From the beginning, I knew Tonks was a smart kitten. I mean, she figured out how to get behind the stove. (And now I have a lovely spice rack bolted to the counter to prevent those escapades) She opened doors and even figured out how to pull open the drawers on my desk organizer. And since Ekko watches everything she does, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d be just as intelligent. How to channel all of that brilliance in a healthy direction, though? (Two evil geniuses is a bit much for the world) They had plenty of toys, but they sometimes grew bored. Catnip mice and kickers weren’t mentally stimulating. So we spotted a puzzle feeder and decided to give it a try. What did we have to lose? (Only our sanity)
People may not believe it, but it’s easy to train cats. You follow the same operant conditioning principles you use with dogs (or any other animal):
- Have a means of capturing behaviors (clickers work best)
- Offer rewards for completed tasks
- Ignore incomplete tasks
- Demonstrate patience with the process
I’ve used clicker training to teach my cats to touch their noses to a target, go into their crates, and sit patiently through a mock vet visit. And it didn’t take any time.
The process stimulated their minds and gave them something to do besides play with their toys. And they LOVED it. As soon as I got out the targets, they lined up on the coffee table. It also didn’t take long. (Having food-motivated felines helped)
And while I could have done the same thing with Tonks and Ekko, we wanted something else they could work on themselves. The sort of fun they could employ when we weren’t around. And that’s when we spotted the puzzle toy.
Puzzle Feeders For Cats
Most people are familiar with puzzle feeders for dogs. They’re designed to slow down canines that wolf down their meals. Or they distract pups with separation anxiety by making them work to get out kibbles over an hour or so.
But they DO make the same toys for cats.
Felines don’t need them for food (usually), but they can get separation anxiety. Or, in our case, they can need something to engage their brains. And there are different styles and levels out there.
We started small: a ball they needed to roll around to release the treats. It was a disaster.
Oh, the puzzle wasn’t hard. But it didn’t fit their treats very well. And it resembled a toy we’d tried with Juniper ages ago. She never figured it out. However, she remembered that food came out when WE rolled it for her. And she happily stalked behind the cats to steal the treats from them. (Not what we were going for)
So we moved on to a slide puzzle. Pretty basic: they needed to move “sushi” away to reveal compartments underneath. We weren’t positive if they’d figure it out or not. But at least the treats fit inside without a problem.
They solved it in seconds.
So we upgraded to a toy with multiple slides and a wheel they needed to rotate to find the compartments. We thought we’d stumped those kitty brains.
Devising a New Puzzle
The newest feeder has plenty of options for us to secret treats away. And we try to change things up as much as possible. We also pick up the original “bento box” simultaneously, making them figure out which puzzle feeder we’ve used. (Okay, so we’re not as smart as we think; they can smell the treats)
It’s a way to keep them guessing and playing.
But we can also make our own toys:
- They have to dig through boxes with paper in them – something they’re inclined to do ANYWAY.
- Boxes inside of boxes
Whatever it takes to keep those little brain cells firing and OUT of trouble. So far, it seems to be working.
For the most part.