, Dante, was no exception. He could easily hold a meow for at least five minutes. When first adopted, Sophia ignored his meowing and pretended that he didn’t exist, only rewarding him with petting or treats when he was quiet (hint, this works way better if you’ve first spent a day or so rewarding them at least fifty times for sitting quietly first). Dante quickly learned to be quiet but since meowing incessantly is in his genes, a sudden change in environment would occasionally bring his meowing serenades back again.
A pet sitter accidentally locked Dante out of the house while Sophia was away. It took several days to find him, and when he was finally caught, all he wanted to do was escape again. He frequently eyed the door or tried to dart outside while vocalizing his displeasure at his confinement. Sophia would give him food rewards for quiet and calm behaviors such as sitting politely or lying down. By the second day, he was quiet and no longer trying to escape. However, Dante’s meowing habits came back at the next big change in his environment and Sophia had to work once again to change his behavior long term.
In this video, Sophia waited until Dante was quiet, before clicking and treating him. Because he had received many rewards for sitting in the past, he started to choose to sit even when meowing. This made the process easier because when his body was in a calm position, it was easier for him to focus on why he was being rewarded. Sophia had previously done free-shaping sessions, rewarding Dante for looking away. Therefore, he quickly started to offer different behaviors to see which ones would earn a click and reward.
Video of Dante relearning to sit quietly instead of meowing for what he wants:
Dante tended to meow so frequently that Sophia needed to have good timing and reward him as soon as he was quiet, even if just for an instant. To make sure Dante understood he was being rewarded for quiet behavior, Sophia had to quickly reward him for continued quiet by giving treats in rapid succession before he had a chance to meow again.
As Dante started to get “it,” Sophia switched to rewarding for longer intervals of quiet. This technique takes good timing and repetition, but when you get the timing right, cats learn quickly what behaviors earn rewards.
Sophia thought this would take several days and multiple sessions, but she was able to change his behavior in just one session. After randomly rewarding quiet sit behavior throughout the next day, Dante was back to his polite, quiet behavior. His incessant meowing was much easier to interrupt and change in the future.