Editor’s Note: We are excited to welcome author and certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger to Catster. We met her at last November’s Cat Writers Association Conference in Los Angeles, and we were so impressed with her, we featured her in our post about the event. She’ll be writing regularly for us and answering questions about cat behavior.
Hi, Caster readers! I’m thrilled to be on board here at Catster. I am a certified cat behavior consultant and I help people solve cat behavior problems using force-free methods. I visit people’s homes and also provide phone consultations. I’m the author of Naughty No More!, which focuses on changing unpleasant cat behaviors through clicker training, environmental changes, and other methods, none of which use force. Here is my story.
Cats have always been an integral part of my family, and it has been that way for generations. As a child, I remember my mother and grandmother telling me stories of long-deceased relatives and their favorite cats. Somewhere there is an old daguerreotype of my great-great aunt. The picture is typical of the time. My relative is wearing a conservative dress with a high neck. Her expression is grim. What sets this picture apart from other daguerreotypes of the time is the cat who is perched atop my great-great aunt’s chest.
Although there were always household cats to love, my mom gave me my first kitten when I was 11 years old. I named him Velvet, but my mom changed his name to Eenie. Because Eenie’s behavior intrigued me, I read every cat book I could find. There were not many around back then. Eenie was the first of many sweet feline companions. He was also my first cat behavior teacher. He taught me never to play using hands. In those early years I read, observed, and asked the family veterinarian questions, learning everything I could about Eenie’s behavior.
In 1987, I trapped a 2-year-old feral tom who I named Morgan. Morgan spent the first three months hiding under the couch. By working to earn his trust and never forcing interactions, I learned how to socialize ferals. I set up situations that encouraged Morgan to take the steps toward socializing with me as he felt more secure. Within a year, he transformed into an affectionate cat who enjoyed the company of humans. His transformation from a scaredy cat to a lap-sitter further fueled my curiosity about cats and their fascinating behaviors.
In the early 1990s, there still wasn’t very much information about cat behavior available. I took animal behavior classes and attended conferences and talks wherever I found them. Some of the advice put forth by experts of the time bothered me, because it incorporated punishments and aversive measures. Sadly, many of those same punishment-based solutions are still followed today.
There was one source who outshined others: Pam Johnson-Bennett. Her books laid the foundations for today’s "cat whisperers" and cat behaviorists. Pam’s books inspired me to seek out formal classes and to develop my own non-punishment and positive-reinforcement-based methods.
My fascination with Bengal cats, a fairly new breed at the time, began in the 1990s. Maulee was my first Bengal. When she first came to live with me, as an older cat who was antisocial, she responded to change by exercising her teeth and claws on anyone who came within five feet of her. I worked with Maulee, helping her feel safe in her new home and with different people. I used clicker training as one of the tools to change her from fractious to loving. My work with Maulee, along with other cats, has been featured on a variety of television shows, including Animal Planet’s Cats 101.
Here’s an excerpt:
Becoming immersed in the Bengal world opened my eyes to the immense amount of inaccurate and harmful assumptions about Bengals and other domestic cat breeds who have distant exotic ancestors. These assumptions are not limited solely to these specific breeds. All cats, including shelter cats and other established breeds, are subject to these harmful rumors. It is a tragic situation. Cats are unnecessarily surrendered to shelters and euthanized for fixable behavior problems.
Years ago, I opened the doors of the Cat Coach, to help solve cat behavior problems and educate people about cat behaviors. A few months later, I joined the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and am currently the chair of the cat division. I also enjoy giving presentations on cat behavior and writing books and articles about my favorite subject — cats!
My love of Bengals and Savannahs has persisted through it all. In addition to sharing my home with four Bengals (Maulee, Asia, Oliva and Jinniyha), I am endlessly entertained by a Savannah named Sudan.
I’m thrilled to be with you on Catster!
Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Leave it in the comments below!