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COMING SOON - A Wonderful ebook on how to habituate and socialise your kittens to get the Best Kitten ever!
An introduction to some very useful Information for all cat lovers.
All the topics covered below are very involved and take a lot of study to be able to use in Feline behaviour so this is just an introduction to these subjects that I think are important but also very interesting. Having done almost 2 yrs of studying this subject I find that I have a passion for it and love nothing better than to share.
Did you know that your cat has instincts that go back over 40 million years? To show you just how amazing evolution can be its fun to know that both cats and dogs have a common ancestor called Cimolestes. Cimolestes was around on the planet 60-70 million years ago. When you think of this it becomes easier to understand how strongly evolution plays its part in the behaviour our of beloved Felines. It’s really interesting to see how different cats and dogs are in their behaviours today and yet they both came from a squirrel like creature that was arboreal - meaning tree-dwelling. It’s also important to take into account that whilst the Canine side of the family has been fully domesticated for around 10,000yrs Felines are only partially domesticated and have only been so for around 3,000 odd yrs, they have of course been around humans for longer but we’re talking about domestication here. So when you look at it that’s really just a drop in the ocean compared to all that evolution behind them and it’s no wonder that they are often misunderstood.
Another aspect of Feline evolution that is very important to know is that they are both predator and prey in their natures, which brings on issues that don’t affect our other domesticated animals. This means that they have to have both sets of skills and one of their most known traits is their strategy of avoidance, a very handy skill for a prey animal that has allowed them to evolve so successfully.
Another topic that is vital in understanding cat behaviour is their physiology. Basically this is a subcategory of Biology and concerns the functioning of the mechanical, physical and biochemical systems of an animal. Communication between the different systems in the body are done both chemically and electrically and homeostasis can only be achieved by the correct functioning of these systems. The Endocrine and nervous systems are the ones mostly dealt with here. Homeostasis is all about maintaining a stable and constant condition for your cat to be able to perform all their normal behaviours. Cats are well known to hide their stress and it’s not usually till they start soiling or marking that humans notice that something isn’t right. Unfortunately by this time the cat is certainly not in homeostasis and the issues can range from the simple to the very involved so a good Feline Behaviourist with a scientific background is a must at this point. The brain is very involved in these functions and a good understanding of which parts of the brain are involved in normal functions as well as stress issues and behaviours is imperative.
BEHAVIOUR & TRAINING
It always tickles me when people talk about their animals as if they are naughty children. This usually happens when their pets perform a behaviour that the owner doesn’t like and as humans we tend to put our own thoughts and feelings onto our animals as if they are just furry people. Usually the beloved pet is fulfilling a normal function of their own behaviour that just doesn’t happen to fit in with the owner’s wants or needs. Anthropomorphism - is the human interpretation and human emotions or human biased interpretation of an animal’s behaviour and it has no back ground in science. My cat hates dogs would actually more likely be my cat is afraid of dogs.
Dominance is also an issue far too often cited in both dogs and cats, thankfully Vets are now coming to understand that dominance is not the issue that they once thought and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to Bristol Vets and the research that they have done into this topic, proving that on the whole people are actually making their animals more aggressive when they perceive dominance to be the problem. Dominance is definitely not a part of cat’s social structure and therefore has no relevance. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to have filtered down to the trainers and I still hear many people talk about using a ‘Dominance Reduction’ program to alter their pet’s behaviour, which is truly sad and a big mistake in my view. If you have an animal that is insecure for whatever reason, using negative based reinforcement will only exacerbate the problem. It is amazingly simple to train any animal to perform virtually any behaviour that it can physically do providing you use the right techniques. Not only is it great fun, but it will also enrich your relationship with your pet no end.
Its always good to remember that the behavioural options available to animals when threatened are:
When animals, including the cat are faced with a potential threat, they have one of four choices. Although scientifically sound, these are known colloquially as the ‘4 F’S’
• Fiddle about - this can be either an appeasement or a displacement
Ethology is the study of an animal’s behaviours in a natural or wild environment, which is the function and evolution of the behaviour.
It’s important to pull in all the information when dealing with animal behaviours and below I’ve cited Nico Tinbergen’s 4 questions as they are so enlightening for most people that are trying to understand their cats.
The Ethologist Nico Tinbergen had 4 questions that he asked and he said that the answers to the 4 questions guide the conclusion, in other words any behaviour displayed gave the conclusion to the questions.
• What is happening inside the body? What is the physiology related to every behaviour being presented?
• What is the function of that particular behaviour? Why is it behaving that way?
• Does it help the animal survive? Remembering that a flight animal would need to avoid restraint to live. The costs are very high in the maladaptive animal.
How did it evolve? Was it constrained as a flight animal. Flight animals need to survive till the next day to pass on their genes.
A fascinating and important aspect of Feline behaviour is the learning theory, which is all about how learning works and comes about. Certain things have to happen in order for behaviour to change. For example both humans and animals only have a certain amount of memory slots available and if, for instance, you are in a stressful state for whatever reason then a good few of those precious slots will be taken up with the stressful thoughts that accompany the situation. Therefore you will actually be unable to learn anything new at this point and the same goes for animals. You may even forget things that you thought you knew if you are really stressed J Its important to understand these things when either dealing with a behaviour that you don’t want or when trying to train a new behaviour for your pet to perform. Another aspect of learning, to take into consideration if you are wanting to train your cat, is that the two types of learning that you need to know about are ‘Instrumental Learning’ and ‘Classical Conditioning’. Instrumental learning is the initial phase of trial and error behaviours and Classical Conditioning is when the behaviour has gone through the initial phase and is now automatic. Something to keep in mind when thinking of Classical conditioning is that although a behaviour might be automatic in the setting of your kitchen or some other room in the house, it will not be automatic when put into a different setting ie: another room or outside, each behaviour needs to be conditioned in all sorts of contexts for this to become true. The most well known experiment showing Classical Conditioning was done by Pavlov, and you may have heard how he managed to train dogs to salivate at the ring of a bell.
HABITUATION V SOCIALISATION
A common misconception that people have is that you can socialise an animal to people, which is completely wrong. Socialisation is all about the animal and its own species, so cats socialise with cats and not people. Habituation is what is done to help the cat acclimatise to everything else. Basically habituation is the waning of the original response, after repeated presentations of a potentially threatening stimulus - the animal learns to ignore the stimulus because there is no reinforcement of the fear. Fear is a normal response to any unknown stimulus. This is how your cat will learn what is good and what is bad - through habituation. As a breeder I know how important it is to give kittens a good foundation on which to build and I make sure that all the kittens are socialised with both females and males in my household. This is important for all kittens that will come across other cats whether they are indoor or allowed the freedom of the outside world but it is especially important for females or males going into the breeding program. Imagine a young female who is only brought up with other females in the breeder’s home and is then sold for breeding to another household where either there are no males or the stud is kept outside. Then when the cat is a year old and the time is right it is either put outside with a male or taken to stud to a male. Both experiences can be very frightening for any maiden female and can be helped so much by early experiences and habituation to travel and outside pens as well as males if that is what will be happening for them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small foray into the world of behaviour and I’m sorry that it is such a small part but hopefully you will have learned something new, which will serve you in your relationship with your feline companions.
All the information given above is copyright and may not be copied, reproduced or used in any way. If you have any interest in further exploring the world of Feline Behaviour please feel free to get in touch and I can offer information on courses or just books that will help to inform you at whatever level you may wish.