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Old 01-20-2005, 07:28 PM
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Help me build a Skinner Box for my kitty.


I've got two cats: Little Bear is a 16.5-year old male, and Maya is a four-month-old female. Both are altered, and the kitten is declawed.

Maya is very intelligent and playful, and has a wonderfully sweet disposition. Except that she bites when she's playing, both with Little Bear and with people. She's never bitten out of meanness or aggression, only as part of play. Her teeth are very sharp, and draw blood. (By the way, the declawing has not been a factor in this behavior.)

When she's caught in the act, she gets reprimanded. I tried using a squirt gun, but she actually likes it. I've tried distracting her with toys, but this is only a temporary fix. And I can't be with her 24/7, so most of the time she gets away with it. Little Bear is too old to defend himself, so he just complains and hisses at her, which has no effect.

I'm convinced that she doesn't understand that the reprimands are related to her behavior. I need to get her in a controlled environment where she won't be distracted, where I can concentrate on teaching her that her biting behavior has negative consequences, and more importantly, that non-biting behavior has positive consequences. The last thing I want is to make her neurotic or defensive. I don't want to jeopardize her wonderful qualities in the process; I only want to rid her of this one behavior. And I'd rather not have to keep her in it for prolonged periods of time, either.

So what are the nuts and bolts of building this controlled, yet nurturing, environment? What would be an appropriate way to administer both reward and punishment, that will have a permanent, positive effect on her?
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Old 01-20-2005, 09:22 PM
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IANA Animal Behaviorist, but isn't kitten play really practice for adult aggressive behavior? While I know you're trying to break her of this behavior, the first part of your post almost sounds like rationalization (only biting during play).

Take a good look at your scolding techniques and be sure that you are being firm and consistent.

Also, be respectful of your senior cat's space. Imagine if you were 90 years old and someone dropped off an infant to share your space. I'd be doing more than hissing.
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Old 08-09-2019, 02:05 PM
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Declawing is a bad idea and could indeed have some bearing on behavior. That said, she's a kitten! That is kitten behavior. Especially if you rough up her tummy that may provoke the biting and scratching, tempting though it may be. Let her get those kitten crazies out on a toy such as a feather toy to reduce the pain of your shared existence. Some cats just have more of a tendency to bite and scratch, especially when very young. In two or three years she may calm down considerably. You don't need a Skinner box, you need patience for a young animal.

Last edited by EarlGrayHot; 08-09-2019 at 02:06 PM.
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Old 08-09-2019, 02:22 PM
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My Bear and Meeko fought like..well..cats and dogs. When they hit a year it slowed down. They rarely have hissy-fits with each other now. If they do it's over the best sleeping spot or because Meeko is kneading to hard. I would limit the 2 cats exposure to each other for awhile. Maya-Kitten will grow out of it. Maybe.
Oh, yeah IMHO.

Last edited by Beckdawrek; 08-09-2019 at 02:23 PM.
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Old 08-09-2019, 03:09 PM
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I only have a 35 year old psych degree and somewhere along the lines of that much time sharing my life with kitties. And some time reading about cat behaviour and watching "My Cat From Hell"

I would suggest this:
1. Hiss at the kitten when it's biting. I know that Little Bear is hissing, but you're the parent, and Mama hissing is what tells kittens they're doing wrong.
2. If possible, gently restrain the kitten. Just enough pressure to keep the kitten's paws against her side. Just for a few seconds, so she knows she was doing something she wasn't supposed to. If she's harassing her brother, taker he
3. Don't give her toys, that's potentially rewarding her behavior.

If possible, give Little Bear a place where he can get away from the kitten. Although that may be hard - a 4 month old kitten is pretty agile.
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Old 08-09-2019, 03:20 PM
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Yes, kittens know how to play with each other. If a kitten tries biting you as part of play rather than the cat toy, simply ignore the kitten completely for a few minutes.

No need for weird experimental boxes, and non-medically-necessary surgery to declaw animals (or amputate human limbs, for that matter) is highly unethical at best as well as strictly illegal in most places. Certainly no legitimate veterinarian would do it.

ETA if the cat is still biting after 15 years, you need to try a new approach!

Last edited by DPRK; 08-09-2019 at 03:22 PM.
  #7  
Old 08-09-2019, 03:28 PM
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This thread is from 2005, everyone.
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Old 08-09-2019, 03:38 PM
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I'm scared to ask about an update on these two kitties...
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It may be because I'm a drooling simpleton with the attention span of a demented gnat, but would you mind explaining everything in words of one syllable. 140 chars max.
  #9  
Old 08-09-2019, 04:07 PM
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I believe that there is more than one way to Skinner a cat.
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Old 08-09-2019, 05:38 PM
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Since this thread is about 60 cat-years old, I expect that one way or another the behavioral issues have been solved. Moving to IMHO.

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  #11  
Old 08-09-2019, 05:42 PM
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Yes, this is an old thread, but I'm always happy to chime in with "don't declaw your cats". It's cruel and it doesn't stop them from being destructive or inflicting wounds.
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Old 08-09-2019, 09:03 PM
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Update: Both cats are long gone.
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Old 08-09-2019, 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by panache45 View Post
Update: Both cats are long gone.
The older one obviously was; sorry about the younger one.

In the meantime, did they ever get used to each other?
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Old 08-09-2019, 09:44 PM
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I'm so sorry.

It's possible they were declawed when he got them, though. That's the case with everyone I know who has a cat that's declawed.
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Old 08-10-2019, 01:13 AM
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The older one obviously was; sorry about the younger one.

In the meantime, did they ever get used to each other?
Every time my elderly mother climbed the stairs, the kitten would attack her ankles, drawing blood. I had to return the kitten to the shelter. A month later, mom passed away, so it could have resolved itself differently.

Anyway, I got another young female which I still have. And another cat, who has come and gone since then, the Best Cat Ever.
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Old 08-10-2019, 07:19 AM
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...And the reason for the bump was probably because Cecil's column on Skinner boxes was on the front page, and this was linked as a related thread.
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Old 08-10-2019, 09:30 AM
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I'm so sorry.

It's possible they were declawed when he got them, though. That's the case with everyone I know who has a cat that's declawed.
I must admit, I'd rather have the tips of my fingers removed than my testicles; we believe the first is horrible, but the second a good thing.
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Old 08-10-2019, 05:34 PM
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I must admit, I'd rather have the tips of my fingers removed than my testicles; we believe the first is horrible, but the second a good thing.
And in my case, the uterus and ovaries. But we aren't cats, capable of reproducing multiple times a year with the vast majority of our children dying almost immediately.
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Old 08-10-2019, 06:28 PM
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And in my case, the uterus and ovaries. But we aren't cats, capable of reproducing multiple times a year with the vast majority of our children dying almost immediately.
I wonder if it's because veterinarians are not trained to perform tubal ligations and vasectomies on cats as a matter of course? I believe there is also, whether justified or not (I don't know), a deliberate effort to actually alter the behaviour of cats to make them more amenable to indoor or indoor/outdoor domestic living, i.e., less likely to jump out the window to look for mates, get into nasty fights, mark territory, etc.

All that is beside the issue of mutilating the tips of the fingers of a cat, which is very, very rarely medically necessary or necessary for the cat's welfare (like it could be argued that gonadectomy keeps the cat from jumping out of third-floor windows and getting into nightly kitty deathmatches). The fact that the kitten in the OP was declawed may very well have contributed to the subsequent issue of problem biting. It is apparently not yet a criminal offence in many US states like it is in Europe, but it is surprising that a legitimate veterinarian would do it. Or somewhat less surprising if you take into account places where it may not be strictly illegal, a relaxed approach to ethics and animal welfare, and $$$.

Quote:
Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
I must admit, I'd rather have the tips of my fingers removed than my testicles; we believe the first is horrible, but the second a good thing.
Interestingly, there is a long tradition of, e.g., castrating male humans for various purposes, and people were somewhat cool with it.

Last edited by DPRK; 08-10-2019 at 06:32 PM.
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Old 08-10-2019, 09:06 PM
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Tubal ligations and vasectomies only make the animal infertile. They do not prevent the animals from going into heat or engaging in roaming or spraying behaviors.
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Old 08-10-2019, 09:21 PM
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he clawing of the ankles thing would of stopped once mom and kitten made friends or got to the point kitten knew she wasn't prey or threat ....

When I was 11 and moved in with grandma her cat would do that in hallway...eventually, after making friends and a few smacks to the butt she stopped .....
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Old 08-10-2019, 11:45 PM
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he clawing of the ankles thing would of stopped once mom and kitten made friends or got to the point kitten knew she wasn't prey or threat ....
They were friends, always playing "fetch" with bottle caps. That's why mom kept begging me to give the kitten another chance. But when you see a 92yo woman with blood running down into her shoes, it's the last straw.
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Old 08-12-2019, 03:11 PM
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You know, all of my cats except one have been declawed, and none of them had behavioral issues. I know that there are ethical issues with declawing and y'all are free to hate on me for declawing some of my cats*, but unless there are studies showing that declawing leads to behavioral issues, y'all are just spreading propaganda.

*My latest two were declawed before I got them.
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Old 08-13-2019, 03:54 AM
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You know, all of my cats except one have been declawed, and none of them had behavioral issues. I know that there are ethical issues with declawing and y'all are free to hate on me for declawing some of my cats*, but unless there are studies showing that declawing leads to behavioral issues, y'all are just spreading propaganda.

*My latest two were declawed before I got them.
I totally agree. My current cat, a 13yo female, had been spayed and declawed as a kitten. She's the happiest cat I've ever had, with absolutely no behavioral issues. Totally mellow, and never complains about anything.

Or could that be because of the declawing?
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Old 08-13-2019, 05:15 AM
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It's typically the spaying/neutering that is said to "mellow" the cat (along with urine spraying and other aggressive behaviors), not declawing. (However, that is not completely consistent AFAIK, and individual cases may vary.)

Many cats will not develop behavioral or psychological problems as a result of declawing, though some do. I never heard any lore that declawing could reduce behavioral issues, only the opposite. I know of a case where declawing was psychiatrically indicated in a cat that was already suffering from severe mental problems, but that was because she was harming herself and her caretakers, not because it was supposed to somehow chill her out.

That is not the reason declawing is widely outlawed, though. The reason is that, with the exception of medical cases, one is talking about surgical amputation, with attendant risks (chronic pain, nerve damage, deformity, infection, etc etc as well as a risk of behavioral problems), with zero potential benefit for the patient, along with a 100% chance of leaving the cat defenseless and not being able to do some normal cat things. Informed consent is, naturally, not possible, but even if you yourself went to a surgeon and explained that you wanted the tips of your fingers with your nail beds removed, they wouldn't do it. Similarly, they wouldn't, e.g., shave a cat, unless there were a good reason like to remove matted fur, nor dye her fur blue, pierce her ears, and so on.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:36 PM
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My cats that went outside were not declawed.
They all went missing.
Our cats that stay inside are declawed.
They are alive and well.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:53 PM
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Hm? Claws do not make a cat wander outside, it's the open doors and windows. There is a special type of fencing that is used to construct safe outdoor enclosures for cats; it has a top segment that swivels inward when the cat tries to climb it.
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