I have a cat named Mimi at home. She is silly and spends her days eating and sleeping. She is lazy and doesn't study at all, and she doesn't even know how to meow. Maybe it's because she can't meow that she has a strong sense of inferiority and a very negative attitude towards life, gradually becoming obese. In order to make a cat that can't meow face life positively, we decided to use a pet communication button to replace the meowing and teach Mimi to "speak".
Experimental Principle Teaching Philosophy#
Inspired by the dog Bunny (https://instagram.com/whataboutbunny?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=) and a cat named Fufu on Bilibili (https://space.bilibili.com/2074644467/), they can use different buttons to express their needs. We also plan to use the same method to train the cat to express its current needs through different sounds produced by pressing different buttons, such as "eat", "open the door", and "cuddle".
The basic principle of the entire learning process is classical conditioning, which can be divided into classical conditioning and operant conditioning. The most famous example of classical conditioning is Pavlov's dog. Before giving food, a bell is played repeatedly. After many repetitions, the dog learns to associate the bell (conditioned stimulus) with the reward (food). Operant conditioning, first proposed by the representative of behaviorism, B.F. Skinner, involves exploring experimental mice in Skinner boxes, where the mice need to establish a connection between actively pressing the lever (action) and obtaining a reward (food). Operant conditioning establishes a connection between active behavior and reward, while classical conditioning establishes a connection between passively hearing a bell stimulus and a reward, making the learning process simpler. In addition, the time interval between the conditioned stimulus (pressing the lever/bell sound) and the unconditioned stimulus (obtaining food) is important, and the shorter the interval, the easier it is to establish a connection.
In the current case, it is necessary to establish a connection between different buttons and different feedback for the cat, which is itself an operant conditioning. However, in the cat's past life experience, it has already associated other behaviors (such as kicking the food bowl) with getting cat food, so it is necessary to consider the extinction of this association. In addition, the cat's living environment is different from the Skinner box for mice. The environment in the box is simple, and it is very easy to explore and find the lever. The cat's living environment is rich, so it may require some guidance for it to understand the connection between the voice button and eating, in order to improve the learning rate. Finally, in order to improve the learning rate, it is possible to consider establishing classical conditioning first. Initially, the person presses the button and then gives food, gradually transitioning to operant conditioning, allowing the cat to press the button to obtain the reward on its own.
Experimental Preparation Teaching Preparation#
- Pet communication buttons. Purchased from Taobao, we bought four recordable buttons at once, with an average price of over 20 RMB each.
- We initially used two buttons, with the yellow button recording "eat" and the blue button recording "open the door".
Experimental Animals Teaching Subjects#
- Lazy Mimi
Experimental Results Teaching Progress#
The line graph below shows the learning curve of my cat Mimi.
For the first 7 days, Mimi did not actively press the pet communication button except for accidentally pressing the "open the door" button once. It wasn't until the 8th day that Mimi noticed the existence of the button and actively tried to press it. Once Mimi realized that pressing the button could result in feedback, she started pressing the button more than 40 times a day, entering a phase of rapid learning and even learning new buttons like "cuddle" in a short period of time.
Phase 1: Extinction of previous behavior patterns and establishment of classical conditioning#
Place the "eat" button near the food bowl and the "open the door" button near the bedroom door (you can start with just one button to simplify).
"Eat" Teaching Guidelines#
The core of this stage is to give the cat food immediately after the parent presses the button, training the cat to associate the sound of the "eat" button with getting food.
Extinction of old behavior patterns. When my cat is hungry, she will use her paws to pat the food bowl. Once the formal teaching begins, the parent must be firm and not respond to this request. After a while, the cat will understand that patting the food bowl no longer attracts the parent's attention, and the association between the two behaviors will be extinguished, allowing the cat to explore other methods and possibly notice the buttons we have placed in advance.
Keep the cat in a slightly hungry state to maintain a high internal drive. I feed my cat twice a day, and when I start formal teaching, I reduce the amount of food during the day to about 1/3 of the usual amount, making it easier for one-on-one guidance at night.
Small amounts multiple times. When I come home at night, my cat will try to pat the food bowl to get food. At this time, I ignore it and wait until it stops patting the food bowl out of exhaustion. Then, I press the "eat" button myself and immediately add a very small amount of food. Throughout the night, I repeat pressing the button multiple times, with a time interval of about one or two minutes, to reinforce the learning effect.
Minimize the time interval between the button sound and feeding. Before preparing to press the button, I secretly grab a small handful of cat food in my hand. After each button press, I immediately add a little bit of food, trying to add the food as soon as possible after the button sound.
"Open the Door" Teaching#
The approach is similar to teaching "eat". When outside the bedroom, place the button outside the door. When we want to enter or leave the room, we need to press the button first.
Phase 2: Gradually establish operant conditioning#
After several days of learning (in my case, 3 or 4 days), I found that the cat would react to the sound of the button. We then moved on to the next stage of learning.
Advanced "Eat" Teaching#
In this stage, we need to be "cruel" and patient.
Keep the cat in a slightly hungry state. During the teaching time, the parent does not need to press the button actively. The anxious cat will explore around, and in the process of touching things, it may accidentally trigger the button. The parent only needs to wait for the cat to accidentally press the button and produce the sound of "eat", and then immediately reward it with food. After repeated reinforcement training, the cat will gradually establish the connection between pressing the button and getting a food reward.
The length of this stage can vary, so parents should not be too impatient. If the cat does not press the button actively during the teaching process, you can choose to extend the time of the previous stage or manually guide the cat to press the button. My approach was to hold the cat's paw and press the button, making it aware of the existence of the button. This process lasted for 6 days, and on the 9th day, the cat finally started to press the button consciously.
To teach the cat to "speak" faster, you can also reward it with cat treats when it presses the button.
If you are not in a hurry to teach the cat to "speak" in a short period of time, you can ignore the previous "hunger teaching" and just make sure to reward the cat (cat treats work better) promptly after it presses the button. In the long run, the cat will still learn.
Advanced "Open the Door" Teaching#
The overall approach is similar to teaching "eat". It is necessary to guide the cat to press the button actively and provide timely feedback by opening the door. To speed up the learning process, I removed everything near the door and left only one button. When the cat wants to enter or leave the room, it may try to scratch the door and then turn to patting the surrounding objects to attract the parent's attention. This is when it may accidentally press the "open the door" button.
Phase 3: Strengthen the differentiation of conditioned reflexes#
After the cat learns multiple buttons, it may confuse the feedback associated with each button or simply understand that pressing the button is a way to attract the parent's attention. To strengthen the role of each button, parents only need to provide the corresponding feedback for each button and avoid confusion. For example, if you can clearly see that the cat wants to eat but presses the "open the door" button by mistake, do not give in and only reward it after it presses the correct button. After a while, the cat will naturally distinguish the functions of each button.
Experimental Summary Teaching Summary#
The key to the whole process is to establish a connection between pressing the button and the feedback. Parents only need to know that they should give the correct feedback promptly after the cat presses the button, and the child will eventually learn the skill of "speaking".
I am not a professional pet trainer. This article is a summary based on learning and memory-related content and methods used in my own experiments. It is not a professional pet training article. Parents should refer to the content of the article based on their own pet's situation. If there are any incorrect parts or better suggestions, please leave a comment below.
I hope everyone can get along well with their pets and have more interaction and fun in life.
Finally, here is a video of the learning process.
Teaching a Cat to "Speak" in Nine Days - My Cat Mimi's Learning Journey originally published on Jack's Space