Well, I saw a potential behavior issue coming a while back and I barely did anything to change it. Well here it is and ah, shall I say it could be a wee bit of a problem?
Rico started chasing the squirrels in the aviary a few years ago as you see in the photo to the left and the video below. The first few times he did it, I laughed. My attention is a huge reinforcer for Rico. After the first few times of laughing, I realized I could very well be reinforcing a dangerous behavior. The last thing I need is for a squirrel to turn around and bite Rico if Rico gets close enough. Well, the summer soon ended and the aviary time was over for the winter. Hmmm, right.
So we found ourselves cooped up in the house playing training games to bide our time for the weather to get warmer. Can you foresee what behavior I’m getting ready to talk about if I tell you we have two cats? After a month of being cooped up in the house, Rico identified a new moving target. I literally saw what he was thinking one day. He was perch on top of the refrigerator and I was cleaning up the kitchen. My husband’s oldest cat, Ceno who is 24 years old came walking through the kitchen. I glanced at Rico and if I could put thoughts to what I saw him thinking, I saw him thinking “How cool is this? A bigger squirrel for my indoor target practice.” His body hunched down and his eyes got big. “Oh no!” I thought and all I could do was look at Ceno and say “Run!” Ceno didn’t even see it coming. That’s ok because he rounded the corner and ‘out of site out of mind’. Rico turned and looked around as if to say “Ok, what was I doing.”
Well it didn’t take long before Rico started his indoor target practice. One time my husband was home and Ceno came running through the house. Rico came flying through the house behind him. My eyeballs about popped out of my head and I looked at my husband. He saw it! His eyes were huge and he looked at me and said “Was Rico chasing Ceno?”. I pretended like I didn’t see it and I said turned to watch the black running by and the white hovering above. “My bird would never do a thing like that” I said. All I received was ‘the look’ from my husband. I knew he wasn’t believing one word coming out of my mouth. “What?” I said as I looked up and he was still staring at me. I’m chuckling as I’m typing this because me and one of my birds are always up to something we are trying to hide from my husband.
This past winter Rico and I had a new behavior to work on modifying. We did it. It worked or is working.
Rico barely chases the cat anymore but it is something he has learned and I will always have to watch it. Rico knows when the cat walks through the room, if he stays still he gets pine nuts. I have to make sure to watch for this. We are now able to space out the amount of times that I deliver the nuts. Sometimes the pine nuts aren’t of high enough value though. So I began searching for other things he likes to do that are of higher value to him. For whatever reason, Rico loves to toss a roll of vet wrap. I’ve taught him to play fetch by tossing the vet wrap in the aviary also. It is great exercise for him both physically and mentally. I’ve often wondered if him chasing the vet wrap could be a reinforcer for him chasing the cat. It is something I am constantly watching. Regardless, he loves chasing the roll of vet wrap, it wears him out, and it is something fun for the two of us to do together. Did I mention how much he loves this? HE LOVES IT. Pulling a roll of vet wrap from the drawer is a guarantee that it will stop Rico from doing whatever other behavior he is doing.
Fast forward to today. Ceno the 24-year-old cat was not feeling well today and went in for a vet visit. He is fine but it looks they did a blood draw from his hind leg. My husband took him to the vet, not myself. So how did I know they probably did a blood draw? Because I’m sitting here at my computer working with Rico perched
beside me on the back of a chair. All is calm and then Ceno walks down the stairs and through the kitchen. Something caught my eye and I did a double take looking at Ceno. Ceno has a good portion of his hind leg wrapped in vet wrap. My eyes grew huge. I turned and looked at Rico. HE SAW IT! He also let out the loud “HAW” of a yell they do as he moved into position. I quickly looked back at Ceno and Ceno hunched, stopped, and turned and looked at Rico and I. Ceno was looking at me for confirmation that all was ok. I stood and yelled “Ceno run!!!”
A video from a few years ago of when Rico first started chasing the squirrels in the aviary.