Thought you could only teach a dog tricks? Then prepare for a surprise. Cats might be known as the kind of stubborn, single-minded creatures that do what they want, when they want, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Sure, they’ll usually only do what you ask if they were going to do it anyway, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of learning – as Austrian teenager Anika Moritz has well and truly proving. Determined to dispel some tired old myths, Anika set out to teach her tortoiseshell cat, Alexis, a few new tricks. It worked. Thanks to some dedication, patience, and a lot of good old-fashioned teamwork, the duo have just earned themselves a place in the Guinness World Records for the most tricks performed in 60 seconds.
Anika and Alexis
Alexis is a beautiful 8-year-old tortoiseshell with a love for treats and a brain the size of a planet. Anika is a very proud cat owner who likes a challenge. After deciding that Alexis was capable of way more than chasing mice and clawing at the furniture, Anika set out to teach her cat a few tricks. The training started when Alexis was just a year old. After reading about how successful ‘clicker’ training could be with dogs, Anika decided to see if it would work as well on cats. It did. Each time Alexis displayed a desired behavior, Anika would mark it with the clicker. Once a trick or task had been completed successfully, Alexis would be rewarded with a treat.
Keeping it Positive
Once training started, it didn’t take Alexis long to start mastering new tricks. According to Anika, the success of the training was all down to its basis in positive reinforcement. “Training should always be fun and worth it,” she says via yahoo.com (www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/austrian-cat-breaks-world-record-014102850.html), a sentiment animal health expert Mickey Snead, DVM, wholeheartedly agrees with. “The relationship between an owner and pet is built on trust,” she says, adding that while training can sometimes be hard work, the results make it worth it. According to Snead, not only can training help establish a better bond, it can also help owners become more aware of any changes in their cat’s behavior that could signify a problem.
After 7 years of training, Anika felt it was time to bring Alexis’ talents to the world stage. Until recently, the record for most tricks performed by a cat in 60 seconds was held by an Australian cat named Didga and her owner Robert Dollwet. As the Guinness World Records reports, Didga entered the record books back in 2017 when she managed to perform an impressive 20 tricks in a minute. According to the standards set by the Guinness World Records, each trick has to be clearly defined and independent, and any commands or cues issued by the pet owner can’t involve touching the cat unless it’s required for tricks like the high five. Didga passed the test with flying colors, completing a wide variety of tricks such as jumping over a bar while standing on a skateboard, rolling over on cue, and high-fiving. Shortly after entering the record books for the first time, Didga broke her own record when she performed a mighty 24 individual tricks in 60 seconds.
But now it looks like Didga’s reign at the top is over. When Anika invited the team from Guinness World Records to moderate Alexis’ record-breaking attempt, she was keeping her fingers crossed that Alexis’ would just nudge past the current record. She needn’t have worried. Alexis didn’t just beat the record, she smashed it, performing an amazing 26 tricks in one minute. According to Reality TV World, just a small sample of the tricks Alexis managed to perform included weaving between Anika’s legs, using her paw to ring a bell, touching objects with her nose, and even opening a box with her mouth. Understandably enough, the round was completed by a very resounding high five.
Patience Pays Off
Alexis and Anika’s feat is inspiring, no question. But if you were hoping to wake up tomorrow and find your cat capable of high-fiving on demand, you might be disappointed. Cats might be clever, but success doesn’t happen overnight. In Alexis and Anika’s case, the record-breaking endeavor marks 7 years of hard work and dedication. Anika was just 11 years old when she welcomed Alexis into her life, and she’s been training her diligently ever since. Not that either one of them minds the work. “Alexis changed my life,” Anika says. “We are doing tricks since she is a kitten and she loves trick time so much. I would say that it is our both passion.”
Try It Yourself
If lockdown has started to push your boredom limits to the extreme, why not take some inspiration from Anika and Alexis and use the extra time to teach your cat some new tricks? We can’t guarantee you’ll be entering the record books at the end of it, but it’s a great way to bond with your cat and have some fun. Cats tend to get bored and distracted easily, so be sure to keep things short and sweet at first. Start by setting aside around 5 to 10 minutes per day for training. As cats are ruled by their appetites, keep a big bag of their favorite treats to hand for motivation. Mark each and every desired behavior with a verbal cue (if you prefer, you could use a clicker like Anika) and a treat.
Cats learn through repetition: when you’re mastering a new trick, keep repeating it several times throughout the day to help it sink in. Remember to keep things simple. Overwhelming your cat with too many tricks to learn at once is a recipe for disaster. Stick to teaching them one trick at a time. Once they’ve fully mastered one trick, you can move on to the next. Remember to revisit the previous trick often enough that they don’t forget it. Most of all, remember to keep your expectations realistic. Not all cats were born to be the next Alexis. And that’s fine. The training doesn’t have to lead anywhere, and it doesn’t really matter if your cat never manages to perfect a high five. Providing you’re spending quality time with them, you’ll both end up reaping the rewards regardless.