Hello all, I’m back with a new post about the amazing things cats can do! Thanks to Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, who gave me the idea, I was able to explore a cat activity that I didn’t even know existed: Agility. Yes, that’s right – dogs and horses aren’t the only animals who can run obstacle courses! After learning that there is such a thing as rabbit showjumping, I thought nothing would surprise me – but that was before I learned about cat agility. Read on and prepare to be entertained!
Cat agility is a fairly recent thing, the first known competition having been held in 2003. The sport is mainly practiced in the USA. Cats are required to run a course of obstacles in as little time as possible. There are no breed requirements, so any common or garden kitty can participate. That said, there are a few breeds who seem to be especially adept at agility, such as Bengal and Siamese cats. Successful cats are fast, agile (of course), outgoing, clever and playful.
So how do you actually train a cat to run an obstacle course? Those in the know say that cats are trained much in the same way that dogs are, using a combination of treats, toys and clickers. The only difference is that in cat agility competitions, toys such as laser pointers or feathers on a stick are allowed to lure the cat over the obstacles. We all know they would do anything to catch that red dot!
The general impression I got from reading articles about cat agility is that cats are not so much trained to follow instructions, but simply enticed to run after a toy across a familiar course. Although many people would believe training a cat is impossible, I suspect it is just different from training a dog. Cats are not motivated by wanting to please their humans (oh purr-lease!!), but by wanting to have a good time! I suppose that could be anything from snoozing in a patch of sun or enjoying a nice can of tuna to chasing a feather on a stick across an obstacle course, depending on the cat and their current mood.
I once had a cat who retrieved. We used to throw little balls of scrunched-up paper for him, and he used to tear off after them and then bring them back to us. We thought this was extremely entertaining and very doglike. But now I think it had nothing to do with him following our instructions – he just wanted us to throw the ball again. And the best way to get us to do that was to make sure the ball ended up back in our hands. This was the same cat who once got lost for two weeks and then turned up again, who fell from high windows multiple times and just walked back up to the door, and who finally was run over by a car at the age of seven. He was one of a kind. I miss him!
So – if there is such a thing as cat agility competitions, there must also be champions. Who are the stars of cat agility? What are the stories behind those feline athletes?
The most famous agility cat seems to be Twyla Mooner, an Abyssinian female known for her beauty, friendliness and dazzling speed. As a five month old kitten, she broke the speed record by tearing around the course without any previous training whatsoever. Her human, Lisa-Maria Padilla, says Twyla has lightning speed but an ultrashort attention span. Twyla doesn’t do training. She is simply a natural. She arrives, she races and she conquers. (Source: http://agility.cfa.org/twylas-story.shtml). The most recent news about Twyla I could find was a story about her cancer treatment. I am not sure if Twyla survived and if she is still alive and racing today, but I sure hope she is.
Maybe not all cats are suited to compete in agility races, but it is certainly possible for most cats and their humans to enjoy playing together. So why not take this a step further and set up an easy obstacle course in your living room? If you’ve got a toy on a stick or a laser pointer, some upturned chairs and maybe a play tunnel, you’re good to go! According to the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), playing at agility with your cat has a number of benefits, such as busting boredom, overcoming obesity and a closer cat-human bond. Besides, it just might be plain fun! I have never tried it, but seeing how excited our cats get over a simple feather, string or little elastic ball, I can certainly imagine them jumping, crawling and weaving to get their “prey”.
Cautiously, the AAHA also gives a couple of health warnings: Keep an eye out for signs of joint pain, osteoporosis or stress (if you do take your cat to competitions and it is not a positive experience). They also remind us that cats are different from dogs. They can’t sustain more than short bursts of intensive exercise – say, 5 or 10 minutes. Their attention span is also shorter. Fortunately though, you don’t have to worry about making your cat do something they don’t want to do – cats will just walk away and ignore you when they’ve had enough. (Source: https://www.aaha.org)
As an end note, here are some fun videos for you to enjoy!
The adorableness of the last one!!
That was it, I hope you enjoyed this installment of Cats Can Do Anything! 🙂 Please visit us at Pet Zoo Kibbutz Shiller – we’d love to see you!
Tarnegolita & Cats
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Dutch expatriate, mother of 3 boys, freelance translator and pet zoo keeper in a kibbutz in Israel.