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What a Treat

Welp, it’s been a difficult week for dogs and people alike. But before I get to any of that, I need to catch up in recording what’s gone on with Rikki for the past few weeks.

Giving Rikki his own tile on the kitchen bar was absolutely the right play; thereafter I just stopped responding to him or modeling for him on the main board, and he rarely engages with it anymore. His attention is now directed almost entirely toward his own two buttons (TREAT and KITTYNIP). The good news is that he fully understands now that making the button sound off is what produces the result; the bad news is that he’s become a button spammer.

I very quickly realized that having Rikki’s button presses going to the app was a terrible idea, and replaced them with the unconnected SpeakUp buttons that I started out with. I also soon instituted firm, consistent limits: he gets one serving of catnip per day, and a single treat three times a day (morning, afternoon, night). Every other request gets “no” and “all-done”. I am hoping that the pattern will eventually penetrate into his wee little head.

The original target-training method I tried got him only as far as patting a button with a paw, not actually stepping on it; he naturally dislikes stepping on things, so he’s ended up activating the buttons mostly by lying on, rubbing his head against, or actually gnawing on the buttons rather than pressing with a paw.

I’m about to try and fix that, though. Someone in the Discord chat pointed out that liquid cat treats can be better for getting your cat to step on the button instead of simply tapping it (because they have to stay and lick instead of grabbing a bite and moving off with it). I’d never heard of “liquid cat treats”, but apparently little squeeze tubes have become popular in the US sometime in the last decade since I left. So I made up a bunch of “boiled chicken gloop” with some chicken leftover from making more soft treats, and I ordered some silicone squeeze bottles (meant for traveling with shampoo and such) from Amazon MX for dispensing purposes. They arrived last night, and so today I began trying to get him used to the stepping position for treats.

And, welp, that was a mess. Lots of error in my trial. My chicken gloop was too watery, it turns out, and the method that had been suggested for avoiding ‘meat goo splort’ was insufficient to the task. There was, in fact, quite a lot of splort before I finally settled on just holding the lidless container up with a somewhat thickened gloop to let him lick at the opening.

Then I discovered just how averse Rikki is to standing with his front paws on a higher surface than his back paws. So averse, in fact, that he’d rather just balance indefinitely on his hind legs.

<sigh> If only I were trying to train him to be a circus cat, instead of pressing buttons.

It’s unclear to me whether Rikki even understands the difference between his two buttons. I mean, you would think, after almost four weeks of modeling and reinforcement, but … then again, this is Rikki we’re talking about. Adding a third button for something non-ingestible (like play) would answer that question, but I’m not going to change anything else until after I’ve got him stepping on the buttons instead of gnawing on them. I expect that to take a while.

For fun, here’s a captioned clip from December 6 of Rikki hovering around the main board and accidentally pushing a random button (he doesn’t know what any of them mean), and Tashi’s appropriate response.

I didn’t actually have a great angle on this from either camera; from this one, Rikki’s body was blocking Tashi’s button press, and from the top-down cam, the bar of intense sunlight washed everything out so that you couldn’t even see the buttons against the yellow board. After having this setup for a few weeks, I’ve realized that the top-down camera is not actually very useful and what I really need is a second side view. So I’m going to move things around soon — just waiting on Jak’s help.

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