View my Behavior Text2MindMap here.
Reinforcing and Modifying Behaviors at Home
I began thinking about conditioning at 2:37 this morning when one of my annoying cat started yowling and scratching at the door of my studio apartment. Now the dilemma: any sort of response from me (feeding, turning the light on, throwing a pillow) would be attention and encourage similar behavior in the future. Early on, I inadvertently rewarded my cat’s meowing and now the behavior is a challenge to stop. My cat has learned that if he makes a hullaballoo I’ll wake up and take notice of him, regardless of the hour. It’s not an issue of food or water access or medical problems, he simply wants some TLC.
Ideally, here’s what I would do to solve my cat issue:
Goal: increase quiet behavior, decrease meowing at night. Discrimination – meowing is appropriate communication when I’m awake in the daytime, but not when the lights are off (at night).
Method: operant conditioning. Using consequences to encourage or discourage behavior
Punishment for meowing at night – ignore the behavior (easier said than done!) and get some ear plugs
Reinforcement for being quiet – a few minutes of petting and scratching
1. Have an intense play session with the cat at night so he’ll have less energy and sleep longer.
2. Feed the cat just before bedtime (cats zonk out pretty hard after a good meal).
3. DON’T feed the cat immediately after waking up in the morning. Wait to serve breakfast when I leave for work.
4. Keep plenty of cat toys accessible for self-entertainment at night.
I enjoyed this idea I read on the ASPCA website to discourage lingering around the door:
If he cries and scratches at the door, you can discourage him by placing something in front of the door that he won’t want to step on, such as vinyl carpet runner placed upside-down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil or a Scat Mat™ (available at most pet supply stores or through online pet supply sites). Alternatively, you can set a “booby trap” outside your door. Try hanging your blow dryer off the bedroom door knob, or placing your vacuum cleaner five or six feet away from the door. Plug the dryer or vacuum into a remote switch (available from Radio Shack). When your cat wakes you by meowing outside your door, you can hit a button on the remote to turn on the appliance. Your startled cat probably won’t return to your door after that!
I’ll be back later with an update!