By Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
Anyone who owns a Bengal cat knows that they can be Herculean meowers, and my Bengal cat, Dante, is no exception. He’s been known to hold a meow for what seems like 5 minutes. When I first adopted him a couple of years ago, I just ignored his meowing and pretended he didn’t exist and then rewarded him with petting or treats for being quiet—hint, this works way better if you’ve first spent a day or so rewarding them 50 times for sitting quietly. He quickly learned to be quiet. But since meowing incessantly is in his genes, occasionally a sudden change in environment will bring his meow impulse back.
For instance, once when I was traveling, the pet sitter locked him out of the house. It took us several days to find him and when we finally caught him, he just wanted to escape again. We could tell this was on his mind 24-7 because that’s how frequently he vocalized his feeling to us as he eyed the door or tried to dart out. I finally put him on the full-on Learn to Earn program for a day where he was actually on leash and harness and received all food and petting only when he sat or lay down. By the second day he wasn’t meowing anymore or trying to dart out. No need for a leash anymore and he went back to regular meal feeding.
But then, of course, as I stated before when there’s some big change his meowing habit comes back. So as a result, I finally have a chance to show what it looks like when you work on fixing the behavior.
Video of Dante relearning to sit quietly instead of meowing for what he wants
In this video, I wait until Dante’s quiet and then click and treat. Because he’s received a lot of rewards for sitting in the past, he’s choosing to sit even if he’s meowing. That makes everything easier because having his body in one calm position makes it easier for him to focus on what he’s getting rewarded for. I’ve also had free-shaping sessions in the past where I’ve rewarded him for looking away. You can tell that he’s searching for the behavior that earns the click. Because he meows so frequently I have to reward him as soon as he’s quiet for just an instant. Then, in order to make sure he understand that I’m rewarding for quiet and not for meow followed by just one instance of quiet, I try to hurry and reward him for continued quiet before he has a chance to meow again. Then as he starts to get it, I reward longer intervals of quiet. It takes good timing and repetition, but when you get the timing right, they can learn quickly. In fact, although I thought I would need couple of days worth of sessions, after just this one session plus randomly rewarding quiet sit behavior throughout the next day, he was back to his polite, quiet behavior.
Do you have a cat who meows a lot?