Q: We just adopted a loveable 1-year-old deaf white cat from our son. He loves high places but he breaks plates and other valuables when he climbs up on our cabinets. Being deaf, how do we communicate with him and train him?
A: Your cat is a typical rambunctious 1-year-old who loves to climb and explore everything in his world. Even though he is deaf, he can be trained and redirected to climb on cat-centric furniture. Start by providing him with plenty of acceptable tall climbing opportunities. These include tall cat furniture, perches and high shelves. Simultaneously, either place your valuables in safe areas or use products like Museum Putty or Museum Gel to secure the breakables in place. Another option is to make the cabinets unpleasant places for him to climb, by placing placemats on them that have double-sided tape on one side. Position the placemats with the tape facing up. Cats don’t like the feel of the tape on their feet. If you are going to go that route, it is very important that you provide your youngster with alternative tall furniture and high places that are more appealing to climb than the cabinets.
Deaf cats can be taught behaviors through clicker training, a positive-reinforcement training system. One of the main differences between clicker-training a hearing-impaired cat and a cat who can hear is the device that is used to communicate with the cat. Cats who hear usually are trained with the aid of a clicker, a device that makes a consistent clicking sound each time it’s activated. A hearing-impaired cat can be trained through the flash from a pen light or flashlight instead of a device that makes a noise.
Another difference between training hearing-impaired cats and cats who can hear is that hand signals are used to cue deaf cats to perform a behavior; cats who hear respond to voice cues.
The first step in clicker training is to pair the device with something, like food, that the cat adores. Flash the light once in front of the cat and then immediately toss him a coveted treat. Wait for him to finish the treat and look back up at you before repeating the flash and treat. It may take 5-15 flashes and treats until the cat starts associating something positive with the light flash. When using a device such as a pen light be careful that the light isn’t aimed toward the cat’s face.
After your cat associates the food with the flash from the pen light, you can teach him new behaviors and tricks such as sitting, shaking hands, playing dead and others. Clicker training is also very effective for training cats to scratch the appropriate furniture and for stopping cats from counter-surfing and door-darting.