Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is it like studying at the Animal Behavior Institute?

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

As many of you know and I've stated on this blog I'm in the process of completing the Animal Behavior Institute's Feline Training & Behavior certification program. I've received a lot of questions asking what I'm specifically learning and what the learning process is like there. I decided I'd answer this question in a blog post for those who are interested just out of curiosity or might consider doing a program through them.
The Animal Behavior Institute is accredited and all professors have either doctorates or master degrees in behavior, conservation, or veterinary medicine. The Feline Training & Behavior certification program requires your completion of 3 courses (9 credits) as well as 40 hours of field work. All course work is done online. The required courses are Feline Training, Feline Behavior & Enrichment, and Feline Health & Nutrition. The entire program costs $3,555, but you can pay by the course, which is $1,185.

The Animal Behavior Institute has a quarter semester system. Each course is 10 weeks, but not every course is offered in every quarter. Currently, I'm taking Feline Training as it was the only course in my program offered in the summer quarter. Feline Behavior & Enrichment and Feline Health & Nutrition are both offered in the fall so I will take those then. That would mean I could receive my certification by December. My 40 hours of field work I'm doing obviously at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

My current course Feline Training started about a month ago. This course is taught by Dr. Chalcraft who has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and has done behavioral and enrichment work with cats, chimpanzees, and gorillas. The text required for this course is The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider and Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor. This is our class schedule on what we'll be studying each week and the assigned readings.
Each weekly learning module consists of assigned reading, a quiz, and a discussion post component. There are also additional suggested readings and/or videos to watch regarding that weekly topic. The weekly discussion component is my favorite aspect of the course. The discussion component is often a scenario presented by the professor where the students have to explain how they'd assess and address that situation. Then the student would have to provide feedback to another student's response. The professor then would provide feedback to the student's response asking for clarification and/or challenge the student on how they'd do something different if one of the aspects of the scenario changed. My professor copies and pastes my response and adds in her feedback/questions in a different color. Here is an example of a recent discussion scenario, my response, and my professor's feedback. You can click on the photos below to enlarge them so they're easier to read.

 What I like about this learning process is it's very applicable and you have to be a critical thinker. This isn't a course where you parrot back what a book says and you've learned the material. You have to think for yourself and use your instincts. Understanding cat behavior isn't a cut-and-dried thing. Cat behavioral issues can be very complex and you have to look at a variety of angles to identify a problem and come up with a treatment plan. This is certainly a course/program where you need to have a natural ability in understanding cats and experience working with a variety of cats to succeed.

I spend about 3-6 hours a week working on this course. There are weekly deadlines to submit discussion responses and complete quizzes, but otherwise, it's very flexible. You need to be self-driven and comfortable with independent study. So far, I'm really enjoying this learning process. I appreciate being able to see other student's perspectives and receive feedback from the professor. In just 4 weeks I've been able to expand my knowledge and apply it when working with cats at the shelter. I still have 6 more weeks of this course and 2 more courses in the fall so I know I'll be gaining so much more.

I hope this helped answer some questions and give people an idea of what a program like this is like. From what I gather, the other courses are in the same format just different material. When I start those classes in the fall I'll do posts on what the material is like in those courses.

That's all for meow 😻,

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Shelter Case Files: Soldier

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

I'd like to start a new feature on my blog where I feature a cat at the shelter that has behavioral issues or concerns and how I assessed and addressed them. I started my feline training and behavior certification program a few weeks ago and am starting to incorporate the news skills and information I learn to help cats at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. This new feature will allow me to start developing my training/behavior plans and refine my skills over the course of my education. There will be some cats I will come back to these posts and update their progress as their issues could be more involved and time-consuming to address.

Let's start out with my first cat!
Name: Soldier

Age: 6 months

Breed: Domestic Shorthair (brown/black tabby)

Location in Shelter: Blue Free Roam Cat Room

Reason For Being At Shelter: Cannot Keep

Assessment: Soldier is a young and active kitten. He was placed in a free roam room which houses some older more dominant personality cats. In a home environment, these cats would have been introduced slowly, but that is not possible in a shelter environment. Some of the older cats are intimidating to Soldier and have attempted to show their dominance causing Soldier to become timid, reclusive, and submissive.

Goals: Cats do not reach social maturity until ages 2-4, so at 6 months Soldier is at a critical age for social development. It's important for Soldier to develop confidence, especially at this age so he is comfortable to move about his territory without being intimidated by the other cats.

Method: Play therapy. I will be utilizing play therapy using a wand toy and going through a prey sequence with Soldier. A prey sequence is manipulating the wand toy to mimic live prey by moving it in a scurrying motion along the floor, catching Soldier's attention. This will allow Soldier to stalk and eventually chase the toy. Then I will manipulate the toy by giving it some height in the air allowing Soldier to catch, bite, and "kill" the prey/toy. This prey sequence will allow Soldier to assert his dominance by utilizing his natural cat-like behaviors building his confidence.

Results: I spent approximately 30 minutes doing a prey sequence with Soldier with play therapy. He initially was hesitant to play with the toy as other cats in the room were sitting near him and staring him down. After around 5 minutes he started to engage in play. He stalked the toy and eventually began to freely chase and jump after it. The other cats definitely noticed Soldier's confidence in play and got bored and walked away from him. Soldier ended the play by grabbing the end of the wand toy and dragging it to another spot in the room. He "killed" his prey! I rewarded Soldier by giving him some treats.

Follow Up & Recommendations: I returned the next day to find Soldier roaming about freely in the cat room no longer being bullied or bothered by the other cats in the room. We did another prey sequence play therapy session and I left shortly after. Soldier was adopted later that afternoon. If Soldier had remained at the shelter I would have continued play therapy with him as well as started to incorporate some clicker training skills with him. Overall, I'm very happy with what I achieved with Soldier in the short time I had with him. I saw him become a confident and comfortable cat after being timid and fearful. It's those breakthrough moments that give me so much joy and I hope Soldier has a happy life ahead of him!


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!

Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!

That's all for meow 😻,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DIY Knotty Spider Cat Toys

Hellow Kitty Cat Friends,

One of the things I'm always trying to brainstorm is affordable and easy to make cat toy ideas, especially for the shelter. It's easy to buy some toys for your own cats, but when you're having to entertain 60+ cats in a shelter cat toys you buy can get expensive. Also, many DIY cat toys are time-consuming, supplies are too costly, or they're not practical for cats in a shelter. I came across this Knotty Spider cat toy video by Friskies and thought these would be great to make for shelter cats as well as your own cats at home. I did adapt the directions and supplies a bit as plastic milk jug rings used in the video are not as easy to accumulate if you're making a ton of these shelter cats. I also am using wider felt strips to save time so you're able to make more at a faster pace.
What You'll Need:
- 6-inch pipe cleaners or 12-inch pipe cleaners cut in half
- Soft felt squares, felt sheets, or fleece
- Scissors
- Dry catnip or catnip spray

Step 1:
Create a circle with the pipe cleaner by twisting the ends onto each other making sure any sharp pieces are tucked under and not sticking out.  It doesn't need to be a perfect circle as you'll be covering it with felt anyways.

Step 2:
Cut felt or fleece into approx. 6in x 1in strips. They don't have to be precise you can eyeball it.

Step 3:
Tie and double knot each felt strip around the pipe cleaner circle.
Step 4:
Continue to tie and double knot felt strips around the pipe cleaner circle until no visible pipe cleaner is showing.
Step 5:
Sprinkle some dried catnip or spritz with catnip spray.
Step 6:
Give to cat to play with.
The use of the pipe cleaners and the wider felt strips allow for you to make an endless amount of these. Pipe cleaners are really affordable and easy to buy in bulk and the wider cut strips will save you on time. If you're just making these for your own cats feel free to follow the Friskies video instructions.

These are really fun and easy to make. I like to turn on Netflix and make these as I watch my favorite TV shows. You can get creative with these and do different color schemes or whatever floats your boat!

That's all for meow 😻,