Kitten raised on a military base learned to march

This is not only a cute cat video but an instructive one as well. It tells us a lot about how cats learn. The video occurred on December 2017 at Manisa, Turkey. The video caption says that the man who made the video did so 4 years ago on a Turkish military base. The cat you see in the video was born on that base and raised by the soldiers. He writes: “We have realised that this cat was imitating the way we march”.

I think it might be more than simple imitation. I think it is a kitten learning to do something instinctively by watching their ‘parents’. In this instance the parents are the military personnel on the base. The cat may be imprinted with the image that one of the soldiers is their mother.

It appears that two learning processes may have occurred. One is called operant conditioning or instrumental learning. The other is observational (social) learning.

Kitten raised on a military base learned to march
Kitten raised on a military base learned to march. Screenshot
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Note: This is a video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

Operant conditioning

In this form of learning a cat’s behaviour is modified by the consequences of their behaviour within the environment they live. My guess is that this cute subadult cat learned to march like this because she was given a reward by one of the military personnel on the base. Or there was some reward at the end of it e.g. food or a cuddle. The phrase “operant conditioning” refers to animals that are constantly operating on their environment and altering their behaviour in response to its consequences.

If something a cat does results in a pleasurable consequence (which is positive reinforcement) it is probable that the animal will repeat the action. It is quite a simple formula. The same happens with people all the time and other animals.

Observational learning

Kittens in particular, and adult cats, can learn to perform a task by watching an experienced cat complete the task. As mentioned, this kitten is probably imprinted with the concept that she is living with her parents i.e. the soldiers and therefore follows her mother. The kitten has simply copied the soldiers through observation. You will see quite a lot of observational learning on the Internet, sometimes in subtle ways. It is said that cats who live together often teach one another particular behaviours.

You might have seen one of those videos were a smart cat opens the fridge door or even the back door. Sometimes two cats work together to achieve this or a cat and dog working in tandem. They’ve observed the homeowner opening the door and simply copied it. Cats don’t understand doors, they just want to get through them.

In studies, kittens learn tasks such as pressing a lever for food after they have observed an adult cat successfully perform that task. Observational learning is faster than operant conditioning because operant conditioning is effectively trial and error.

Kittens in a group or colony learn faster from their mother and relatives compared to non-related adult cats. This indicates a trust and belief in the actions of their mother.

Clicker training

Clicker training is human-to-cat deliberate training using positive reinforcement. It is formal operant conditioning without the trial and error. The sound of the clicker helps to connect the behaviour with the reward in the cat’s mind.

Habits and routines

Cats also learn to integrate their behaviour with those of their human companion through habits and routines. This is in addition to the above methods when applicable. Factors which affect the learning process include the cat’s age, individual temperament and former experiences. I would suggest that the wild cat hybrids will learn faster because of the slightly improved intelligence. Cats train humans as well. Sometimes people are unaware that it has happened.

Kitten learning to hunt
Kitten learning to hunt. Photo in public domain. Presentation by PoC.

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