Question: How do I train my adorable but irascible cat to let me pet her tummy?
Answer: Just as not every person likes being tickled, not every cat likes belly rubs. But if your kitty isn't thrilled by your attempts at affection, there's hope. It will just take a bit of patience and simple classical conditioning. Don't ever forget that cats are sharp. Play these games when kitty is calm and happy, and don't push her to a point of discomfort.
First, you'll need to find her very favorite treats. You might even ask the sales associates at a pet supply store for what is known affectionately as "kitty crack" — bonito fish flakes — but packaged cat treats, or bits of chicken or tuna, work too.
When kitty is feeling calm and relaxed (usually after eating), pet her gently, use relatively short strokes, scratching your fingers into the fur on her neck and back. Try not to go from her head to her tail in one stroke, as that action can be very stimulating for many cats. Then give her some of those yummy treats. While she's still comfortable, touch her tummy and immediately offer her a treat, then end the session.
Keep these little sessions short and sweet, with kitty always calm and treats always abundant. Each time you work with her, pet her a little more on her tummy, remembering to always start in very short sessions and immediately reward her tolerance with her favorite treat. Gradually she'll learn that your affection predicts yummy treats, and she'll roll over for your love.
This week's expert is Amie Glasgow, behavior and training coordinator with the Maryland SPCA (www.mdspca.org). To submit a question for a local animal expert, email firstname.lastname@example.org.