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Diary of a Cat Walker, #27


Bravely exploring a new part of the park.

When it comes to cat walking, it's all about the milestones. I can't express this strongly enough. You see, when training a cat to walk on leash (a lifelong endeavor), each time you take your cat out, they're learning through experience. The difficultly is that we don't often see that learning. And some learnings may require numerous repetitions before they result in a change in behavior. Finally, I think that when a number of learnings are made, they form a pattern that results in a new understanding. A gestalt of sorts, and it's evidenced in a behavioral change so complete and well-formed, that it surprises the walker in it's suddenness. Yesterday's walk was a 9 out of 10, the day before, in the same park, it was about a 6. Crazy, huh? There's no telling what and when a milestone in your cats journey will happen, but when it does, it's there for good. I fully expect today's walk to be equally enjoyable for her, but even more important, she'll continue to learn new stuff about the world and her place in it.

It began simply. At 11:00, Gloria came to me in my office, jumped in my lap, and began purring and meowing. She was a bit anxious, moving here and there, eager for something.

"It's only 11:00," I told her. "We have a half an hour before we go for our walk."

She knows when it's time, but I always go to her, not the other way around. For some reason, today, she was extra eager for her walk. Until about 2 weeks ago, she would run from me when it was time to go, playing hard to get. But a couple weeks back, she gave up on that game and now lets me pick her up and take her to the car. She loves the car, a milestone reached a couple months ago, so even that part of the adventure makes her happy.

We headed to the park. It's a park she doesn't really like except for the sand pit area with the swings. I park near it and walk her over to the sand pit at the beginning of our walk so that she can roll about in the warm sand. She usually a bit hesitant when I take her out of the car and set her on the grass, but yesterday, she was eager. It was a warm day for October, nearly 80 degrees, so my initial thought was she was just responding to the beautiful day. Because the last couple trips to this park made her a bit cranky, I decided to let her lead for a while before taking over. Surprisingly, after rolling around a bit in the sand, she led me to an area we'd never gone to before its near the picnic tables and off the beaten path. Not only did she take me to an uncharted part of the park, but she did it confidently, sniffing and examining things along the way.

I ended up letting her direct me until it was time to leave. We'd chased squirrels and birds, sniffed out clumps of leaves, examined trees, and hopped up on one of the picnic tables for a treat. It was one of her best walks ever, and when it was time to jump back in the car to go home, she turned away, wanting to stay in the park longer.

When we got home and I noticed a few things about her behavior:

* She was more active. It's like she can't keep still. This morning she's still bouncing off the walls.

* Lots of loving. She came to me over and over again to get petted

* More purring

* Direct eye contact. This last one is really significant. She doesn't -- or didn't -- make a lot of direct eye contact. It's like she needed to maintain a bit of distance, even when coming to me for attention. Now, she stares directly at me, as if to say, "What next?" This particular bit has been going on for a week or two now, but it was even more pronounced yesterday.

So remember, even on the bad days when your cat doesn't appear in to it, you're cat is gathering valuable information that's being stored, built upon, and if you don't give up, it will one day express itself beautifully and both of your will benefit enormously from you steadfastness. It's days like this that invigorate me and make all the patience and loving guidance worth it.

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