Highly sought after as an animal trainer for television and film, Kelly Gill is also the owner & trainer of the amazing Tigger as well as family favourites The Wonderdogs. The Cat Lovers Show is returning to Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, Saturday 30 November and Sunday 1 December 2019. Life Begins At sat down with Kelly to hear all about life as an animal trainer.
- Tell us about a “day in the life” of animal trainer, what is your typical “work day”?
I train my own two cats, Tigger and Sunny, as well as other animals that come to stay with me for set jobs. Each day involves a huge amount of general care for the animals including exercise, feeding, grooming sessions, developing enrichment games to keep their minds active, cleaning inside areas and picking up after them.
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We look at training each animal at least every second day; working on established behaviours and new tricks.
- Have animals always been part of your life?
Yes, I have had animals my whole life. As a child, I had cats and dogs so my passion for animals was always set in place. I was sixteen when I got the first dog of my own. She was an 18 month old rescue in need a lot of socialising. She had no recall which meant whenever her original owners let her outside, they could never catch her. I learnt a lot about how to teach recall to dogs and the importance of developing a relationship with animals.
When I left home, I got my first Border Collie and my passion for animals grew. I always knew I wanted to work in dog sports, so I got into obedience and agility. That led me to training other animals, then on to film and TV work.
Eventually, I wanted a bit more of a challenge so I got my first cat; a stray kitten that came into the local Vet that I worked at. I took him home and started to train him. He was very, very clever; an awesome cat to work with.
- What is the best commercial or TV program have you done working with cats?
There have been plenty!
Cats that are capable of working on sets are one in a million; even dogs that are incredibly confident in the home may not take well to a set environment. There are a lot of people and equipment moving around, so it can be quite daunting for some animals. It takes a special type of animal to like that kind of work and cope with those type of distractions.
- How do you go about training a cat? Are they too smart/precocious/uninterested for their own good?
All animals can learn and cats are no exception. As long as you use something they value, training is simple!
Dogs can be easier to work with as they value toys just as much as or even more so than food, which can be a great motivator.
Cats are very different. Young kittens like to play so they will often chase a toy or feather, however adult cats don’t tend to value anything more than food, so they need to be rewarded with treats.
When a cat comes in to train with me, there is an important period where I need to develop trust with the animal. It puts me in a much better position if there is a difficult situation and the animal knows it can trust me. When you have a lot of experience with a confident animal, you can develop a relationship and trust within a week or so. If they’re not confident, you can struggle.
- What is the difference with training cats to training a dog?
The principles of training are exactly the same for any animal. Providing you are using good science in your training methods, it does not matter what species it is.
The biggest difference between cats and dogs is that cats are a lot smaller, so their stomachs fill a lot faster. Cats will only work for food rewards, so sessions need to be kept short. Once they are full it is pretty much game over. In the case of dogs, they generally take longer to feel full and you may also have the advantage of using toys as a reward.
- What tips do you have for people who might like to teach their cat some tricks?
Find what food treats your cat loves, then start to reward them for tiny behaviours. A good starting trick is to lure them into a ‘sit’ position with a treat. Make sure you keep sessions short and train in a quiet space within the house.
In terms of age, kittens can be trained as soon as they can eat solid foods; typically around eight weeks of age is the perfect time.
Looking at older animals, age does not really matter. All older animals can learn. The only difference is the younger you start working with an animal, the easier it is for them to pick up the concept of learning. It is the same thing for children; those that have their minds open to learning will take to it easier as they get older.
Most of my cats have been rescued at over 12 months of age and taken to training just as quickly as a kitten would.
- What are you doing when you aren’t training animals?
That’s an interesting question as pretty much everything has an animal attached to it. From running, to agility competitions with the dogs!
- What can people expect when they come the Cat Lovers Show?
Lots of fun! This year, the Cat Lovers Show returns bigger and better with more cats than ever before, expanding across both levels of the Royal Exhibition Building. The Show is the ultimate feline festival, celebrating all aspects of cat ownership with everything for and about cats in the one place!
My two cats Tigger and Sunny will be joining me across the weekend to perform cute tricks on a new mini agility course at the Black Hawk Stage.
Cat Lovers can also catch me on the Royal Canin Stage chatting about how to turn rescue cats into trained superstars. I will be demonstrating some great tricks for owners to take home as well as my top tips on how to use food to your advantage.
Cat Lovers Show Melbourne, Saturday 30 November & Sunday 1 December
Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton
Tickets & more information: catloversshow.com.au/melbourne/