Trick of the Month Cat Class

Space Cat Academy has launched a Trick of the Month Club subscription program for five dollars a month. Instructor Tori Peterson describes it as, “Your exclusive pass to behind-the-scenes training, two levels of tricks for the month, and a community of people interested in continuing to build an amazing bond with their cats!”

Space Cat Academy is an online training program that offers courses to teach cat owners cooperative care techniques, tricks to enrich the lives of their feline companions, and how to address problem behaviors.

The school’s founder, Tori Peterson, created Space Cat Academy to make cat training accessible to anyone in the world who is able to access her site. She wanted to reach more interested cat lovers than she would otherwise be able to in Wisconsin.

ALLISON: Why did you start the Trick of the Month Club?

TORI: I started Trick of the Month Club because I wanted to create a safe place for cat lovers to share their experiences learning tricks. It can be overwhelming trying to learn on social media with the pressure to post into the world. So we have a private community where you can get support and feedback from your instructors and fellow cat lovers who are learning the same tricks. There are tons of places to learn tricks out there and sometimes questionable methods on how to teach them, so I provide all of the instructions in the same reward based, fear free methods. Each month Trick of the Month Club members can learn up to two tricks. A beginner trick and an advanced trick. Members can decide to focus on one of the two tricks that best fits their cat’s experience level, or work on both! Members have access to written instructions, video demonstrations, a community to share progress and get feedback, monthly coaching calls, and the ability to earn points and win prizes.

ALLISON: How did you decide what tricks to teach?

TORI: I created a master list of all different Cadet (beginner) and Commander (advanced) level tricks. Then I chose the one that spoke to me the most for the first one. In the next month, we will spin a virtual wheel to see which category the trick will come from (agility, therapy cat, adventure cat, parkour, tricks, etc.) and then two tricks will be chosen from that category.

ALLISON: How long did it take for you to teach them to your own cats?

TORI: It took us about a week to a week and a half to teach both the Cadet and Commander tricks. That being said, they have experience with the Cadet trick this month, so it was a bit easier for them to transition to the Commander trick.

ALLISON: Any memorable moments in testing these tricks?

TORI: I found that we achieved the most success if we kept the sessions between one to five minutes. When training cats, it’s very easy to teach them the behavior you want and then to slowly undo that behavior with more repetitions. I work towards a good example of what I’m looking for and then end on a positive note, even if I only get one great example. I was amazed at how quickly Elliot was picking up on the trick this month! He can be a little distracted with training sometimes, but he really had his “thinking cap” on!

The first beginner trick is “Paw Target,” Tori describes as “a wonderful foundation behavior that can be used for tons of other tricks that we will do in the future, including the Commander.” The first step is simply to create an interest in the target, the second to wait for your cat to paw the target, the third to determine their preferred paw, the fourth for your cat to tap the target, and the fifth is to add a cue. The target is a sticky note.

It’s been informative and fun to teach the first trick to my three cats. Each has their own unique way of approaching a trick. Rainy consistently looked to me for a direction. When I instead waited for her to act, she responded by touching the target. It wasn’t long before she begin to immediately touch the target. Bootsie consistently watched for me to give her food. When I instead waited for her to act, she responded by moving towards me. In doing so, her paw would touch the target. As soon as it did, I clicked and reward her. By doing this consistently, I began to shape the action I wanted, and soon she began of her accord to touch the target with her paw. Cinder just looked at once, and then immediately stretched out her paw to touch the target. It helps no doubt that I’ve worked before on targeting with them.

I’m also trying the tricks with with Mama Cottrell at Cotner Pet Care. She’s more difficult to teach, no doubt due to daily distractions of a vet clinic. In my Feline Behavior Solutions class, I learned to aim for 10 successful attempts per session, and 100 successful attempts in total. With Mama Cottrell, it took us a couple of weeks to reach five successful attempts per session for step two. I tried using treats, but that worked only for a couple of days. Then I switched to using a toy, as that’s proved the most rewarding in the past to her, but this time wasn’t a long-lived interest. Because she knows how to touch my hand, I tried a few times to placed my hand on the stick note, which like everything else worked only in the short term. Finally, I tried rubbing tuna paste on the underside of a sticky note. Success!

Already I’ve appreciated the opportunities to ask questions and upload videos for feedback. Tori is the one who gave me the idea of placing food under a sticky note.

ALLISON: Tell me about your background with animals.

Photo provided by Tori Peterson
Photo provided by Tori Peterson

TORI: I have loved animals since I can remember. I grew up on a hobby farm and raised rabbits, goats, chickens, ducks, pheasants, and even a yak! I spent every moment I was able to feeding, working with, and loving each of my animals. I was even known to come home from school and cuddle up in the field with all of my goats sleeping around me. I trained many different species, including my goats, mini horse, pig, and even my fish! I taught my goldfish Twister how to swim through hoops and play basketball with an underwater net.

I was a member, president, and leader for the local 4-H club called Buckanears which educates K-12 kids about how to properly take care of and enjoy small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.

When it came time for college, it was a no brainer that I would major in animal science. I attended Delaware Valley University’s Small Animal Science program and concentrated in animal behavior. I graduated cum laude and belong to three honor societies including one in the education field and one in agriculture.

I have been professionally training dogs for several years now, and last year I started Space Cat Academy, an online training school for cats.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to someone just starting to train their cat?

TORI: Get a clicker and learn how to be the best you can be at timing it properly. You want to click that clicker at the exact moment your cat does what you have asked. This is help your cat learn much faster and easier because they will start to correlate the noise with the action.

Also, when you cue a behavior, make sure that your cat has an understanding of the exercise. For example, if you are teaching your cat how to sit, make sure you are getting the behavior reliably before you start to say sit. Make sure you only say the cue ONCE! If you keep repeating the cue, you will confuse your cat on what the cue means and you will teach your cat that the cue is meaningless so don’t bother listening. For example, when a kid says “mom. Mom. mom. Mom. mom.” Eventually, the mother doesn’t hear them anymore.

Photo provided by Tori Peterson
Photo provided by Tori Peterson

ALLISON: Tell me a little about your cat Peach.

TORI: We found Peach on the side of the road right after we moved across the country from New Jersey to Wisconsin. We were exploring the area, driving through a rural part when a tiny orange flash darted across the road. We stopped and saw this emaciated, injured kitten. I’m a dog trainer as well, and I had treats in my car. I walked up to her and offered her some treats. She ate them and started purring. We decided to take her home as we thought if she spent another night outside she wouldn’t make it. The rest is history! Peach is an incredibly affectionate, busy, and talkative little cat. She is the first cat in the world to earn her Expert Trick Cat title through the Do More With Your Dog organization.

I’m trying the tricks with all three of our cats AND with Mama Cottrell at Cotner Pet Care. The first beginner trick is “Paw Target,” and the first advanced trick is “Cross Your Paws.” Already I’ve appreciated the opportunities to ask questions and upload videos for feedback.

If you’d like to learn more about Tori’s programs, visit Space Cat Academy.

Space Cat Academy offers articles in cat training, enrichment, nutrition, and science under its Articles section. There’s also a resource called “Why Does My Cat…?” where Tori gives information on why cats do the quirky things they do. To name a few, she covers: Why do they chew wires? Why do they chatter? Why do they dislike my friends? Why do they have so much energy at night?

She also offers fun Courses that help you with some practical issues and also tricks!

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