This week’s foster flashback is interrupted by our current project of the week: Operation Love Each Other. I had planned to post on it earlier in the week, but it sort of got away from me, so we’ll let our first status update take us into the weekend.
Last week, I wrote about my efforts to restore a sense of community between the two species of animal in our home, and promised some updates on how we were doing.
So, in the first few days, I did a little bit of housekeeping in the laundry room to create some more “perches” where the cats can see the dogs on higher ground, but still maintain safety behind the barrier of the baby gate. I’ve also started doing together mealtimes, or bringing Balton and Ollie (Balton at the least) down to “help” feed the cats.
Part of our efforts are to help the cats have a better attitude about the dogs as a pair, while helping the dogs demonstrate more calm behavior around the cats (with each goal ideally complementing the other for). Normally the cats only get dry food, but each time we have meals with the dogs present (and only when the dogs are present), they get the special treat of wet food. This is high value enough to encourage them to come out of hiding and eat in the dogs’ presence, and hopefully change their association to a more positive one.
Meanwhile, the dogs are kept calm and we utilize mat work in making sure they come to know that the good stuff only happens when they “go to mat” (read, not “chasing the cat” – I think I may have a children’s book prospect if this all works out – which may end with a dog in a hat or swinging a bat).
Here’s a photo of some split screen action earlier this week during one of our dinner sessions. Balton is using his Treat&Train (MannersMinder) to get lots of reinforcement for good behavior while the cats adjust to his being there during mealtime.
The cats have been bold enough to emerge and eat, tonight they had the dogs in clear view while I sat with the pups and alternated between hand feeding and putting kibble in their kongs. We had been placing a blanket over the safe zone baby gate earlier on (to limit visibility and simply create a setting where presence was acknowledged with sound and scent) but tonight we were blanket free and without incident.
Ollie was having a hard time not barking at the cats in earlier sessions, which was making learning difficult for Balton and creating feline anxiety. Since I think some of Balton’s responses to the cats are actually made worse by Ollie’s barkiness, it’s important to get him on board with the project even though he has lived well enough with the cats for awhile. So I began doing mat work with him too. Although the idea of mat settling and relaxing is fairly novel to my feisty JRT (as exhibited below from Tuesday night), Ollie is a quick study, and last night he barely moved off the rug and didn’t bark once.
I am encouraged by our progress so far. More (hopefully good things) to come!