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Monkey the Cat Hunts for Dinner (benjaminmillam.com)
215 points by benjaminfox on Aug 7, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments

There's a small typo in the title of that article, it should read Urban cat makes human slave build contraption so he can play hunter whenever he wants and then have some food

You remind me of this: "What if we are all just pawns in corn’s clever strategy game, the ultimate prize of which is world domination?" --Michael Pollan in http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_pollan_gives_a_plant_s_eye_...

But Don't Shoot the Dog! ;-)


This is actually a very fun read about conditioning - no matter if you have a cat or dog. I've read it quite a while ago, and I remember that conditioning cats is not that difficult, as long as you stick to positive rewards. Punishment doesn't work.

For those who think this will be abused for manupilating people - that's what we do all day no matter if we read this book or not. It's just the way you do it, and that probably won't change by reading this book. It will teach you a lot about your own behavior.

I've taken a chance and decided to trust you. So I've ordered this book, don't let me down random internet stranger!

Book recommendations from random hn users has changed my life. 4 hour body in particular.

For dog training I really like Michael Ellis from Leerburg.com. His free videos are really all you need, some of the paid dvds can be repetitive, but ultimately he keeps up with the latest trends and I think is amazing with dogs. Everyone has their own theory it seems though..

Would you recommend 4 hour body to someone who is generally put off by Ferriss' writing style and ego-centricity?

I've never read the book but searched for it on Amazon, "8,283 of 8,919 people found the following review helpful":


"(1) It takes more than 4 hours a month in the gym to have a great body. I'm sorry, it just does. Mr. Ferriss recommends performing 2-3 SETS, for a total of less than 30 reps, per WEEK, to get a great body. Ask any athlete, bodybuilder, trainer... not enough. Not even close."

"(2) Almost all the supplements recommended in 4HB have never been scientifically proven to do what Mr. Ferriss claims they do."

The first review is pretty terrible though. You don't need exercise to have a "great" body. Abs are made in the kitchen. It literally requires 0 hours at the gym to get to 10-15% body fat. Exercise helps burn more calories but it's still about consume less than you burn.

The reason why four hour body and other related diets work is mainly because proteins and fats are more filling than carbs and not as calorically dense so you throw yourself into a caloric deficit.

The rep argument is a red herring. Doing 40 reps on a 10 pound dumbbell is insignificant. Doing 10 reps on a 40lb weight is a workout all on its own.

Supplements like fish oil work great!

I read the book and I recommend it! It's like a good basics guide. If you want to learn more it get under 10 percent body fat you may want to read into the topic further (read into ketosis) but just as a

Disregard the reviews. Trust me. Take a leap of faith and check it out. I don't have a magazine body, but I did lose 50lbs 4 years ago already and they aren't coming back.

It's faterday saturday btw, "on top of the world eating doughnuts, its a mother fucking cheat day, so what?" -Murs

Yes! I haven't read any of his books all the way through, and I do find a lot of the podcast stuff pretentious. But this book changed my life, some of my friends lives and some of my family members. I think its a great start to learning to eat healthy and the easiest way to lose weight for sure. Let me know if you tinker with the diet, I would be interested in your results.

This is awesome, but the training schedule seems overly complicated. One would think it would be easier to have the balls initially positioned so that they fall into the feeding mechanism at the touch of a feather; probably at a place where food used to be served, so the cats are likely to be there and search for food. A cat should be able to figure out the procedure after knocking the balls in accidentally a few times. After this, it would just be a matter of moving the balls gradually further and further away from the feeding apparatus over time.

Hi Teddy,

I've been busy and avoiding reading comments, but happened to see yours here.

Interestingly that's actually the approach I started with, using a cut slab of PVC pipe with screws for adjustable stopping points that initially positioned the balls at the edge of the bowl receptacle.

The problem was, at least with my cat, that he tended to nudge the ball in the wrong direction (despite my attempts to make my ramp one-way), and his first instinct to affect the ball was to use his paws, lifting the ball away or batting it out of the bowl.

Here's an example of how fragile and reflex-based I think these behaviors are (vs. levering some kind of affordance/object/goal-oriented intelligence), at least to start -- when Monkey was initially successful at carrying the ball into the bowl, all my training had involved approaching the feeder from the living room, to the feeder's right side. When I put the ball to the left of the feeder, he picked it up, approached the feeder, and about a foot away just dropped it and froze... apparently dumbfounded. It took more reinforcement and gradual variation with ball placement until he was able to generalize and approach the feeder from anywhere.

Alright back to work for me!



I agree. Here is what I would do:

Train cat to attack a laser point (easy)

Place ball next to target and point laser at ball and hope that it gets knocked in.

When it does, reward it getting knocked in and gradually increase the distance to the target.

I am assuming the cat would figure out at some point that it can carry the ball to the target in its mouth.

Or just cover the balls in catnip at first to make the cat take an interest in them and realize what they're for.

That wouldn't work on the quarter or so of cats who are immune.

This is super awesome.

About 5 years ago I built my own SSHable/Camera cat treat dispenser. We'd dump food on my cats head from work and laugh... it wasn't nearly as kind to the cat as this is.

Using RFID to detect the presence of the balls feels like overkill. Why not a light sensor, or a hair trigger switch out of reach of the cat. Sure The cat can now be fed by finding random objects, but maybe the training of using the ball will stop the cat from figuring that out.

Did anyone notice that the batteries powering the device are "9 Lives" brand?


(Unintentionally) misleading title. This is not about a monkey being hunted by a cat...

Confusing for a moment, sure, but not really misleading - 'The Monkey the Cat Hunts for Dinner' would've been that, without the leading 'the' the sensible expectation is that it's a cat name.

hmmm wonder if this actually is beneficial to the cat in any way? The theory is the cat is more 'actualized' because he is actually hunting his food. But this doesn't smell, taste, or behave like food.

Generally in animals the 'reward' is triggered at a sensual level. Meaning take sex, yes there is a sex drive and a very strong drive for 'actualization'. However if you remove the smell, taste, feel, visualization but kept the 'mounting' behavior it probably wouldn't satisfy the drive, as the satiation triggers are wired to the senses.

Basically, I think actually bother to hiding the food is going to satisfy the cat on a far more deeper primal level than training him to redeem food tokens. But maybe it will, interesting.

I'm trying to think of a useful thing to teach a cat, using this technique, that would be helpful at home.

1. Cat looks at bug tracker

2. Cat approaches bug tracker

3. Cat selects ticket in bug tracker

4. Cat implements fix for bug in ticket

5. Cat rebases

6. Cat pushes to GitHub

I could never get through step 5 :/ Stupid cat.

My cat just forks the project because I reject the bird animation PRs... you know what they say, cats don't have owners, they have upstream.

7. Yell at Cat for breaking the build and then Cat just walks off and goes to sleep.

I'm going to use it to train my cat to close doors after she opens them!

Some people train their cats to use the toilet instead of a litter box, using similar methods. Less mess and no litter to buy.

I did this when I had 3 cats a while back.

It's hard work, but it goes like this (over a couple of months!) only move onto the next step when the cat is comfortable

  1. move the litter box next to the toilet
  2. slowly raise it to toilet height
  3. put it over the toilet seat
  4. make an insert for the toilet with litter in, and small hole for drainage
 (i used a sheet of 5mm pvc iirc, and a heat gun to mould it into a bowl that sat over the rim of the bowl)
  5. slowly use less litter
  6. when there's no litter left, make the hole slightly  bigger
  7. keep repeating making the hole slightly bigger
  8. when the hole is full size, take the insert away
1 cat hated it, I think the splashing noise scared him. The other didn't mind. The youngest loved it.

In the end I went back to the litter tray as it was distressing cat 1 too much.

The worst thing about this training is it takes months, and I only had one toilet, and removing the inset litter tray was a huge pita!

There was something quite odd about going to the toilet and it being occupied by a cat though!

Here's a pic of cat3, happy as larry. Even after I put the litter tray back he carried on using the toilet for a few weeks


I think it would work best if I had 2 toilets, so it wasn't such an effort for me and guests to use it, and if there was only 1 cat instead of 3.

It's too much work trying to train 3 cats to use it at the same time, and to convince them the floor is not a better option

Both my previous cat & my current both had/have a nasty habit of walking off from the litter tray before they've completely finished their "Number Twos".

I'd be fearful that if they were toilet trained there'd be some nasty surprises on the seat or the bathroom floor.

I'm sure there's a dark brown side to the glamour of potty trained kitties which we don't see.

I considered doing this with my cat, but from reading up on it, it sounds like its not less mess because cats don't understand the concept of aiming into the toilet... Maybe it depends on the size of the cat though?

I'm going to try teach my cat to fetch using clicker training. When she was a kitten, she used to fetch things I threw and then drop them at my feet.

I have strays from backyard that get to stay in when it is very nasty out. There guys are not trained but uncannily each has managed to somehow id the bathtub as the 'emergency place'.

Every cat I've ever had has been like this; if their litter box is full or for some other reason they don't want to use it, it's always the tub. I think it has something to do with the relative privacy the high bathtub walls afford them.

I've seen cats use the shower too.

Fun read but I'm really against keeping a cat inside all day, for most of its life.

Granted you may not have a choice, depending on your location. But generally I think more effort should be placed on slowly getting a kitten acclimated to the outside world than something like this. I've done it with all my cats, basically starting to let them outside around the time they are neutered.

The kitten will naturally take a very cautious approach as they slowly explore their environment. It's actually fascinating to watch as they slowly gain more confidence and move farther into the brush and edges of your yard/property (provided you have the space). Eventually getting into tree's and exploring up as well as out.

They are happier, they are healthier and they live longer. My first cat that I raised this way lived until 18.

> and they live longer.

Every source I can find indicates that, on average, strictly indoor cats live much longer than indoor/outdoor cats who in turn live much longer than strictly outdoor cats.

(My own experience aligns with this and further with the there being a much wider distribution in lifespans as you go further down the strictly indoor to strictly outdoor continuum.)

Outdoor cats hunt and kill a ton of animals, especially birds (estimated as 1.4-3.7 billion in the US, annually). Being outdoors also exposes cats to poisoned rodents, cars, raccoons, in short, lots of things that can kill or injure them.

Every source I can find indicates that, on average, strictly indoor cats live much longer than indoor/outdoor cats who in turn live much longer than strictly outdoor cats.

This is absolutely true. I had a cat that refused to stay indoors during the day. He was constantly getting injured in fights with other animals (mostly not cats, I believe). An infection almost killed him, except we were willing to plunk down the money to get the wound attended to and for the antibiotics. Wearing that cone of shame was the worst 3 weeks of his life.

Hasn't been my experience in the real world. Sorry, down vote away, but I've had many cats throughout my life, they are MUCH MUCH MUCH happier living a life of freedom.

So go about locking up your cats, feel safe and happy about that. And meanwhile maybe your little buddy lives to 20? Do you think he/she is happier living a life locked away inside your house, waiting for you to show up and maybe pay a little attention to him/her?

> Sorry, down vote away, but I've had many cats throughout my life, they are MUCH MUCH MUCH happier living a life of freedom

Happier is a separate question than lives longer (and a lot easier to misread due to projecting ones own beliefs about what should make them happy.) The claim upthread was that outside cats are happier, healthier, and longer-lived. The part I took issue with in the grandparent post was "longer lived", and that's all I addressed.

> So go about locking up your cats, feel safe and happy about that.

Actually, I prefer (when I live in an area where its not particularly unsafe for outdoor cats, worse than the norm) to allow cats to be indoor/outdoor, despite the statistics on lifespan. (Right now I don't, but I live in an area where aggressive raccoons, feral cats, and other threats are particularly problematic, and the indoor/outdoor non-feral cats are at a very high risk of being killed or chased off.)

It would ultimately depend on what you're trying to optimize for. Length of life does not necessarily correlate to quality of life.

Do these sources include premature end of life from accident/injury/predation? It seems, at least intuitively, that these factors would significantly drag down life expectancy for outdoor cats. However, I think it would be useful to see the estimates with these factors excluded (noted of course) to just compare life expectancy assuming death from natural causes.

I don't know of any sources, but wouldn't injury and predation actually be natural causes for these outdoor cats? Saying that they shouldn't be counted because they "weren't natural" sounds a lot like the No True Scotsman fallacy. We don't tend to consider predation and injury as natural causes in humans mostly because we consider ourselves the apex predator so there's nothing seriously that can prey on us. And injuries in humans are typically caused by accidents and not our natural state; in a cat however they can get injured by the prey they're hunting or the environment without it necessarily being an accident which I would consider a natural cause.

My longest lived outside cat was 23 years, BTW. They average 10-15 so far.

Had a couple die early due to stupid humans doing stupid things. :(

This really depends on the environment and the cat.

I've had outdoor cats my whole life. Grew up in a rural setting, and if I was outside, so were animals I was close to.

Some cats do not seem to have enough common sense to stay out of trouble, or are just too adventurous in general. If they are indoor only and one is serious about that and does entertain them, they live long, and I believe happy lives. But, if they get out, even a few times, I see that as cruel, unless they reject it and some do, content to stay indoors.

If your environment is cat hostile, expect maybe a third of cats to do well. It's not pretty, and something I see as a driver to have indoor cats.

To me, it comes down to this:

Cats --most cats, and in particular, the really bright ones, present as little people to me. They have a sense of self and presence of mind that I find notable. It's a shared life, and they have a part in that, much like people do. Down deep, they understand that we want them there and that means they do what they do and doing that is largely OK, because we would assert ourselves otherwise.

Friendship or close bonds with cats are special because of this. They really do make choices, have specific people preferences, and treat you like an equal in their eyes. I love that about them.

And to me, I can't keep 'em indoors because of that. My experiences with indoor cats are good, but my experiences with outdoor cats are GREAT! I get to see more of who they are, and our adventure times outside in the yard are awesome.

One can learn to communicate with cats and actually have sophisticated dialogs. (as far as animals go) To make this happen, it's important that you engage with the cat a lot when it's young. You learn how to understand it, and it will understand you.

If this interaction doesn't happen, and you don't push the boundaries of it, the cat gives up and is happy to work with what does work. No worries. But if you want to get close, the work is on you. The rewards are great though. Highly recommended.

I've been impacted by a cat to a point where I still feel genuine grief over one special one we lost a few years ago to disease. That one was bonded to us on a level I've rarely experienced with animals before. My wife got ill, and that cat stepped up big. Somehow she knew it mattered. Best friends for life kind of thing. I'm convinced she helped my wife recover from some near death medical issues by sheer force of will and being there. Not just hanging out, but being there. Hard to explain, so I'll stop.

The way I see this is the cat makes it's choices. We can help them make better choices and give them comfort and security too. An outdoor cat who is well bonded to you will share it's life with you gladly, and the time with the cat is worth it, even when it's short sometimes.

It's much like humans who choose how they want to live. We don't always make the smarter choices either. Cats are independent creatures deserving of similar respect in terms of how they journey through life.

And watching them outside, senses alive, hunting, exploring is pretty awesome! Mine share that experience with me, sometimes to the point of giving me that, "hey, quiet!" look. They don't mind that I am there, and if I get the laser pointer, or some string, or sticks, etc... and play, the best play is outside. They seems to go, "full cat" when outside, and I find that compelling and amazing to be a part of.

Seems to me, such a difference in the cat means it's not so simple. Some cats crave it, others don't. Humans need to do the work to live with their cat and give them the same freedom that cat does to be who they are.

I used to be too, until my girlfriend enlightened me - there are "indoor cat" breeds that genuinely prefer to be indoors and don't run away when doors are open. Her Persian Blue is one of them, and he just kind of pokes his head out the door and then wanders back inside. He's coming up to 12 years.

This may work for some but coyotes are a constant threat here in Austin. Letting our cats go outside would practically be a death sentence.

Lots of places - especially in the US due to (a) car country (b) wild animals like coyotes - that isn't an option.

I, OTOH, live in a fairly chilled out part of NW England, so if I get a cat again I'll be getting it an RFID activated catflap.

Agreed with the "not indoors" part. Plus they'll bring you presents from outside too. Sometimes even in one piece.

Coyotes have been observed taking cats at least as far north as Connecticut. Add to that cars and scuffles with other animals over territory and roaming outdoors becomes a significant risk for a cat. Best not to let them outside unsupervised (e.g., use a leash).

Evo it's unfortunate you added "live longer" As most people below are pointing out that part isn't true and that factual inaccuracy is hijacking your overall point which is that outdoor cats are happier than indoor cats.

It is factually untrue that outdoor cats live longer. See, for example:


And since you're quite content with anecdote as evidence, of my last 5 cats, all indoor cats, only one didn't live past 18, and she had other health issues. One cat, in fact, lived past 23.

That is one hard-to-parse title! :)

‘Prey balls’ with cat detection and evasion capabilities seem like a potential development of the idea, if it weren’t so technically challenging.

I think this has already been accomplished by http://getshru.com/

I thought the article would be about a monkey hunted by a cat for dinner.

That is one hard-to-parse title!

I was expecting to read about the unfortunate monkey some feline dined on.

My cat would just poop in my shoe if I tried to make her do anything. LOL

don't feed kibble to your cat please.

I've heard both "don't use dry food, it causes issues" AND "don't use wet food, it causes issues" so... You're going to have to provide some citation for your opinion.

Wet food causes dental issues but isn't a problem with regular checkups unless your vet prescribes dry food to a cat especially prone to dental issues caused by wet food.

Dry food is tied to obesity due to being higher in carbs, and obesity -> higher chance of diabetes.

As for nutrition - high end dry food will always be better than cheap wet food but overall, from what I've gathered from many vets, is that wet food is better.

So I can see the argument for "wet food is taking better care of your cat" but, unless you notice your cat getting overweight, I don't think kibble could be considered harmful.

I thought the lack of any moisture in dry food can create other issues too?

Some studies cite that, although with small sample sizes (making the difference between 11% and 39% only a factor of 8-12 cats).

The often cited danger is urinary obstructions and studies like [0] that show wet canned food treats the condition. Another study [1] show it happens less frequently with cats who eat wet food as opposed to dry food. So many people make the conclusion that wet food prevents and treats a potentially fatal condition, therefore wet > dry.

I don't find either study entirely convincing, most vets and studies don't seem to cite dry food as the inherent problem, but rather free-eating cats, overweight, and indoor-only (lack of exercise specifically). (No citations this time, sorry. I don't keep all this stuff handy!)

When the studies themselves aren't blaming dry food (entirely) and vets don't seem to overwhelmingly condemn the use of kibble, I don't see reason to do so myself. I trust the studies and vets.

[0] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10023397

[1] Paywall, but I think this is the study. http://jfm.sagepub.com/content/suppl/2014/03/12/16.4.DC1/JFM...

I think dominotw is a cat. If so, don't expect a citation.

I was thinking all that for dry food, what a con.

The next step is to make a device that opens a wet can and let the cat choose with buttons or different drop targets.

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