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My 5 Minute Training Plan For A Cat To Learn “Stay”

When Melo the cat escaped from his family’s home, he got out from the back door.

The back door is located in the kitchen.

Which was where I began formulating Melo’s anti-door-dash training plan.

I thought about the sounds preceding Melo’s back door opening.

After assessing Melo’s kitchen, I considered Melo’s perspective.

The order of operations allowing a back door exit involved the following sounds:

1) The glass door latch getting flipped

2) Sliding of the glass door

3) Flipping of the screen door latch

Since we were indoors, I focused on the sound created when the glass door latch was flipped.

Which made a “click” noise.

Previously, the “click” meant freedom to Melo.

I planned to counter-condition the click into triggering a brilliant stay behaviour that was entirely Melo’s choice.

To do that, I created value for a location to become Melo’s default “stay” area.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

As an animal welfare advocate, I am committed to using positive reinforcement in my work.

Because of my functional limitations, I use a lot of shaping to teach behaviours to animals.

My hand dexterity disability from MS means I can’t use luring or a clicker.

Day 1: Paw Targeting

Total time: 90 seconds — blanket from full-sized to 1/4 size

Paw targeting means teaching a cat to use his paws to touch something.

If you’re a cat owner (slave), you know you have to make that behaviour the cat’s idea.

With paw targeting, I started with a huge surface area using a blanket.

I placed the blanket close to a wall, which served as a barrier for Melo.

Once Melo touched a single paw on the blanket, I marked the exact moment by saying “search” and throwing a piece of kibble away from the blanket.

Because Melo is a domestic cat and a hunter by nature, the view of the flying kibble drew his attention and he followed it.

Melo’s facial expression suggested he was thinking: “What? I walked on the blanket like I wanted to…and a piece of kibble got thrown.”

Then Melo put two paws on the blanket, exactly what I wanted him to do.

When I saw those paws hit that blanket, I threw another piece of kibble after saying “search.”

Melo became hooked on this game — he quickly decided that all of his paws on the blanket might be a good idea.

Precisely what I wanted him to do.

To Melo, that was his idea.

I didn’t leave the game at that.

I folded the blanket in half to see if Melo understood where the value was.

Since the half-blanket remained in the same spot as the full one, Melo decided to try putting all of his paws on this reduced surface.

Again, Melo chose to do what I wanted him to do.

After that, I folded the blanket more to create a quarter blanket.

At that point, Melo decided to sit on the quarter blanket.

For Melo, everything he did was his idea. Plus he received payment for doing those things.

What a win for a cat!

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Day 2: Advancing Paw Targeting

Total time: 60 seconds

For this, I placed the quarter blanket into a basket.

Which would become Melo’s “stay” place.

The blanket within the basket was the spot I wanted to become Melo’s “stay” place.

To set Melo up for success, I started with part of the blanket hanging out of the basket.

Eventually, I had built enough value that Melo chose to go inside the basket on his own.

Where he remained.

Day 3: Adding the Cue

Total time: 13 seconds

Since I wanted the flip of the back glass door latch to be the “stay” cue for Melo, I threw a piece of kibble for him to leave the blanket in basket.

To set Melo up for success, I moved the stay zone closer to the glass door latch because I wanted him to associate the sound of the door latch with “get into your basket.”

The distance I tossed the food was close enough to his future “stay” zone. When Melo left to seek that piece of kibble, I manually flicked the door latch right before he settled himself into the basket.

After a few kibble tosses with “search,” Melo understood that door latch flick meant getting into his stay zone.

Day 4: The Release Cue

Total time: 7 seconds

A release cue is a word that permits an animal to leave a physical position or location.

Melo already had a release cue: “Search.”

Which began on Day 1 with the Paw Target game.

Melo understood “search” meant he was correct and to look for a piece of food on the ground.

I changed the release cue by introducing a new word: “break.”

Senior Cat Release Word From Place #cat #cute #cattraining #seniorcat #stay #pets

Day 5: Reinforcing Duration

Total time: 10 seconds every day

From Day 1, I dropped single kibbles when Melo was on the blanket.

Once I moved the blanket into the basket, the kibble dropping occurred unpredictably.

Since he had learned the release word “break” on Day 4, I would randomly say “break” to let him know that his job was over and that he could leave his spot.

The one time Melo was incorrect was when I put the empty basket in the living room 🤣

How did Melo’s stay behaviour apply in real life?:

Melo 🐱 passed his exam today! #seniorcat #cattraining #fearfreetraining…

How A One-Time Dog Vomiting Incident Led to Euthanasia

Sometimes: once is enough.

I’d like to share a story about a friend’s dog,
Winter showed me that a single incident of vomiting could be a veterinary
Winter was a spirited little American Eskimo dog, a breed that looks similar
to the dog pictured below.

Photo by Steve Ding on Unsplash

I met Winter and his family when I worked as a professional pet dog training
instructor in a retail store.
Winter and his people were in a class scheduled before my own class. Since
there were breaks between classes, I got to know Winter’s family very well.
To the point where we became incredible friends.
To the point where we became each others’ extended family.
One of the things Winter loved to do?
Eat snow.
Generally, dogs eating or licking snow isn’t a veterinary emergency.
In 2009, Winter ate/licked some snow covering the ground in the parking lot
at the condo where he lived with his humans.

Where the snow was located turned the situation into a veterinary emergency.
Since the snow Winter had eaten was from the ground of a parking lot, the
snow likely contained antifreeze. Antifreeze supposedly tastes sweet to dogs.

The antifreeze that gets poured into cars contains methylene glycol,
methanol, and ethylene glycol.
In other words: extremely toxic and not intended for
Because Winter had only vomited once, his people felt that wasn’t an
emergency. After all, he had vomited before and was no worse for wear.
This time, the family had to say good-bye to a 3 year old dog.

I spent most of that week with Winter’s humans, including visiting him at the
veterinary hospital and conversing with the veterinarians overseeing his
Eventually, I ended up signing the form authorizing Winter’s euthanasia to
end his suffering, because I didn’t want his humans to live with the guilt of
“killing” their beloved dog. I even said they could blame me if they wanted
Since Winter’s family and I remain friends to the present day, I know I did
the right thing.

Check out Nanette Lai’s accessible force-free dog training from her website!

5 Reasons to Attend Veterinary Conferences – Especially if They are in Your Own Backyard

If you are anything like me, I am inundated with offers to attend veterinary conferences across the globe. And all of them seem to offer some great and interesting features and benefits for sure. But they are literally across the globe.  Why not consider something a little closer to home?

Conferences are an essential part of the veterinary profession, but with staff shortages, escalating prices, and a very busy schedule, it’s no wonder that many of you put off attending any conferences.  This, however, should not deter you, there are countless great reasons to attend a conference! Here are just 5 ways conferences can change your life. I’ve been doing a bit of a dive into the various benefits of conferences that I could share with the VET community and found some interesting benefits from  I’d like to paraphrase a few of these with you.   

Get to know, personally, the other people in your field.

Networking is very important for job hunting, obviously, but having a big network, benefits you in other ways too. Maybe you will need advice from an expert in another field, or you will want to ask a veterinary supplier about new technologies and industry updates. This is easier when you have a network to reach out to. It’s also helpful to have support from people who are at a similar stage in their careers to you and can empathize with the problems and struggles which you go through at work.

Hear about the latest research

If you want to know about the very latest findings in your field before they are even published in journals, then a conference is the place to be. Many researchers will present preliminary findings at a conference, or work which has not yet been published. These ideas can be great inspiration for your own quest for knowledge.

Visit a new place and have fun

Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that attending a conference is good fun! Although a conference is unequivocally a work event more than a leisure one, it can still be enjoyable. Travelling to a new place is a big part of the appeal of a conference, meaning that you get to see a different city, eat new food, and see some local landmarks or tourist attractions. You might even try out learning a little bit of a new language.

You’ll also have the chance to attend social functions as part of a conference, such as dinners, trips, or parties. With the opportunity to meet other veterinary professionals with similar interests to you, you can enjoy the company of others and you might even make some good friends.

Quality CE

Sure, you can jump on a webinar and listen to a lecture online, but it doesn’t have the same effect as a live, energetic, and passionate lecture. Make your notes, ask your questions, and hear what others are asking as well.

Trade Show floor

This is a time where you can explore the latest and greatest, the newest solutions and techniques and perhaps even negotiate better prices with existing suppliers.  This is a great time to re-evaluate inventory and equipment in your clinic. Research potential new equipment purchases, explore your options in finance, leasing or buying? Look into succession planning and look for potential new employees. 

As a Canadian veterinary professional, attending the Veterinary Education Today conference & medical exposition promises to meet these expectations and more. With 36 hours of RACE-approved CE, you can be sure that we have carefully curated the program and selected the best of the best speakers.

Join us at our networking reception, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. It promises to be an excellent way to meet and greet old acquaintances and new friends.

Advantage of your own backyard

Yes, whether you’re in Toronto or across Canada, the VET Conference is completely accessible. Minutes from Pearson International Airport, GO Transit, Major highways and free parking, makes VET an inexpensive, quality and fun event.

We hope to see you there!  For details on the VET conference please refer to 

The Power of Storytelling for Creating Awareness and Connection

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I find myself wondering …

How many people told their story? Were you aware the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) campaign for 2023 followed a theme that encouraged canadians to tell their stories and mental health journeys?  #MyStory advocated for mental health support for all Canadians.  A worthy cause, and a lofty goal without doubt.

It is not the goal of this blog to prove the importance of this conversation, emphasize the concerns around the mental health of veterinary professionals, or cite statistics to convince anyone of anything.  I do however want to highlight the power of community and common humanity that is created when we share our stories.  Storytelling can create connection, reduces stigma, and allows for the creation of powerful spaces for recovery and change.

Regardless of who we are or what we do, we all experience things in life that challenge us.  Having a safe space to discuss those challenges, process appropriately, receive support, and ultimately heal, learn, grow and recover is key.  The good news?? Available resources have grown over the last number of years, including those that are ‘veterinary specific’.

The ongoing challenge??  The ‘need’ for support in the areas of mental and emotional health for veterinary professionals has been acknowledged as growing area of concern and has been an ongoing conversation for well over a decade.  Subjectively, the ‘uptake’ of resources is percieved to be quite low, despite the high level of concern and need.  As a neutral observer, that makes me curious as to the possible reasons for this gap.  As a 27 year veteran of the profession, and more recently as a provider of support to the profession, and someone that has shared #mystory, I understand the complexity of the space that represents that ‘gap’. 

Exploration of the ’Gap’ is also not the purpose of this blog. The purpose of this blog is to remind you that you are not alone.  There are a growing list of resources that are being created with specific focus in the veterinary community when it comes to mental health, and workplace well-being.  This list includes just a few – and I encourage you to search for a format, resource, and information that works for you. When you don’t know where to start – wherever you are, is as good a place as any.


Welcome 2023 – Where to Start?

Have you ever felt like you just don’t know where to start? Maybe you feel like there are no options, maybe you have a few and you are just not sure which way to go? At this stage in the ongoing recovery from COVID-19, a lot of people feel like it is time for a ‘reset’. They are just not sure what exactly that means.  I was pondering the same thing earlier this year, which is why I wrote the following blog where I work through my own experience.

Welcome 2023 – Where to Start?

Start where you are, Use what you have, Do what you can – Arthur Ashe

The question for me this year, at this particular point in time, and in my career has been … Where to start? ‘Cause I’m just not sure…

This quote reminds us to “Start Where We Are” – and when I think about that, I am aware of a dissonance that is created in me. Logically, it makes sense!! But my immediate emotional reaction ?? Wait What? Start where I am ??? No, No, No I can’t do that … 

Does the past not matter? How can I start if I can’t see the future?

Oh I see … so this is about time?

The mere fact that the past and the future comes up quickly reminds me of something I am familiar with, and have learned to remember to embrace often. The concept of our time here on this earth being a journey. A journey that I think of as a spiral, a spiral of learning, a spiral of healing. A spiral that can be applied in a lot of different ways, to a lot of different things.

Moving Upward on the Spiral …

The ultimate goal is to continue on an upward journey on this spiral of Life, which is not always easy. Sometimes we take a few steps backwards, and sometimes we get stuck … and sometimes we revisit the same situations over and over again, until we learn all we need to from multiple perspectives. Sometimes, different parts of us learn at different speeds, and learn different things. 

Wisdom of Our Three Brains

In the coaching world we are aware of the fact that we actually have three ‘brains’. Three sources of information that we rely on to make sense of the world, and our place in it. What the culmination of my lived experience allows me to see in this moment, as I contemplate Where to Start – is that my Brain, Gut, and Heart are all involved in this internal conversation. AND my Brain, Gut and Heart all have different signals informing their opinion. AND if I try to listen to all of those messages at once, I quickly get confused and overwhelmed. What I can do is recognize all three brains have important messages for me, and if I want to be effective, dare I say ‘productive’ then all three brains need to be seen, heard, and understood. 

When I am aware of this conversation, I realize something else – I have the choice to keep the banter going … or … I can choose to Stop and Listen.

Be Curious and Ask Each beautiful brain – Brain, Heart, AND Gut

What is important about the past and it maybe not mattering?

What is important about not knowing your exact next step?

When I stop, and I listen … very carefully

I learn how I can lower the dissonance, increase the alignment and what I need to do to take the next step. Once I know what is important, I have insight into what I have to offer:

  • To my brain – I believe you, it makes 100% sense to start here AND there is a timeline … the past matters, and the future is unknown.
  • To my Gut – the blood, sweat and tears you have put in matter, they have made a difference. I see you, I honour you and I offer you Gratitude, Forgiveness and Compassion
  • To my Heart – I know not being sure what the future looks like is scary. I honour you and I offer you Courage to believe that you can Trust yourself, Trust your all of your strengths, lean into your curiosity, passion, openness, and hope for the future.