At ten weeks of age Athena took an upgrade in her cheekiness levels. She’s been pushing her newly established boundaries and because I’m a soft touch I expect she’s discovered that many of those boundaries are quite flexible. New habits include: scampering up my leg whenever she requires food or a cuddle, and playing the bitey game exceptionally hard when it’s time to wake up.
Incidentally, one of the courses I’m teaching on is currently discussing inadvertent training, and I had a great example in front of my eyes on Thursday night.
While we were waiting for Peaky Blinders to come back on the telly, Athena and I were having a good old play. As I’d been engaged in this for a number of hours, I decided to sit down on the sofa and relax. Athena had a good stretch on the rug, and undoubtedly realising that it felt somewhat like her scratching post, had a good scratch.
She looked up at me with surprise, and then walked away, only to reach the edge of the rug and decide to try again.
“Athena, no. *Finger Click*”
Athena went all fluffy and scampered off to the far side of the room to play with a scrunched up bit of paper.
At this point, an idea must have formed in her head because after a moment of this, she ran back to the rug to give it an experimental claw. Predictably, I then gave her into trouble and she ran away, to run right back again. Athena had discovered a new game.
Now a number of things were happening here. My punishment for the rug, the angry voice, clicking fingers noise and occasionally me getting up to distract her were not considered aversive enough to really work for Athena, despite the fact they felt aversive to me (I don’t like giving my baby kitten into trouble). In fact I was inadvertently reinforcing the rug ripping by giving her attention every time she did it, and in this scenario, my attention was actually welcome (e.g. the stimulus I was giving her was actually reinforcing the behaviour rather than punishing it).
As an owner, rather than a scientist, I’ve called this behaviour ‘cheeky’ and ‘gleeful’. And I’m quite happy to use those words for Athena, in the same way I’d use those words for a baby, but I don’t believe there’s any real malice or forethought in her actions. It was simply fun at the time.
But what’s interesting is that to stop the behaviour I had to give her negative punishment (i.e. withdraw my attention when she was ripping the rug) and then positively reinforce a different behaviour at the same time (i.e. I started playing with Mr Ducky on the sofa instead). And she gave it up. While we’ve been testing the rug game since then, she’s been much quicker to give it up when I tell her ‘no’.
All of this has got me thinking about blogging about training, particularly as I’ve seen how my students have been thinking about it on the course. I’ve never found it the most intuitive of subjects . . . but that’s for another time.
Another element of Athena’s development this week has been that she now has free range of the whole flat. I have noticed, coming home from work, suspiciously kitten shaped dents all over the duvet. The other day she was a little reluctant to leave her bed because it was chilly. These little glimpses of the cat she will become are very exciting, and much as I’m enjoying the kitten period, I keep seeing a sleek little cat who’s happy and confident and has never had anything to worry about in her life. I hadn’t always intended to get a kitten, but there’s something to be said for helping to shape the grown up she’ll become.
Oh – and we’re also weaning ourselves off of Royal Canin kitten food and onto Whiskas. The lamb flavour was a huge success with little growls coming from the miniature tiger hunched over her bowl.