by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
A frustrated cat typically uses aggression as the means of communication, and deaf cats are no different. Deafness can be isolating, as he does not necessarily understand or participate in the activities in the home, may miss feeding times, and misunderstand the signals and movements of people and other pets.
To prevent frustration aggression, it is necessary to train deaf cats so they can become integrated members of the family. Training principles are the same as for hearing cats – reward the behaviour you want and ignore, as far as possible, unwanted behaviour. Cats will repeat actions that give them a reward or benefit, and stop those that offer no reward.
Cats learn throughout their lives, even older cats that suffer from age-related deafness, can be taught.
Hand signals are easy to make and use, requiring no other equipment. First determine the commands that you wish to train, then decide on a signal that will be appropriate. Hand signals should be simple and different enough for the cat to understand each one separately.
Train signals one at a time, until it is firmly established. Use the same methods you would use for hearing cats. Speaking at the same time is useful, both for us to be firm about what we are asking, and for the cat to learn the facial expression that accompanies the command.
All members of the family, and pet-sitters, must use the same hand signals so as not to confuse the cat. Teach visitors and cattery staff one or two main signals. All cats in the home can learn the hand signals too; this will help the deaf cat to learn by example.
Hands, and the people they belong to, become important to deaf cats. Never use your hands or any part of your body to punish a deaf cat, as this can negatively impact on the behaviour and cause fear-based aggression.
Clicker training can be an effective way to train. Instead of the click sound, use a concentrated light, such as a small torch or the flashlight on a cell phone. Some cats may respond to a silent dog whistle, especially those cats where deafness has been a gradual progression. The vibration from striking the lowest notes on the piano may be felt, even when your pet can’t hear.
Deaf cats can still play games, and games can be used for training and communication. The standard cat games of boxes, chase, fetch, wand toys and puzzle feeders are all well received. Scratch posts and lookout posts or widow beds give a view of the outside world. Puzzle feeders for food add stimulation and reward for effort.
Toys or games can be used to develop their other senses too. Shiny toys that reflect light, toys that vibrate, electronic games on a tablet, and laser pointer games work well, as do shadows on the wall. Scent and smell can be used in toys or to encourage exploration. A trail of very small treats or catnip can be used to encourage cats into different areas. Identify and use smells that your cat enjoys. Texture can be a fun addition to games too, different items having importance or options in various games or areas of the home.
Interactive play sessions help to enhance communication and understanding between you and the cat while reducing stress levels. Introducing hand signals during play sessions makes training fun, presents a reward, and helps to set the meaning of the signals.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org