What was your inspiration behind the book?
The millions of cats who needlessly lose their lives or end up in shelters because of fixable behavior problems are the primary reason I wrote this book. Unfortunately, many people incorrectly assume that cats can’t be trained, or that their unwanted behaviors can’t be stopped. This book had to be written to change people’s perceptions about cats.
Why do you encourage pet owners to change unwanted cat behaviors through positive reinforcement, as opposed to fear-based training?
This question deserves a book of its own. Fear-based training and punishment can escalate unwanted behaviors or cause other behaviors. These methods commonly result in cats being stressed. When cats are stressed, they are more apt to engage in instinctual behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, aggression or other fear-based behaviors. Punishment can also break the bonds between the cat and her human. Positive reinforcement methods humanely and effectively change behavior while strengthening the bonds between the cat and the trainer. Cats that are trained through clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods typically aren’t stressed because they are reinforced and rewarded for good behaviors.
Tell us about your first experience with clicker training.
I don’t remember when I first tried clicker training. I think it was about 10-12 years ago. At the time, I wasn’t very successful since I didn’t fully understand the underlying concepts that make clicker training so effective. My initial mistakes were trying to clicker train immediately after the cats had eaten and clicker training amongst distractions.
Tell us about a troublesome behavior that your cat had, and how you addressed it with reward-based training.
My Norwegian Forest Cat, Kingsley, used to aggressively stalk and chase Maulee, my 16-year-old Bengal. Clicker training worked perfectly for stopping the aggression. Here’s how I addressed it: the first step was to reinforce the Weegie with a click and a treat whenever he looked towards Maulee without aggression. After a little work, they were able to peacefully co-exist in the same room. Of course, both cats were always reinforced with a click and a treat. The next step was working both cats together. Since each cat has their own stool, and sitting and staying are large parts of their clicker vocabulary, I was able to work with both cats simultaneously. By changing the negative associations the cats originally had with each other to a more positive experience, the aggression faded and finally ceased all together.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Writing was very difficult when my dad died. He died just as I was completing the first draft of the book. It took a lot of discipline for me to block the world out and concentrate on the book. I dedicated the book to him.
What was the most rewarding part of writing the book?
Learning. There is something about writing a book that solidifies ideas and also pushes thought processes. I love learning. The other rewarding part was being able to ask questions and get feedback from the best animal behaviorists and trainers around.
What is your writing process?
I have to begin writing early in the morning. That’s when I am the most creative and productive. I usually wake up at 5 a.m., feed the cats and then start writing by 6 a.m. Typically, there are a couple of cats in attendance on each side of my monitor while another is flaked out in my lap. The cats make it easy and comfortable to write and are a mandatory part of my writing process.
Tell us about your cats.
I live with Bengals, a Savannah and a Norwegian Forest Cat. My oldest cat is Maulee, a 16-year-old Bengal female. All my cats, except my Savannah, are rescues. And all but the Savannah are special needs kitties. One of my Bengals, Asia, is FIV+; the other cats came to me with a variety of health and behavior challenges which have been resolved. My cats are all clicker trained.
Have you written any other books?
Do your pets influence your writing?
Absolutely. In fact my book, “CAT FANCY’s Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors through Positive Reinforcement,” has vignettes about my cats peppered throughout it. The reader will meet Sudan, Maulee, Jinniyha and Asia, and will read about their special behaviors.