After rising to fame on TV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ for her amazing canine performances, Lucy Heath is now turning her attention to cats! We find out more about her new addition, and how you can have a go at trick training your cat.
It’s been two years since Lucy Heath and talented little dog Trip Hazard made the final of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, wowing thousands of viewers with their amazing tricks. Since then, Lucy has been extremely busy, doing demonstrations, workshops, and competitions all over the country, and her dogs have appeared in many TV and magazine adverts. Now, Lucy has a new team member — a 16-week-old Oriental Shorthair kitten called Baby. We met Lucy to find out the secrets to successfully training a cat.
NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER!
Lucy greeted us at the door of her immaculate home in rural Lincolnshire, which is adorned with trophies and rosettes from her many competition successes. Lucy shares her home with partner Carl, six dogs, and two cats.
It was immediately evident how lively and friendly Baby is, as she ran to meet us when we arrived, playing happily with Trip, as well as her best friend, Dizzy, who is Trip’s very cute niece.
“Baby isn’t scared of any dogs, which is fantastic considering she came from a household of just cats,” says Lucy. “Her favourite friend is tiny Dizzy, and they constantly play together. They are the only two animals in the house who can get through the baby gate that shuts off the kitchen, so they just chase each other around, going where they like and making us laugh!”
“I already had LittlePuss, who is a 12-year-old Siamese, and I lost my other cat a while ago so wanted another to keep him company,” explains Lucy. “I wanted one who was really confident and playful, as I thought it would be nice to see if I could train one to do tricks, and maybe do some modelling.”
“I had trained my previous cat before he passed away, so I knew it could be done, but they learn in a slightly different way to dogs. I love teaching my dogs to do tricks, and I think that the more they know, the more body awareness they develop, and the less likely they are to develop injuries. You also develop a really close bond, and the same applies to cats.
“LittlePuss will do things like sit, stay, and so on, but he’s no hunter, has no prey drive, and is not desperate to chase toys, so training him was more difficult. Having said that, since I recently changed all my animals onto raw food, and introduced a new kitten into the house, he has become loads more playful and kitten-like, and wants to get involved in everything!”
Lucy did a lot of research to find the perfect kitten, and visited several breeders. Baby was fast asleep when she visited with Carl, who took to this stunning little girl straight away as she snoozed contentedly in his arms. However, on waking Baby, she immediately went into full-on play mode and they knew she was ‘the one’. Lucy says: “Baby had so much character and play drive — she reminded me of Trip!”
Baby settled into her new home very quickly, although Lucy admits that it is much more difficult to kitten-proof a house than for a puppy. “She is so lively and fast, and always running up the curtains and getting under little gaps,” she says. “I make sure she has a harness and lead on when she’s in the garden!”
CLICKING FOR SUCCESS
Lucy trains Baby using the same clicker training technique as for her dogs. She says: “I will lure a behaviour, such as a sit or a beg, or capture it when it happens, then mark the behaviour with the clicker and reward with something she likes, such as a treat or toy.
“Baby is a bit like a ball-obsessed Border Collie and can get completely focused on a toy, so I have to be careful. She is particularly keen on fishing rod-style toys, which she chases! These are great for getting her to jump from one object to another.
“I have also taught her to go to a hand target, which is where you hold your palm out flat and, as soon as the cat’s nose touches it, you click and reward. Eventually, your flat palm will be a signal for the cat to run to you, and you can move your hand and they will follow it. I have also used a target stick with a ball on the end, which is great for teaching moves, such as twists and spins, or even luring her through my legs.
“As well as training tricks, I take her out to different places to make sure she is happy in different environments. Baby has already done some filming for a new TV show about talented pets that is coming to Sky TV. She had to do eight metres of leg weaves in 40 seconds, but she flew through in 31!
“When I’m training Baby, I don’t feed her from my hands, as her teeth are very sharp. For this reason, I either put raw food on a spoon and offer it as a reward, or put a piece of cooked chicken on the floor.
“Baby was initially on four meals a day, so I used one or two of those meals for training purposes. She is a very greedy, keen, and busy little kitten and, although she was slower than the dogs to pick up on what the clicker meant, she now understands and loves to learn.
“I keep training sessions short and sweet, and the key to everything is patience. Cats tend to think about things a lot more than dogs, so give them time to work things out. Don’t just assume they don’t understand, or won’t do it.
“Because cats are so different to dogs, and naturally better climbers, there are lot of tricks available to them that dogs can’t do. For example, I encourage Baby to climb up my body and into my arms, which dogs find difficult because they don’t have the claws to grip with.
“Baby makes everyone laugh so much. She has fitted in with all the other animals so well, given LittlePuss a new lease of life, and we adore her. I can’t wait to see how her training develops in the future!”
Did you know?
Teaching your cat some tricks provides physical and mental stimulation, and helps strengthen the bond between pet and owner. Don’t be upset if your cat doesn’t take to trick training — some cats love it, while others aren’t as interested.
WANT TO GIVE TRICK TRAINING A GO?
Follow Lucy’s step-by-step guides:
Jumping through arms
- Begin by putting your arm against something solid, like a wall or sofa, and use your other hand to lure your cat over with a treat. Click as he goes over, and throw the treat for him. If necessary, place your hand on the floor so your cat only has to walk over, rather than jump. Be patient and click and reward, even if your cat walks over.
- Gradually raise your arm, luring a little less each time. Do several repetitions, clicking and treating in the normal way.
- When your cat does this really well, and you don’t need to lure him, start to bring your other arm in over the top in a circle. Again, even if your cat walks through, click and reward.
- Gradually move away from your wall or sofa, an inch or so at a time, until you can join your arms together and your cat will jump through. At this stage, place a treat, such as a piece of chicken, in front of you so that your cat can see it. This will help to build speed. You can also add in a command, such as ‘over’.
- Stand with your legs apart. Hold a treat in your hand, and lure your cat through your legs. Click as he goes through, dropping a treat in front of him. Repeat several times.
- Have treats in each hand and lure your cat around one leg. Click as your cat goes around your leg, and reward. Repeat on both sides.
- Build on this by luring your cat through both legs in a figure-of-eight movement. Click and reward at the end of the move.
- When your cat can do a figure-of-eight, try to walk along, slowly luring him through as you do so. Build understanding and confidence by clicking and feeding every time, then gradually work up to clicking and rewarding for every two to three steps.
- Slowly stand more upright, holding your hands higher. When your cat is weaving confidently, you can introduce a verbal ‘weave’ command, with occasional clicks and rewards.
This story was first published in the September 2018 issue of Your Cat Magazine. GET YOURS HERE.