My A-paw-logies!

Very sorry indeed for writing this late entry, but you can forgive an ailing blogger whose prediction has come true and has indeed fallen prey to unwellness and is currently sniffling away (ever since yesterday in fact) while typing on her germ-infested laptop? You can, can’t you?

I get chills quite easily, especially when under stress. But blogging is a de-stressing wag-tivity and no doubt I will have cured myself through this entry before long. Oh, you’ve spotted my subtle animal puns? Nope, my brain hasn’t gone to the dogs yet, but as you may know, yesterday was Caturday! Caturday is supposedly the third Saturday of the month and, well, I’ll let the internet educate you about it.

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/caturday

I hate pictures, so no LOLcats or other senseless memes to pierce your mind and stab your soul! However, to follow this theme, I shall talk about cats, or more generally about pets. Or really, just animals and how their minds work. After all, the ability to communicate with animals has been marked as one of those superpower things in cartoons (though it is usually one of the weakest abilities) so it must mean that animals possess some really complex language skills that we humans can only dream of understanding and using. But for all superhero wannabes out there, allow me to let you in on just how to get animals to do as you say!

1. Animals are a bit like babies.

This means that they are highly attracted to catchy, flashy stimuli that may have no effect on their lives. There was an experiment where a bird was placed in a box. The box had a bulb on one end and a food hopper on the other end. The light will switch on for 2 seconds. After the light switches off, the food hopper will open for 2 seconds. Guess what the bird continually does? It runs to peck the light when it switches on, then runs all the way to the food hopper to get the food before it closes. One would think that birds know nothing about patterns and links but no, they do learn. Unfortunately, they don’t learn to think smart.

2. Some tricks are easier taught.

This also applies to us humans, by the way, the superior species of the animal kingdom. When you want to teach associations to a rat, for instance, it is easier to teach it that a certain flavour predicts illness than that a flashing light predicts illness. What do I mean? Well, for example, my sickly-addled brain now is thinking back to what I ate to have caused me to feel this way. I’m not thinking about whether I saw a queer flashing light that somehow led to me getting the cold. In nature, it is usually food that causes people to be ill, rather than visual stimuli, and so we are predisposed to draw certain associations.

This has applicability in helping cancer patients! You know how when cancer patients undergo chemotherapy, they tend to experience the worst times of their lives. They get gastro-intestinal distress, feel like puking and most importantly, don’t want to eat. But you’ve got to get them to eat. Here’s 1 way you can help. Get them to eat highly unusual ice-cream flavours immediately before receiving treatment. In time, they will come to associate these unusual ice-cream flavours with the digestive discomfort they are getting and avoid eating such ice-cream. However, this means they do not associate their favourite food, or other more normal diets, with this discomfort, and will be more willing to eat them.

3. Animals can be really clever too

Though still not as clever as us, who watch from the sidelines with clipboards and pens in hand, laughing ominously as the animals think themselves the centre of the universe. No but animals are capable of learning a whole lot of concepts that even we may have trouble with, and I’m not only talking about monkeys. When a cat was trapped in a puzzle box, it eventually learned to make a sequence of step-by-step responses allowing it to escape. Rats, when placed in a radial maze, eventually found their way to the cheese at the end of it. When an animal learns the way to make a food hatch open (either by pecking it a certain number of times or waiting for a certain time period to elapse), it can control its own responses to ensure that the food appears whenever it wants it.

And you know what’s most amusing? When a pig was trained to exchange money for food, it eventually decided to hoard all its money and refuse to exchange it for food at once. Even pigs understand the concept of thrift!

So don’t worry that animals don’t get your instructions, superhero. Just like in those cartoons, you can really get them to do a whole lot of complex minion chores.

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