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The Key to Being the BEST Cat Parent

The Key to Being the BEST Cat Parent

How do we help our cats be their best selves?

Do we “tough love” them into submission, like a football coach trying to amp up his team? Or do we simply accept them as they are, hoping that our love will “fix” them?

Neither of these approaches really work. That’s where my concept of the Challenge Line comes in.

Change is hard

Regardless of your species, it’s HARD to change your behavior! When you do something over and over, it becomes ingrained in your neural pathways - but with change comes uncertainty, and that activates our threat response. Additionally, our brains are always looking for ways to conserve resources. Habitual tasks take way less energy because we don’t have to give them conscious thought. When we experience change we have to process new information and adapt new behaviors, which takes a lot of effort! It’s easier for our brains when we stick to the familiar… but just because something is familiar or easy doesn’t mean it’s always in our best interests. That’s where the importance of challenge comes in.

Understanding the Challenge Line

When it comes to cats, I often talk about the Challenge Line - the border of a cat’s comfort zone. On one side of the line is comfort and on the other is challenge. Your goal is to help them overcome small obstacles so you’re continually pushing their challenge line, helping them be more confident and ready to tackle challenges head on. Think about it like a game of football: you score a touchdown by crossing yards, inch by inch. 

We all instinctively want to comfort our cats when they’re stressed, but by doing that they stay small and invisible. Imagine a cat hiding under the bed in a new house. The “All Comfort” approach would be bringing food to feed them under the bed, hoping they eventually get enough confidence to change their behavior. But if there’s no challenge, there’s no change.

Alternately, you can pull them out and shut the bedroom door, preventing them from retreating back into their cave. The “All Challenge” approach is like an ice bath to their system - and once again, you’re hoping they’ll embrace change  - but they won’t.

Challenge is necessary for growth

Remember when you were a kid learning how to swim, and you had to jump off the diving board for the first time? It was scary but you survived, and now you can jump off a diving board whenever you want. Challenging our cats may hard for some of you, and that’s OK! Just think of it as your own challenge line. Just remember, the goal is to challenge, not overwhelm. Don’t frighten your cat - focus on small, achievable goals.

Helping cats overcome their fears

If you generally want your cat to feel confident, secure, and ready to embrace change, play therapy and enrichment are the best tools in your toolbox. This gives them the chance to focus on the action and not the “thing” that’s causing inaction.

If you’re trying to get them over a very specific fear or challenge, nothing gets a cat over the line more than food motivation. Part of your challenge is dishing out those jackpot treats because you feel bad for them - but make them work for it! 

You can also check out my video on desensitization and counterconditioning. It’s a process, it’s science, and if you remember the concept of the challenge line, you’ll get there.

Holistic remedies

Many people have seen great success using my Holistic Solutions to treat these issues. Safe Space is a fantastic everyday treatment to manage ongoing anxiety, and you can use Training Support during moments of challenge to help get them past their obstacles.

Striking the right balance

It’s our job as cat guardians to push that Challenge Line, both for our animal family and ourselves. It's not about tough love or coddling; it's about finding the right balance of challenge and support to help our cats thrive.

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