Page 5 - Northern Star Fall 2020 Edition
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The Northern
 CCN’s PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT animal advocacy program adds another four paws to the team! CCN child/adolescent counselor, Sydney Stephenson, was approved to begin integrating Thea, a Sphynx cat, into youth counseling sessions last year. Thea joins veteran canine advocates, Ari and Penny, and our newest canine addition, Rune, to form the “PAWS Fantastic Four” (with four paws). Join us as Sydney shares some background and perspectives on Thea’s journey to becoming CCN’s first feline advocate.
“For those of you who haven’t gotten a chance to meet her yet, this is our first feline member of the PAWS team, Thea.
As we approach the one year anniversary of her beginning with Crisis Center North, I wanted to talk about her journey with training to be a therapy animal as well as the socialization process she went through to become a happy and thriving member of my home. I already had
other animals in my house, so it was important to introduce her carefully to set her up for success.
Thea was “re-homed” to me because her previous owners said that she wasn’t getting along with their other female cats. Too often, animals end up in shelters due to problems that can be managed with some prevention and/or by utilizing positive training methods. Once Thea was comfortable at home, it was time to bring her to the office and start training with her!
When working with animals, I use only positive training methods. This is because I don’t want the animal to fear me or the clients, but rather look forward to coming to “work.” I do not want the animal to obey me because I am dominant; I want them to listen to me because I have established a trusting relationship with them.
Positive training involves using something called a “marker,” which is any signal or cue you give to the animal when they display the behavior you want. Because it is not practical nor healthy to give them a treat every time they do something good, we pair the marker with something enjoyable such as a treat, petting, or playing with a favorite toy, and the animal eventually associates the marker itself as something reinforcing.
Some of the tricks that Thea has mastered via clicker training include “kissing” your hand, jumping up onto something, coming when called, following your hand, and taking a treat gently from your hand. She is working on going through her tunnel on cue, walking on a leash, and standing on
her hind legs. Eventually she will master more difficult tricks like “playing” tic tac toe, selecting a toy for the client to play with, climbing a toy castle, and playing fetch with her ball. Thea also enjoys dressing up since she is a hairless cat, but be cautious about dressing up your own cat because many animals don’t enjoy wearing clothing and instead merely tolerate it at best. The most important part of your relationship with any animal should be the animal’s consent and enjoyment in the learning process!
It is a common misconception that cats are stubborn and can’t be trained. In fact, it’s just the opposite! They are very smart and love to learn, so clicker training is a way to bond with them.”
For more detailed information about how best to introduce your new furry companion to your home, or on how to use a clicker for positive training, check out these two helpful websites: dos-and-donts-of-introducing-cats/
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