The thing about training a cat like a dog is that… it’s quite different and…well, I’ll admit that the results are frankly, patchy.
After nearly two weeks of having treat-coated antibiotic pills for his abcess, Leo is still plainly enthusiastic about receiving small chunks of cheese or chicken in the morning when he first sees me. He is not keen for this new custom to cease any time soon.
This morning, he was in the kitchen greeting me but I passed him with nothing but a quick stroke and a “Hello Leo” because there was a sky outside.
The sky couldn’t wait for the cat. Amateur photographers take a bit of time getting to grips with all the many settings on cameras and while they are jabbing the controls, discovering their white balance is still set on ‘fluorescent’ light, their apertures are far too big and their shutter speed inadequate, the sky is changing quite rapidly.
This morning the sky was casting a peculiar glow through the curtains and was revealed to be thoroughly dramatic – a vision of red sky in the morning that had to be captured – hence the urgency.
So Leo followed me out into the back garden and hung around with his tail in the air – if he could have rolled his eyes, he probably would have – while I fiddled with the camera and shot the sky (photographer talk).
The clouds were speeding and the light altering by the second, but I got some decent, properly representational images of a rather special red-in-the-morning-shepherds’-warning scene.
As soon as we got back into the kitchen Leo started miaowing in a demanding get-with-the-cheese type way so I felt obliged to get with the cheese.
He was rather wide-eyed and over-interested at this point. I glanced at the food bowls. They looked shiny and clean as though they’d been dishwashed on the You-Roasted-The-Beef-For-Too-Long-Again-So-This-Is-Pan-Is-Going-To-Take-Two-Hours cycle.
With a dog, the ‘beg’ command elicits an immediate sitting up and waiting response. There might be some anticipatory quivering but the eyes are trusting and on the whole, obediently patient.
The beg command in Leo elicited a sitting up but also a reflexive two-pawed, all-claws-extended swipe which was designed to capture my hand and steer it and the treat towards his waiting jaws.
This kind of behaviour, with so much potential for flesh-shredding and bloodshed, had never been the end point of training.
So I withdrew my cheesy offer and told him to sit again and beg nicely.
His eyes grew wider still and I realised that actually, making a cat wait is probably not a desirable thing to do if you value the skin on your hands. His patience quota is actually quite limited.
The word “gently” always used to be understood by my dogs. They would take whatever was offered more slowly and with extra care and consideration. “Gently” would allow a child to give them a treat. They would nibble it gently with lips only – no teeth.
They understood “wait” too, which is why I was able to balance a bonio on their noses as they sat and waiting for the command to “take.”
So as far as the “sit” command was concerned, Leo was right up there with the dogs. You couldn’t really fault it.
It was the “beg” thing which was sadly lacking.
The HELL was he going to beg. There wasn’t a ghost of a chance he was going to allow the cheese to be withdrawn from his reach a second time. This time he was going to snatch and KILL.
The claws were out, the fangs were bared – that cheese was about to meet its maker and if I had any sense at all I’d keep my hands clear.
So I did. I dropped the cheese, he caught it adeptly in his open jaws and devoured the lot like a ravenous prairie lion feasting on a tragic felled antelope.
“Cats don’t understand training,” said Capt Sensible, from behind the Times.
“They only understand grabbing something and savaging it until it’s dead.”
On reflection, perhaps I should have given Leo his breakfast first.
Red sky in the morning… cat treat warning!