Friday, June 28, 2013

Conditioned Behavior

The cat was one of the longest term residents of the shelter we got him from, but we picked him intentionally for those reasons.

Cute kittens waltz out almost immediately.  Friendly young lapcats are right behind.  Long term, older nutcases like Boris tend to linger in their cages.  This is where we found him, in the back, giving everybody looks like he'd watched "Eraserhead once too often.

After we'd been treated like war criminals, a volunteer grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck and waltzed him down to a "meeting room" where you have ninety seconds to interact with the animal and decide if he's coming home with you.

Boris had been in the bottom cage right by the dog run for the better part of six months.  Since his life experience for those months had consisted of cowering in a corner while large doggy snouts and balls and paws were paraded by the front door it was little wonder that our ninety seconds consisted of him cowering in the corner of the room under a folding chair.  In other words, he was perfect.

We knew we had to condition his behavior since it initially consisted of cowering and peeing.  After a while, he worked up to peering around corners and only loosing Mr. Whizzo when some new stimulus showed up.  We got him to hang around for dinner instead of grabbing a mouthful and tearing off into a corner.  His behavior now, after about four years, is creeping, albeit slowly, towards normal.

I'm convinced, however, that while our washer has that setting, Boris doesn't.

Dinnertime these days consistent runs a very specific pattern.  Large monkey-like food guy comes home, Boris begins to verbalize his joy at seeing me, his anticipation of goodies and his anxiety that goodies are coming at some point in the future but right now the damn bowls are pretty empty.  All at once.  Irrespecitive of if I'm home after a day of work or if I'm just back from cutting the back yard.  This verbalization escalates with time, mail sorted, bathroom breaks, dropping keys and wallets into their keeping places etc.

Early positive conditioning featured lavish praise and treats every time he managed to sink a three pointer within the confines of the cat litterbox.  These days, since breakfast and dinner are merely  larger manifestations of treats (praise be damned, it was all empty anyway), Boris helpfully craps before each antipated food moment in hopes of speeding its arrival along.  If there is further delay to said food moment even after said crap, he'll helpfully jump back into the box to try something else to hasten the hour.

In other words, pure conditioned behavior.  If not a good loaf pinch, we could just as easily be ringing a bell to elicit a response.  Its all pre-programming.

The point of which is what?  Nothing really.  Just me watching the cat, noting the patterns.  And yet, after the alarm went off this morning and I had had my glass of orange juice, cup of coffee, taken a shower dressed and gotten into the car to go to work where I would thusly be rewarded for all this behavior, I thought:

At least Boris gets a good shit and a meal out of it.

Bunny on.

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