Copyright 2008, Sarah Hartwell

I have to admit a certain guilty pleasure watching BBC's Dog Borstal where dogs' bad behaviour is almost always due to bad ownership habits. The unholy trio of hard-man Mic (unable to string more than 5 words together without using the f-word), cuddly Rob and no-nonsense Lynne have a week in which to retrain owners whose behaviour is messing up their dogs. I wonder how they'd fare with Mog Borstal though?

Hard-man Mic might as well give up on the dominance displays. No self-respecting cat takes notice of that sort of behaviour. He'd get the tail-jerk treatment - that most eloquent feline equivalent of two fingers - as the cat casually struts off to sleep on top of an agility course obstacle. Rob would fare rather better as the cat would probably doze off on his lap while he explained what the owner was doing wrong. Lynne might want to re-train a recalcitrant kitty, but as with human therapy, the cat really has to want to change ....

So sit down and tune in to Mog Borstal, a tale of past and present kitties and their crimes against owners.

Mustard, a small tabby and white, guilty of keeping her owner awake at night with bed-time fidgetting, high volume purring and occasional tummy-rumbling. An intensive mog-and-owner session at Mog Borstal means Mustard now sleeps under the bedcovers and has a dish of midnight snacks on the dressing table. The trainers says this was one of the hardest cases he's had to crack as the owner initially proved resistant to having the cat snuggled up inside the bed. It was necessary for him to use sleep deprivation techniques to make the owner fully aware of the cat's need for contact, reassurance and something to treat the midnight munchies. An agility cause would help her with snoozing on the landing banister without falling off.

Kitty III, white with tortie bits, accused of tripping her owner up on nocturnal bathroom visits and demand food and play. A week at Mog Borstal means a selection of gourmet sachets are kept on the landing window-sill and the owner can now chase jingle balls in her sleep to the satisfaction of Kitty III. It was hard work, reported the trainer, but the owner responded well to intensive fly-ball training. He added that jingle balls should only be used as an owner-training aid under close supervision. The bemused owner's comment was "mmmfle-wmmmfle-pmmmf".

Cindy, white with black bits, accused of bringing mice into the bedroom at 3 in the morning. A series of early mornings and dedicated Mog Borstal agility training sessions meant her owner became active and agile at the drop of a rodent and was able to participate in nocturnal mouse-hunting operations on request. Cindy reported the owner's behaviour and performance to be "much improved" and planned to continue the nocturnal sessions to reinforce and refine the behaviour.

Nutmeg, tortie, sent to Mog Borstal for "biting that hand that feeds her" and wanton destruction of next door's dog. A concentrated course ensured the hand that fed Nutmeg was only presented to her when it contained food and not for frivolous reasons that semi-feral cats can't possibly be hoped to deal with such as stroking, giving tablets and removing her from the face of next door's Labrador. Scary trainer commended Nutmeg for her feistiness in defending her territory against a much larger adversary (him) before asking someone to give him a lift to the Accident and Emergency Dept.

Thenie, black, referred to Mog Borstal for allegedly attempting to smother her owner at night and strangle her by day. The owner was taught how to give Thenie the lion's share of the pillow at night, however, two Mog Borstal trainers had to be treated for fur inhalation while demonstrating this technique. Postural training has enabled the owner to go about daily tasks with Thenie wrapped around her neck. However, when this posture became habitual without added cat, the owner was accused of snootiness.

Affy, ginger, referred to Mog Borstal for ambushing her owner's legs and hanging on (without involving claws). Hard man Mic enrolled the owner at a local gym for leg strengthening exercises. The owner is now able to walk round the house with cats wrapped around both legs.

Sounds familiar? Much as we like to think we train our cats, the reality is that we adapt to accommodate them. From having a selection of gourmet pouches on hand for midnight snacks to waking up with catarrh because the pillow is occupied or learning to use the computer mouse in the other hand because the cat likes to sleep on a particular side of the keyboard, we have been conditioned through a variety of subtle psychological techniques.

So much for the case histories, now imagine the feline responses to the training regime. Mog in!

The agility course. There are a series of jumps to be sniffed and ignored - why would any self-respecting cat jump over something when it can save energy walking round it? As for the A frame, it is met with a "what's in it for me" expression before the cat decides there's a nice shady, sheltered bit underneath it (and a good view of the trainer tearing his hair out). Affy would note there are a series of scratching posts that some dogs might use as weaving poles. Meanwhile, Scrapper, one of mog-dom's great thinker might jump onto the bench and respond to "down", but he certainly wouldn't bother about "up" till he was good an ready. He'd just lie there thinking "Sure cat-agility has caught on among some of the Oriental breeds and the occasional energetic Bengal showing off at cat shows, but what can you expect of pedigree types? You wouldn't catch me doing that ... yawn". That's not to say cats aren't agile, but they only do it on their terms. An agility course just doesn't fire their enthusiasm in the same way as a 5 ft vertical leap to chase Mr Squirrel along the garden fence, leaping the garden gate and weaving in and out of branches halfway up a tree.

The obstacle course is similarly met with derision. What, me walk past all those interesting objects and not investigate them? Hey, that's salmon on that plate, I'll catch up with you when I've licked the last atom of salmon from the bowl. What? Walk past those dogs? Without thumping them on the nose? Take that doggie! Ooh look, a catnip mousie - must shred! In his defence, Scrapper walked to heel and would accompany me short distances from the house.

Recall training. What are you doing over there mum? Why are you jumping up and down yelling? Don't you know how undignified you look? Okay, you yell and jump. Don't mind me, I'll just settle down here for a wash. Feel free to join me when you've worn yourself out. To her credit, Both Scrapper and Thenie came when whistled. Affy generally bounded up in response to "Affy-Affy-Affy".

Obedience. The only way to keep a cat off a work surface is to keep the door shut (not convenient when the cat-flap is in the same room). Otherwise all you accomplish is a cat that stays off the kitchen work-surface when you're looking at it. Once your back is turned, that's a different matter. If you don't believe me, go check the work-surface for evidence. Of course, your cat will protest the fur and paw-prints belong to some other cat that came in through the cat-flap and sat on the forbidden kitchen counter, but being a nice obedient cat (and by now ingratiating itself by weaving around your ankles), your cat didn't dare jump up there chase the intruder away.

So much for training tearaway kitties - they train us. Our need for feline love and purring reassurance lays us wide open to their moggy manipulation. Mog out!