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Jun 5, 2023

Patience With a Side of Treats

The first time I saw Sam he was hiding under a bed. Described by his loving owner as very shy with strangers, Sam’s decision to be a no-show during the meet & greet was expected. Yet on my first visit to care for him, he completely surprised me by coming out of hiding to roll on the carpet. We have been friends ever since.

Patience With a Side of Treats

Sam likes to be brushed and before the end of every visit I make time for some combination of rubbing, scratching, and brushing. During one session Sam spun around with a hiss, scratching my hand deep enough to draw blood. I yelped, more out of surprise than pain. Then as calmly as I could manage, I walked away for a few minutes to bring down the temperature and because I wanted him to believe that 1) using aggression will drive me away, and 2) using aggression will stop (for now) the thing he likes.
Sam is a big fan of Temptations™ treats which he gets at the end of every visit. Since the treats follow the grooming sessions, they also serve as reward for his ongoing cooperation. But on this day I needed to create space between the scratch and the treats because bad stuff happening too closely to good stuff can become linked in the animal’s mind, increasing the likelihood the bad stuff will be repeated. And nobody wants that.
A few weeks and several visits later Sam took another swipe, again during a grooming session. Again I abruptly walked away and pretended to be distracted for several minutes before giving Sam his treats on my way out.
These upsets occurred over a year ago and I’m happy to report there hasn't been any drama since.


I find animal behavior endlessly fascinating and have given much thought to what I did to trigger Sam. Honestly, I have no idea. Sam's opinion seemed to change from okay to no way in a single brushstroke. As his movements were not restricted, he could have walked away. But if Sam was signaling growing agitation, his cues were far too subtle for this ordinary human. I began rewarding him for positive cues no matter how small and today I wait for Sam to give permission and always respect his cue to stop.
For example, Sam does not see the need to brush the fur on his chest. In the beginning I encouraged cooperation by scratching his chin while taking one short, quick stroke. Sam learned to give consent by raising his chin and I learned to stop when he lowers it. Brushing his chest remains one of his least favorite things but Sam will grant a few long strokes before dropping his chin.
Another instance is brushing the thicker, somewhat coarse fur on Sam’s tail which requires grasping it near the base with one hand while pulling the brush through with the other. In the beginning Sam was uncomfortable with the grasping part so I would take one quick stroke and release. Now he remains still, trusting that I will let go after a few strokes. Because he’s not into it, I always limit the strokes. And because I do, Sam sometimes offers a second opportunity if I want it.
By continuing to leverage Sam’s enthusiasm for Temptations™, someday I hope to groom his belly which, so far, has been strictly off limits. Wish us luck.

Did you know?

Long-haired or short-, many cats enjoy being brushed. However, cats can get their virtual bloomers in a twist for a number of reasons including the feel of the brush against their skin, overstimulation (physiologically or mentally), and fear (it hurts).
Long-haired cats and the people who love them have the most to gain from regular brushing:
• Less shedding = less vacuuming
• Fewer and smaller hairballs
• Prevents formation of mats; knotted fur can be painful
• Opportunity to check for lumps, bumps, lesions, and parasites
• Feels good, relieves stress
• Great bonding activity
I found this fantastic blog page posted yesterday (6/4/23) recommending the 5 Best Brushes for Long Haired Cats. (Cannot format text as link here. Instead paste into your browser). I have used the Furminator and the author does not exaggerate. You will be amazed how much fur the tool pulls out so effortlessly. Slicker brushes are highly effective though some cats may not like the feel if pressed too hard.

The best part of this blog post are the videos showing the different tools at work. Scroll down to watch Sasha's lavish fur coat being freshened and from there scroll almost to the bottom to watch a woman gently brushing a very laid-back orange kitten. The kitten’s brush has short, densely packed bristles of the kind recommended for short-haired cats.

Who says brushing a cat isn’t soothing?

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