Saturday, October 01, 2011

Cats and dogs come out to play

2011-09-30 Munson, Milkshake & Griff drinkingGriff and Greycute, the first tiny trainees for the on-the-job barncat work scheme arrived in May, giving me an opportunity to enrol Munson in Kittens 101

After a couple of months of impromptu classes – and two more additions to the troupe  in the form of Milkshake and Candyshop, Munson moved on to sniffing their butts while they licked his paws.
Since then we’ve had our long roadtrip away and the four mousers have grown larger and faster, and they’ve become quite blasé about having dogs around. Their unpredictability may be their greatest asset in this respect, sometimes affectionately batting at Munson or Legend’s nose, other times affecting a languid disregard for the hulking beasts a few inches away. They will also turn and hiss at minor moving violations into their personal space.

Munson, Candyshop and MilkshakeIt’s pleasing that Munson doesn’t retaliate in the latter situations – he just turns away quietly, or gently dangles a paw between them as if trying to engage in play. If Milkshake is lying on his back in the sun, he will ignore Munson until the sky has been totally eclipsed by his head, and then lift his head towards Munson to sniff or lick. If Munson isn’t responding in kind, he puts his paw on Milkshake’s belly as if he were another playground pup.

Munson and Milkshake: love amongst the tomatoes
Milkshake and Munson rub nosesLate this afternoon I found Milkshake and Candyshop exploring my potted herbs and tomatoes. I was concerned at first about Munson’s reaction to them being on his home turf. Malamutes aren’t typically territorial but I notice that Munson “respects” other dogs’ homes, perhaps conscious of the strong smell of them in the environment. So far he’s just been encountering the cats near the big house or out in the neutral zone that Tosca and Legend spend most of their time in.

However Munson wasn’t on alert, moving slowly around the cats, interested by their behaviour. Even when the two started drinking from his water bowl, he just watched and waited for one of them to move out of the way so that he could drink too.

Munson, Candyshop and Milkshake on the terrace

If one cat lost interest in him, then he didn’t follow it but turned away and looked for the other. Candyshop just lay down and started grooming his paws as if Munson weren’t there. 

This is the first time that he’s been completely off-leash around them. I don’t think my presence inhibited his behaviour – he was already mingling with them on the terrace before I noticed they were there. He’s moved up to Kittens 201 faster than I hoped for, and as all four of them pay more visits to our house, I’m looking for further improvement through simple habituation, positive reinforcement and patience. Lots of patience.

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