Dax, the cat who owns the human who writes this column. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Painful Truth: How to train your human

Cats are hard to train to do tricks. But they’re pretty good at training us.

LAPS is getting set to run a “Kittengarten” program that is to include some tips on teaching cats to do tricks.

I should bring my cat by. His best trick is how well he’s trained his humans.

Before we adopted Dax from the Patti Dale Animal Shelter, I’d never had a pet bigger than a budgie, and that many years ago.

Cats, it turns out, are different.

They’re a lot smarter, for one thing. And they have very clear ideas about how they want their humans to behave.

Dax prefers to get up early.

I have not managed to sleep in past 6:30 a.m. in the last several years. Even though a door separates him from me (lest he stand on my head and knead my face with his paws to wake me up) he makes it clear that it’s time to get moving.

The variability in his morning yowl is impressive. It typically begins with short, demanding notes.

From there he ventures to longer, more pensive cries. Perhaps the humans are deeply asleep and need more reminders?

If I am not already up by then, which I usually am, he can deploy a sad, woe-is-me tone that suggests we’ve abandoned him in a cardboard box in an alley, not left him in a warm room with a cat bed, food, water, toys, a litter box, etc.

Dax doesn’t only believe in negative reinforcement, however. As soon as he’s up in the morning, he turns positive, mashing the side of his face against my leg, hand, or anything else within range.

He purrs quietly but steadily until his food bowl has been replenished.

Play is also important to Dax.

He will often signal that it’s playtime by staring at me, arching his back, and then dancing out of the room as though the floor was hot as a frying pan.

This means it’s time for me to throw his toys around, or dangle string above his head for him to bat at.

He can be harshly critical of my technique.

Throw a stuffed mouse toy in a way that is less than exciting, and he’ll watch it go by, then stare at me until I retrieve it and try again.

He’s also quite vocal about getting fresh water, sitting by the sink and demanding it at high volume until we fill a new bowl.

Even if we literally just filled a bowl for him 20 minutes before that.

Fortunately, turnabout is fair play.

They say cats can’t be trained, but I’ve been teaching Dax that his favourite food is to be served only in his carrying crate.

He’s suspicious of the crate. It takes him in the car to the vet, and while he likes the vet, he’s less than fond of the ride there.

But every day, the food bowl moves closer to the back of the crate, and every day, he’s less worried about diving in and chowing down.

His vet appointment is set for later this month, of course.


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