There isn’t one. Training happens when Jeff is not in the kitchen (Buster’s operable intelligence plummets when the Man with the Can shows up) and Buster and I are. Paul has trained with Buster twice, and the second time you couldn’t get the shit eating grin off his face with a cold chisel, as Buster was particularly aerobatic in absconding with his treat.
Normally training starts sometime between 4:30 and 7:00 am, any day, with him doing a half-wind around my leg, usually my right leg, and he mews. Something soft and undemanding, just letting me know that he’s there.
Then he paces off to the end of one of the carpets mOm made for Jeff’s old place in Victoria, turns, sits, and stares at me. I fetch, or have already gotten, a few treats from the treat bag (Temptations Tasty Chicken Cat Treats… he has not liked other kinds so far but his loss was cheerfully consumed by crows and trash pandas) and I hold one in my hand above his head, anywhere from 20 to 70 cm over him, where it is visible between my fingers.
I never, ever fake having a treat.
One of the things I read about training cats is that while there are cats who will work for praise alone, that is not the way to bet during training. Not only should you give a treat for ever trick essayed, you should reward the cat for (for example) being cute, or reissue a treat when the one you threw (horror) flew under the dishwasher (which was how I learned that Buster has got a solid claw into the thigh of the concept of object permanence, the cognitive fundamental upon which non-computational style thinking depends). Whenever the cat is being attentive and pliable in its behaviour, that is when to push, and you have to push especially hard when the cat briefly wakes up and starts training you.
Buster started napping in a kitchen chair. I’d hold a treat over his head and he’d wake up and jump for it. Within days he was jumping into the chair during the training sessions and the reason he liked doing that is because it livened things up; if he dropped it, as he infrequently does, it can careen off in pretty much any direction, which means he must engage his ears and reflexes and ability to dodge shoes and furniture to be able to pinpoint it before it quits moving.
I am moving some of the aspects of training into words and gesture. I gesture with both hands to say ‘all done’ when I think the useful training’s done (otherwise he just hoses you down for cat treats). Also I say ‘good boy’ anytime he is behaving, performatively or not, in a way I find pleasing or cooperative or appropriate. So he can misinterpret what he needs to pay attention to, but he knows he’s fine. I believe I am very close to having him understand ‘up’ and ‘down’ as long as there is a treat in the context, and I also believe that it will be a while before I can get him to understand it without a treat in my hand.
Buster is never forced to train. If he feels lazy for days at a time and just lies on the kitchen floor and allows me to pelt him (I can ding him quite hard, but I never aim for his head) with cat treats until he gets up and dances all around like he hails from Kansas City, that’s okay; and if he then gobbles down on each of the cat treats as it reluctantly releases itself from his lavish, explosively soft and furry pelt, that’s okay too. Buster has a lot of prance and self-respect, and he does like showing off how very much his paws are like hands and fingers – he’s continually coming up with eye popping variants on the ‘basic two-paw clap catch’.
These brief retreats into a philosophical megrim of feline life – perhaps the grandson has been here twice in two days, perhaps the construction noise is getting to him, perhaps the fleas are driving him into a state – are to be expected. Buster is studious and consistent, but he is neither a machine nor a true performer, inured to crowds. This is why I am very slowly cleaning my kitchen. Soon, the performances shall begin, and Buster will be the master of the kitchen circus with a video camera to commemorate him. I have no idea what tricks he will perform. All I know is that I’ve been hiding from the world his clever, precise mastery of hacky-sacking cat treats off his wrists, and he’s only going to get cleverer still, because what Buster does is challenge himself. I have provided parameters within which he can demonstrate skill, and he’s the one that brings it, at this point I’m pretty much dispensing cat treats and fangirling while he does ever more improbable and amusing things.