September 24, 2015
I get a lot of questions about Didga, training cats, and (sometimes) me.
Here are the Q & A’s
First, a little about me: I’m an American now dual citizen, living on the Gold Coast of Australia. I moved here from Los Angeles/Ventura area. I’ve been a professional animal trainer / behaviourist for over 33 years. (If you’d like to learn more detail about me and my training experience, click here
Once arriving in Australia, I opened my dog training business conducting private one-on-one lessons. I had extra time on my hands so I started making YouTube videos using my clients dogs. It was during this time I was longing to get another cat and start another YouTube channel “CATMANTOO” (I’m a dog person/trainer but I’m a CATMANTOO) to educate people about cats. I was hoping to dispel many of the myths associated with cats, i.e. like they can’t be “trained”, they need to roam to be happy, they need to be declawed so they don’t scratch the furniture (unfortunately declawing is still practiced in the U.S.) and many other myths. The cat I was looking to adopt was going to be an ambassador for shelter cats, so I needed a confident cat to teach amazing things to, this will help bring attention to my channel and the causes. At the shelter I looked at many kittens but this cute little energetic and confident 13 weeks old kitten caught my attention the most, she was just the cat I was looking for.
Side Rant: Between the over 33 years of animal training experience, experience in the animal acting film industry and making videos for all my clients, plus living here in beautiful Australia, and most importantly, finding an amazing cat like Didga. This is the “purrfect” storm for what I do on CATMANTOO. So please DON’T “try” with your cat many of the things you see Didga and Boomer do, and understand that lot’s of time, weeks, months, even years is put in before filming even starts. I would feel bad if your cat got injured or you “forced” them to do something they didn’t like. Even something like walking a cat on the leash requires patients and a specific teaching technique that needs to be followed. If you’re expecting immediate results when teaching animals, especially cats, then you’re doing it wrong.
If you would like to learn how to teach your cat the basics, watch the tutorials available on my YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/playlist…
Now, a little about Didga and training
Q #1. How old is Didga? [Did-ja]
A: 4 years old. Born January 1st, 2012
Q #2. Is Didga a boy or girl?
A: A GIRL. FYI – In many Countries, if the first name ends in an “A” it generally means female/feminine
Q #3. Why the name “Didga”?
A: Didga is short for Didgeridoo (Australian musical instrument). I came up with the name while on my way to pick her up at the shelter. There’s a breathing exercise I learned while learning to play the Didgeridoo, the exercises went like this, “DIDGA, DA-DIDGA BREATH”. (repeat several times). that’s when it came to me.
Q #4. What breed is Didga:
A: Domestic shorthair/Tabby
Q #5: Are cats ever too old to learn?
A: No, cats at any age can learn. obviously there are things you should be aware of, like physical limitations on young kittens and older cats (geriatric), also mental memory limitations. the optimum age for teaching them is between 5 months to 3 years Adjust the training accordingly. What’s more important than age is technique (Follow my tutorials to learn the right technique)
Q #6 Can any cat be trained?
A: Pretty much yes, but cats with higher “food drive” will learn faster. Younger cats (under 2.5 years) are more active and generally have a higher food drive and are generally less fussy about what they eat. Older cats (over 2.5 years) generally are less active and will eat less, and are generally fussy about what they eat. Less training sessions = slower rate of learning. With older or food finicky cats you need to raise the value of their rewards to keep their attention.
Q #6: How do I get my cat interested in food/treats?
A: Even the most finicky eaters eat something, try a gamier meat to entice them, and most important make “training” times the only times they eat. you’ll notice your cat is more active and will start to pay attention during training sessions.
Q #7: What kind of food/treats do I recommend?
A: I can only tell you what I use for Didga and Boomer. 90% RAW MINCE and the rest a high quality holistic kibble & can food. Cats are meat eaters, the gamier the meat the better. Raw being best, I don’t buy “human grade” because I noticed a behaviour change after feeding it to Didga for 6 days. Her energy level went down.
High quality raw foods may be a little bit more expensive but I always say, pay for it now in high quality food or pay for it later in vet bills.
There is a raw dog food company out there called B.A.R.F. Biologically appropriate raw food and I had Didga on that for a year until I found a a raw mince that Didga went crazy for and is what I still feed today.
Because I do a lot of training, I buy the food frozen, measure out portions in individual bags and freeze for later use. I place the bags in my “bait bag” and use a spoon to deliver smaller bite size rewards.( It’s weird to be mostly vegetarian but feed your cat mostly raw meat.) In summer hot months or for cats that don’t drink a lot of water, add water to the raw food.
NOTE: Whenever abruptly changing an animals diet, it should be done gradually over a two week period.
Q: Are some breeds easier to teach than others?
A: Sort of, but there can be other reasons ‘known’ teachable breeds aren’t as teachable. “BOOMER” (a bengal) known to be one of the most teachable cat breeds isn’t as teachable as Didga, especially once we get outside with all the distractions. (At this stage of his life, things can change as he ages?) or it could be I’m just spoiled from having a special cat like Didga? (from the shelter). What’s probably more important than a particular breed is “high food drive” cats with it can learn faster and can learn more things. This is a big factor of Didga’s amazing talent.
Side Rant: Rule #1 Never get an animal solely based on looks, Temperament should be #1 reason. That’s how I came to get Didga and Boomer, it was their personality/temperament, their beautiful looks were just a bonus. Bengals are beautiful but are not for everyone, they require a lot more of your time (which I’m able to give), they need more daily stimulation than other cats. I explain to people who are thinking about getting a bengal, if your a cat person a Bengal may not be right for you, it’s more like raising a puppy cross monkey 😉 – if your not prepared to deal with their energy level and naughty nature, especially during the kitten phase, a bengal is not for you, also be careful to add a bengal if you already have an older cat. Without constant supervision, Bengals can be extremely antagonistic. You don’t want your first cat to be unhappy or you may end up unhappy having to give your Bengal away. I guess this could be true for other breeds as well. Please make sure you’re 100% committed thinking everything through before adopting. I tell people that instead of getting a Bengal, they can live vicariously through me 😊 One more thing for dog and some cat owners, if you’re thinking of getting not one but two pets at the same time, because you want them to keep each other company while you’re away for those long hours at work. In my opinion, you’re getting the animals for the wrong reason. Animals need a lot of human contact, especially young puppies (less with kittens, but still). Look for my post “don’t get a dog” for more advice if you’re considering adopting a new pet.
Q: Do I let my cats roam free (unsupervised) at all?
A: NO WAY! They are both indoor/leashed outdoor cats, however because they’re trained and as they get older, I can allow them off the lead to explore and for filming purposes in specific areas but only under direct supervision.
Q: Do I answer training/behavior questions on here or other social media pages, i.e. Facebook, etc.?
A: Sorry, not that often because I get many questions, and there is no time to answer them, besides I shy away from answering because as a behaviourist Its important to get a lot of other information about their home environment before determining the best course of action to take. When I did home lessons, I needed to spend about and hour and a half with the clients, so a quick email with a question isn’t professional, besides, that’s why I made this FAQ and why I make tutorials.
Q: How do you get 2 animals to get along?
A: I made a video tutorial with tips for a dog and cat relations (video on my YouTube channel.) For introducing a cat to an existing cat(s), look for the post on this website.
Q: Why are your cats so comfortable outside and not afraid like other cats?
A: It helped that they were both confident and showed little fear as kittens, also I taught them to walk on leash and other tricks using lot’s of food reinforcement, this helped build their confidence even further. Clicker training is a great way to creates a more positive association to scary things. exposing them gradually to those things they fear using the clicker and high value food (or play) to reward them, if they don’t eat or play when exposed to the fearful thing, you’re probably trying to hurry up the process. FYI – it can take many many weeks of practice to get them over fear, and that’s if you’re doing everything right. NOTE: First I took them around in their pet carrier, getting them used to the sites and sounds of places, usually the same places everyday. while there, I practice their training (outside the carrier) behaviours that were first taught in the home, As I noticed them improving and showing less fear, they more time would be spent out of the carrier, until I only needed the carrier on occasion (eventually not at all). Be aware that the carrier idea only work if they love being in their carrier, I’m sorry but I don’t have a tutorial on that… yet.
AGAIN: That’s why I’ve made several training, and a few behavioural training tutorials (for cats & dogs) available (free) on my YouTube channel. I will have other training advice available to read on my website, and social media pages where I occasionally give advice. Follow/subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram @catmantoo
If you’re still reading this, comment below with a “hello”
Thanks for listening
Robert, Didga and Boomer