This Cat Trades Balls For Food

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Cats are strange pets. Where dogs want to please you and be part of your family, cats are much more solitary and self-directed. And, as anybody who has ever owned one knows, they’re incredibly difficult to train. Aside from pooping in a box, getting a cat to do tricks for you is impossible.

When you train an animal, you want to tap into their natural instincts. Dogs are bred to form social groups and defer to their alphas, so it’s fairly easy to get them to do what you want. Cats, however, have one basic instinct: hunt prey and bring it home. How many cat owners have had to hide their revulsion when their precious pet dropped a mangled bird or eviscerated mouse at their feet?

Cat owner Ben Milliam managed to harness that instinct for an incredibly cool way to motivate his cat to stay healthy. His cat, Monkey, is an indoor animal and this can’t satiate his hunting reflex. Milliam wanted to keep Monkey active while he wasn’t home, so he modified a self-feeder so that instead of dispensing food at set intervals, it would dole out the kibble when a Ping-Pong ball was dropped into a machine attached to it.

Milliam then hides the Ping-Pong balls around his home before he leaves for work. Monkey gets to spend the day “hunting” for them, and then returning them for food.

Here’s a video he posted of Monkey using the contraption. It’s pretty amazingly clever.

If this seems like something you’d want to do with your cat, Milliam has posted a detailed set of instructions on both building the device and training your cat to do the task. He used a technique called “clicker training” that associates actions with an audio cue from a hand-held clicker, and then associates the clicking sound with a treat. It took some time for Monkey to get a hang of the sequence, but now he happily hunts for food every day.