Last night, ECPR was fortunate enough to have a booth at Jackson Galaxy’s book signing in Seattle. For those who may be unfamiliar, Jackson is a cat behaviorist who hosts a show on Animal Planet called My Cat From Hell. He is also an author of two books, Catification and his most recent, Catify to Satisfy.
Having attended the Grumpy Cat event a month prior to spread the word about ECPR, I was eager to attend this event along with kennel attendant Bethany and ECPR volunteer Susan.
What we didn’t know beforehand was that Jackson was slated to talk for an hour prior to the signing. He was funny, personable, and educational! He talked about his show and some of the cat “problems” he has encountered, but he made an excellent point that our on-site trainer has often made. Jackson doesn’t view his job as training the pet, but as training the pet-parent.
That was a very important distinction to make! There is a quote I heard a while back that, while humorous, has actually proven to be quite true in my experience and it’s been very helpful to keep in mind when I interact with my own fur-children. “You feed a dog, play with a dog, love a dog, pet a dog, cuddle a dog – and he thinks you are God. You feed a cat, play with a cat, love a cat, pet a cat, cuddle a cat – and he thinks he is God!”
Cats and dogs are distinctly different, as anyone who has been a pet-parent to both can surely attest to! Cats are much more recently “domesticated” than dogs. They are true carnivores that are driven by their instinct and need to hunt. As responsible pet-parents, we can fill that need by PLAY. When we get busy, when we skip daily “playtime,” when we are not fulfilling our cats’ natural instincts and needs, cats get bored. Jackson compared it to being locked inside a house day in and day out with literally nothing to do but watch QVC. We would get bored! We would get restless! That’s when we start to get into trouble. Just ask any parent who has ever raised a teenager! J
Working with a cat to minimize certain behaviors that are undesirable to humans is so much more successful than working against them; i.e. punishing them for behaviors that we might not like because chances are a cat does not and will not understand why he is or she is being “punished.” A cat does not spray in order to drive you crazy. If a cat is spraying, they feel their territory is being threatened and/or compromised. He is not feeling comfortable, he is not feeling confident. What is the best way to deter this behavior? Boost his confidence! Give him attention, but keep in mind that it should be attention on his terms. Play is vital! Stimulate that hunt-kill instinct they have with toys. Let them “catch” the toys. Make him work to capture his “pray.” Give him access to “high” places to scope out his territory, to feel he has a safe place to observe what is happening around him. Cat trees. Shelves. Tables he is allowed (even encouraged) to climb on. Jackson’s rule of thumb with this is that a cat should be able to travel around a room without having to touch his paws to the floor. This mimics a cats instincts to move around from tree to tree in his territory, which makes him feel he has ownership of it. Once he feels safe, and that he has ownership of his territory, a lot of those undesirable behaviors will cease.
If a cat is scratching your furniture, provide him with scratching posts. Encourage his use of them by a few spritzes of catnip spray. Deter his usage of your furniture by lining his favorite “scratching” places with double-sided tape. That way, while you are saying “no” to one scratching place, you are immediately saying “yes” to another. Always follow a “no” with a “yes”!
“No, I would prefer it if you didn’t do that – BUT you can definitely do THIS!”
As a pet-parent of both a dog and two cats as well as a foster mom to motherless litters of kittens, I have personally found Jackson’s advice and insight to be invaluable. In order to live in harmony with cats (especially when you have a small apartment!) I’ve learned that if you pre-emptively provide them with plenty of “yes” situations, you minimize the occurrences of having to say “no.” A month ago, I had my two young cats plus five foster cats, plus my dog, all in one small apartment and the only causality that my décor suffered was one curtain. I followed Jackson’s advice from My Cat from Hell and provided the cats with plenty of “high” places, scratching posts with catnip spray to attract them, and plenty of playtime every night to stimulate their natural instincts and behaviors. Even my hands suffered minimal “kitten attacks” by the simple act of withdrawing my hand immediately upon their attempts to play with it (playing by nipping and grasping, etc) but immediately grabbing a toy that they could interact with in that way, providing them with a quick “yes” directly after a “no.”
At the end of Jackson’s talk, he took a small handful of questions from the audience. I approached the microphone and began by telling him I loved the examples of shelves and things built in houses specifically for cats in his books, but as I rent my apartment and try to avoid making my landlord upset or completely losing my security deposit, what was some advice he had for mimicking those home improvements in my rented place? I was very pleased that his suggestions matched what I had already been doing, providing high places, cat trees, small tables with a cat bed on them etc, again, so they can navigate the room without touching the ground if they please. He explained further how, for a cat, being able to observe his territory makes him feel he has control over it and ownership of it, he feels safe and confident. I definitely plan to keep my apartment “catified” for my two permanent cats as well as more fosters that will inevitably be coming through my doors.
I was especially proud of my latest kittens when they had meet and greets with their future owners. They were confident, curious, playful and cuddly, just like the ideal kitten should be. I am by no means whatsoever a purr-fect pet parent (see what I did there? Wink) but I am very grateful to people like Jackson for helping me understand the needs of cats so that I can provide my own two cats with a loving, stimulating forever home as well as providing my fosters with the best start in life that I can give them. I felt honored that I was able to tell Jackson “thank you” in person last night.
If you have a cat who is displaying a behavior you are struggling with I highly suggest checking out Jackson’s show and his books. I can attest firsthand that his research on cat behavior and his creativity when it comes to catering to the needs of felines goes a long way in providing you with the tools you need to live in harmony with your whiskery companion for the rest of your lives J.