Main / Personal projects / Gizmo

I trained our cat Gizmo to do several tricks. I live in Boston, and she lives with my parents in Rochester; I wanted to see if she remembered me. I followed a clicker training methodology: every time she performed the behavior I wanted, I made a clicking sound and gave her a treat. I started out with a simple behavior (e.g., walking through a hoop), and then gradually increased the complexity (e.g., raising the height of the hoop until she was jumping).

She would not learn if the behavior was too simple. If the hoop was too low on the ground, she would walk through it, but not realize that it was special. If I simply lured her to stand on her hind legs with the treat, she would do it, but not realize it was a trick. Instead, I had to raise the hoop high enough that walking through it took extra effort, but not so high that she could walk underneath it. To teach her to sit up, I gently pushed her up with my hands, and then clicked and gave her the treat; eventually she learned to sit up by herself. I signal which trick to perform with gesture and props. The signaling arose fairly naturally, because she plays close attention to whatever hand is holding the treat. She performs her tricks reliably when I come home, even without reinforcement for many months.

I have had problems teaching her more complicated tricks. I tried teaching her to fetch, and she can reliably reliably pick up a toy mouse in her mouth and place it in a bowl. However, if the mouse is too far away, she refuses to pick it up; I can’t get her to retrieve it from across the room.

It takes about three days to teach her a new trick, with three or four five-minute training sessions per day. I taught each trick during a single visit home from Boston. She loves the training sessions, and generally purrs the entire time. Video and pictures were created by my husband, Piotr Mitros.

My favorite part is how she twists in mid-air in order to come down facing me, so that she gets the treat as soon as possible.