The Sonoma and Marin humane societies have both added cat education to their class offerings. Once a month, the Sonoma Humane Society is hosting a cat handling workshop. Gayle Goodbread, a feline behavior consultant, says the once a month workshops are designed to help teach cat owners how to get the best behavior from their pets. The Marin Humane Society is offering kitten socialization, cat handling and clicker training for cats classes.
“Cats benefit from socialization and crate training exercises as much as dogs,” says Laura Hazard, a cat behaviorist on staff at the Marin Humane Society in Novato. “I think a lot of people just don’t realize the value of working with cats, especially kittens, to get them used to vet visits and even other cats.”
Kitten kindergarten started in Australia where behaviorists started taking advantage of the early socialization window of kittens much like is already being done with puppies. If kittens are exposed to a variety of situations like cat carriers, vet office visits and nail trimmings, they become more tolerant of them over their lifetime. The kitten socialization window is open generally through week 16.
Hazard says most people “adopt a cat and bring it home and it never leaves the house. But with dogs it’s the opposite.”
The idea behind offering more classes to cat owners is partly “cat activism” says Hazard. “It’s about elevating cats in our view to more like family members, like we have with dogs. Cats are very social creatures, they are not the loners and aloof. They want to be a part of the family and sleep on the bed with you and the dog.”
In kitten socialization classes, kittens under 16 weeks are brought to class and played with by their owners. Then “pass the kitten” is done to get the feline youngsters used to handling and a wider variety of people.
The classes at Sonoma Humane and Marin Humane will cover issues like litter box challenges, nail trimmings and cat behavior. Cat owners will also be shown how to trim cat nails, brush teeth, and deliver pills. Demonstration cats are used in the workshops. Participant’s cats stay home.
At the Marin Humane Society, cat owners will be shown how to use clicker training to teach their cats behaviors. Clicker training involves the use of small device that emits a small audible click. It’s used to mark behavior in an animal which can then be rewarded. If the cat begins to understand the behavior is rewarding, you can teach the cat a variety of behaviors or “tricks.”
The goal is to prevent and manage unwanted behaviors. Many cat behavior problems can be traced to how well the cat can rely on their people says Hazard. “If they cannot rely on the people in the home then many cats will seek safety in the environment. That’s why a strong bond with people can alleviate problems with moves, new people in the household like a baby or even the introduction of another cat.”
The Sonoma and Marin humane society classes will also touch on ways to play with your cat, one on one. Play is important because bored cats will eat and get fat. Obesity is not just a human affliction with veterinarians saying the lack of exercise and proper eating habits have become epidemic in the pet population.