RSPCA staff teach clever cat Justice to learn to love people again through clicker training
Staff at the RSPCA Sheffield branch have been clicker training a special seven-year-old cat to do tricks in order to build his confidence.
Justice was brought into RSPCA care after he was found straying in an awful condition in Dinnington, South Yorkshire in June this year (2017). He had large wounds on both sides of his face caused by abscesses. The skin around both wounds had died which means it wouldn’t have healed on its own.
It took weeks of pain relief and antibiotics to help him slowly get better and during this time Justice found being in the cattery and being around people quite stressful. He was a nervous cat who didn’t trust humans so he would hiss and lash out when he felt frightened.
Katie Osborn, animal care assistant at the Sheffield Animal Centre, started clicker training Justice to encourage him to hide less and become more used to people.
He can now sit and touch with his paw on command.
She said: “Justice has been with us for about six months now. It took us a little while to gain his trust enough to put him up for adoption. As he started to come out of his shell a little, and we could spend more time with him we noticed that Justice seemed uncomfortable when moving. An x-ray showed that he has arthritis and sclerosis in his hips. He has been on pain relief for this and is much happier now but he will need to stay on medication for the rest of his life to keep him happy and comfortable.
“As soon as we had him on the pain killers everything was much easier, he can still be flighty but knowing he can get away quicker now his arthritis is being treated has made him more relaxed.
“That was when the clicker training really took off. He was still very worried about being touched but clicker training with a red ball on a target to encourage him to touch on command or sit on a mark has really worked. He knows what to expect when we are clicker training so he feels more comfortable. Once you’ve got the first command mastered then you can build from there. I didn’t expect him to come as far as he did, now he’s much more friendly. It’s brought him out of his shell so much that he will now headbutt my hand for strokes!”
Justice who came into RSPCA care on June 23 has been looking for a home for about two months and so far hasn’t had much interest.
Katie added: “He was one of our most withdrawn cats and without clicker training we wouldn’t have been able to see what a big personality he has. He loves people, as it turns out. He was just fearful before.”
Justice can now sit on a mark (a red towel), turn in a circle, stand on his back legs for a tummy check and he is also learning to put himself in the cat carrier and ring a bell.
“Clicker training can help keep Justice’s mind active and encourage him to bond with humans. It’s also a great way to make life much easier, for instance when you need to take the cat to the vets. Justice is an extremely intelligent cat.” Katie explained. “He got the hang of the target trainer in about ten minutes which is brilliant! As he has FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus, similar to HIV in humans) he will need to be an indoor cat or have access to an enclosed garden so clicker training could provide a valuable way to keep him stimulated and happy.”
Training should be fun for both you and your cat and can help to build your relationship.
Cats may not need to learn how to ‘sit’ or walk on a lead like dogs but there are some very useful behaviours owners can teach their cat, such as to come to you when called, or to get inside their cat carrier for a vet visit. This can make the whole experience a lot less stressful for the cat – and the owner!
Learning new behaviours is also an excellent form of physical and mental exercise and teaching a few tricks like giving a paw or rolling over can be a great way to get them thinking and moving.
All training should be reward based which will motivate them to show this particular behaviour again. This may be in the form of a chin or head rub or dried fish or small pieces of chicken. The key is to choose a reward that your cat will really enjoy. The treat should be small – about half the size of a fingernail and will count towards your kitty’s daily food intake.
Train your cat at a time when they are most active and awake in a room where they feel comfortable. Practice makes perfect and training can take time so don’t expect results immediately. It’s also a good idea to break up training into short but regular sessions to keep their attention.
For further tips watch the video below:
If you would like to rehome Justice contact the RSPCA Sheffield branch on 01142 898050.