Example of using positive reinforcement to socialise a cat (video)
We hear a lot about positive reinforcement in socialising feral and stray cats. Positive reinforcement is a way of training cats and it can be used to train a cat to trust a human and people in general at which point the cat is socialised and therefore domesticated.
A cat called ‘Journey’ was a perfect subject on which to use positive reinforcement training to socialise her.
Journey is a tabby cat from China. She was trapped on a ship which sailed from Shenzhen, China to Vancouver, BC, Canada. She was then trucked to Prince George, the end of her enforced 3 week journey. When discovered she was terrified and emaciated but at lease she was alive. This is another story which highlights the enormous capabilities of the domestic and feral cat to survive without water and food. I think she was trapped in a container. There may have been condensation on the inside which provided some water for her. I guess there was no food though. This sort of entrapment has happened before.
Journey was rescued by British Columbia SPCA and after treatment at one center was transferred to the Maple Ridge branch of the SPCA according to the iNFOnews.ca website.
One of the great obstacles to her rehabilitation was socialisation. It appears that she was a feral or stray in China. I don’t think her extreme distrust of humans can all be put down to the arduous journey from China in a container.
I can now get to the point of the article. ‘Journey’ is being socialised under the experienced eye of Dr Karen van Haaften, a board certified cat behaviourist, who at January 17th 2020 said that she needed longer to get Journey ready for adoption. She’s has done fantastic work though as Journey started playing, a sure sign that she is well on the way to being a cat companion.
The video above shows her getting Journey used to the human touch by gently stroking her and feeding a treat immediately afterwards. The intention is to get the cat to associate being touched with a pleasant experience. This is a good example of positive reinforcement training. Some people use a clicker to sharpen the link between the action (the human petting) and the pleasurable experience (eating the food treat). This is called clicker training.
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