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Tournaments prove cats can be taught some new tricks

April 15, 2004


Toronto National Post


Maybe cats actually can be taught to do what they're told.

The organizers of the International Cat Agility Tournaments certainly think they can.

On May 1, they're starting their first season. The tournaments -- scheduled to be held in a scattering of cities in the United States, Canada and Europe -- are loosely modeled on the obstacle courses of dog tournaments.

So far, five trial runs have been held in New Mexico -- with tunnels, ramps, hoops and a slalom course. They've shown that some cats, sometimes, can indeed do tricks. They've also shown there's a stark difference between the feline sexes.

"The males tend to have a very short attention span," says Vickie Shields, chief organizer of the competitions. "Male kittens do OK, but when they reach sexual maturity, they just get distracted. They'll be running along, but then just stop and walk off."

Generally, the female cats tend to look before they jump, which helps in the obstacle course, says Shields.

Training a cat to handle an obstacle course is simple, Shields says: Just walk it through the course by hand, then introduce a lure and slowly increase the pace. At some point, she says, they begin to ignore the lure. But by then, she says, the cat has learned to run the course on its own and "takes off like a Jet Ski." The females, anyway.

"I've never seen a male cat yet who has got it."

Aline Noel, a cat breeder for 25 years, says any cat owner hoping to do well in the tournaments should keep one thing in mind: "A cat is a curious animal. If the cat is not afraid, he will do anything. Not for you, not to give you pleasure -- just for their pleasure."

There have been a few changes put in place to the original, dog-style obstacle course. The ladder walk, long the bane of show dogs, had to be scrapped because it was too easy for the far more agile cats. And other obstacles were tweaked, Shields says, because the "vertical, more 3D" agility of cats made the "horizontal" dog course too easy.

National Post


(Reprinted by permission from Joe Brean, National Post, 4/15/04)


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