Kitten kindergarten: Regina woman helps pet owners train their cats
Herding cats may not be as hard as the idiom suggests
Dogs aren't the only ones who can learn tricks like sit and stay.
"Literally anything that you teach your dog, you can teach a cat," said Tori Boucher-Hodel, owner of Purrsuasion Cat Behaviour Consulting and Training.
Boucher-Hodel, a certified cat trainer, started her business to help cat owners figure out their feline friends and help correct naughty behaviours.
Thought of as independent, stubborn pets, cats are a little misunderstood, she said. While they do have minds of their own, they can be trained, according to Boucher-Hodel.
"If you don't train dogs they'll get bossy and they'll be naughty and bad and same with cats. If you don't train them then they're just going to learn everything that you don't want them to learn," she said.
She said you can use a clicker and treats to teach cats anything from laying in a kennel to giving high-fives.
Boucher-Hodel met first-time cat owner Aysia Yeo while holding an information session at Excalipurr Cat Cafe.
Yeo said she was hoping her two-year-old kitty, Otis, could learn some tricks to show off to her friends and family.
"We started out doing Meerkat. So the cat lifts his front paws off the ground and kind of stretches up, which I just thought was cute," said Yeo. "Now we're kind of working on sit."
During a session in Yeo's kitchen, Boucher-Hodel worked patiently with Otis, using hand motions and rewarding him with treats. At first, the tabby seemed unsure of what he should be doing, but with each treat, click, and minute that passes, he came closer to deciphering the word "sit."
"She explains everything really well. She'll always answer my questions, even if its the same question for like the third time. You can really tell that she cares about animals," Yeo said.
Boucher-Hodel said clicker training is a way owners can bond with their pets.
"Being cooped up in one house all day, it can get pretty boring. Cats have a lot of mental energy that they need to work off. So clicker training them, getting them to work their mind, to figure out what you want from them, is really beneficial for you and them," said Boucher-Hodel.
"It's really great to see how smart they are and just get to take that time during your busy day to actually do something that's meaningful with your cat."
Boucher-Hodel said working with cats is a dream come true, but it didn't come without a few ups and downs.
In high school, she thought she'd become a veterinarian.
"Then I went to a show in Grade 12 at a vet's office and it didn't go so well, because I almost passed out from the blood," she said.
Even if your cats doesn't have a behaviour issue right now you should still play with them every single day.- Tori Boucher-Hodel
She decided to pursue a degree in pharmacy. After failing a class, she went to her mother's room and started to cry.
"The first thing, once I could actually speak, that I said was, 'I want to do something with cats,' " Boucher-Hodel said.
Inspired by cat behaviourist and TV host Jackson Galaxy, she took online courses at Animal Behaviour College and practiced her training techniques while volunteering at a shelter.
Now certified, she has worked with about ten clients, mostly giving behaviour consultations rather than clicker training.
Tips for cat owners
According to Boucher-Hodel, the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters is not using their litter box.
It's an issue that hits close to home for the trainer. When she was five-years-old, her mother even had to give up a cat named Haze because he was peeing outside his litter box.
"If I had known all of this then, I could have tried to help solve the problem. So I guess that's kind of another part of my inspiration, so I can help other people, so they don't have to go through the sadness of having to get rid of the cat," said Boucher-Hodel.
She said the general rule is to have enough litter boxes for each cat, plus one.
Box placement is also important. Litter boxes should be placed on each floor of the home. This helps cats avoid marking their territory. They should also be in an area of the home where you hang out but isn't necessarily busy.
"A lot of people think that you can have the right number of boxes, but keep them all in one room, and that's not the case," said Boucher-Hodel.
Another common issue is aggression toward pets or people. She said cats love to play with each other but once blood or hair is shed it becomes a concern.
This often means cats need some space away from each other and shouldn't be fed side-by-side.
"You'll want to have multiple feeding stations and multiple water stations, multiple litter box stations, and then play therapy is huge for the litter box issues and the aggression issues," Boucher-Hodel said.
Play therapy involves using toys to play with your cat for 15 minutes before you feed them a meal. It caters to their natural cycle of hunting, eating, then grooming and relaxing.
She says the best toys are those that mimic the movements of birds or other prey.
"Even if your cats doesn't have a behaviour issue right now you should still play with them every single day. It's like how you would take your dog for a walk every day. Your cats need exercise, they need the mental stimulation and it's also your top way of bonding with your cat," said Boucher-Hodel.