Archive | January 2012

How to bathe a cat, clicker style

Cats don’t like water. Everybody knows this. They screech and howl and wail and scratch and claw and will basically do all they can to avoid getting into it, and all they can to get out of it once it. Their feet go all splayed and thin when wet. Their tails look like string. And the longer their fur, more pathetic (and, ok, funnier) it looks.

I am, as of this morning, the proud owner of a Cat Who Has Had A Bath. I bear one small scratch on my chin as a memento of his initial effort to escape (more a result of clinging mournfully than of lashing out). I have to say, this might sound a bit smug but I’m really proud of this. Because right now Guybrush* is looking fluffier and cleaner than ever. He is affectionate and not afraid of the bathroom. He even sat in there on the loo while I had my bath and greeted me when I got out. Here’s how I did it.

I’ve owned Guybrush for two years (well, in exactly a week it will be two years). Ever since I brought him home from the breeder, I have been forging a relationship with him based on mutual communication in the form of THE CLICKER. If you’re not familiar with clicker-training, it works like this – whenever your animal does a Good Thing, click goes the clicker and a treat appears. It’s wonderful because it’s an instant, repeatable, recognisable signal that You Have Done A Good Thing. I’ve trained Brushy to spin anticlockwise on the signal “spin” and to give me a high-five. He knows that doing these things when asked will deliver rewards. That actually leads to him attempting to cue ME to deliver the goods. I know he’s hungry when he tries to high-five me. “This is a Good Thing that will result in noms,” thinks the kitty. Equally, if he taps my leg, I will pick him up. He knows now that if he wants to be picked up, instead of climbing me, he just has to tap my knee. If he wants to play, instead of mauling my foot, he brings me his toy.

And so we come to the bath. I didn’t want to simply hoist him into the bath, dunk him, and have him forever more associate the bathroom and my pyjamas with terror and wetness. So instead, I got into the bath. When I do this, he usually comes and puts his front paws on the side to gaze down at me in the water with an expression of horror. “Why would you DO that to yourself?” is what I imagine him to be thinking. So this time, as soon as his fluffy little paws hit the rim of the bath – click, treat. Oh. The bath is a Good Thing. A few more goes of that, and we had established that the bath wasn’t going to hurt. The sixth time he put his paws on the rim – no click. That wasn’t going to be enough this time. Dismayed, he attempted to high-five me. This meant leaning over the bath a little more. Good boy. Click, treat. In this way, moving my hand further away, I eventually got him onto my lap in the bath. We had a cuddle, and click, treat. Then, gently, I began to wet my hand and stroke him. Click, treat.

At this point, he started to work out what was going on, and the paw went out to reach for saftey (catching my chin on the way). I held him tighter and kept talking to him, and he settled down a bit, clinging closer for comfort, and on we went, gently scooping and sluicing before we went for “all paws in”.

I can’t say he enjoyed it, but I know he trusts me never to deliberately harm him, so he took it well, and once he was washed all over (except his face; I thought that might be a bit much for a first go!) I lifted him out and gently towel-dried him with a warm, fluffy towel.

The wonderful part was that, far from running out of the (open) door, or backing away from me, he was gentle, affectionate, and perfectly happy to sit still and be groomed until he was dry.

I’ve seen a couple of dog owners trying to use the clicker as a command, clicking furiously and wondering why the dog doesn’t understand what to do. “DOGGY! COME! *CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK* COME, STOOPID DAWG! *CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK*” Seriously – wrong. Here’s Karen Pryor’s website all about clicker training: book on clicking cats is fabulous if you want to know more. Thanks to my wonderful friend Sarah (@theknitnurse) for introducing me to this wonderful world of animal communication.

And here’s a little video of Brush doing his thing:

*Yes, those of you who are as yet unfamiliar with my cat, that is his name**. Google it.

**Officially his pedigree name is Lunastar Miresong Troilus. Yeah, I chose that too. So shoot me.

This entry was posted on January 15, 2012. 4 Comments