The kitten diaries – training a ‘sit’ (part 1)

Prince came from a Siamese cat breeder back in September 2019, when he was 12 weeks old.  Prince is the first pedigree pet we have owned.  We chose the breeder carefully and Prince is an ‘old fashioned’ type Siamese.  This should mean he comes from a larger gene pool than the more modern-look Siamese resulting in correspondingly healthier individuals.  Additionally, our breeder had all her cats and kittens in the house rather than in cages, this is preferable as it allows for them to become used to normal household activites and become socialised to people and other cats.  She also has dogs.  It is important to us that our cat gets along with the dogs.  We wanted a cat that was more interactive than Smog our last cat (see Smog’s post) and Prince is VERY interactive!  When he was still tiny I started to train him some basics.  Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to train cats!

Rather than use a clicker, I have used a little tub of rice and taught him to expect a treat when he hears a ‘shake’.  I decided to do it like this so the dogs wouldn’t suspect that I was clicker training the cat and get crazily jealous!  Unfortunately I lost the film of me ‘conditioning’ the ‘shake’, but essentially, I shook the pot and gave Prince a treat until he expected the treat to follow the shake.  Now he is conditioned to the shake, I am able to ‘shake’ and reward when he does something that I want him to do, making him more likley to repeat the behaviour.  I have found  tiny pieces of chicken make an effective reward for Prince. 

In training Prince, I have followed Jean Donaldson’s ‘drop, stick, push’ programme, whereby we practice 5 repetitions of each stage of training in different locations and with different levels of distraction.  When he is sucessful 5 out of 5 times (in each location and at each level of distraction), we ‘push’ to the next level, if he is sucessful 3-4 times then we ‘stick’ at this level of difficulty (until he becomes sucessful 5 out of 5 times) and if he is sucessfully only 1-3 times, then we ‘drop’ to the previous level of difficulty.  The training the ‘sit’ is split over 9 videos and 3 blog posts.

Now that Prince is reliably sitting when I draw the treat up in front of his nose in a variety of differet locations, I no longer have the food in my hand.  However, I use the same gesture and draw my hand up in front of his nose as if I had.  I still shake and reward when he responds correctly.  The lure gesture becomes the hand signal for ‘sit’.

When introducing the verbal cue for ‘sit’, say ‘sit’ just before giving the hand signal, then ‘shake’ and reward as before.  Looking back at the videos, I probably should have left longer between saying the verbal cue (‘sit’) and doing the hand signal…