My cats have an ironclad morning routine that concludes with hunting for kibble-filled toys in a homemade foraging game.
Imagine my surprise the other day to find two successfully hunted mousies on the floor with their kibble guts still uneaten! Why did my cats do that?
It's a one word answer: Dopamine. Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that gives us a feeling of satisfaction. You probably felt dopamine when you finished the New York Times Sunday Crossword or when you finally shifted gears smoothly learning to drive clutch. It's an almost overwhelming feeling of relief and accomplishment.
Here's the thing about dopamine, though. It peaks just before you reach that goal. So when you are training an animal, their dopamine spikes just before you click and treat. In the case of this foraging game, my cats' dopamine spiked when they found the toys. So much so that the kibble reward was no longer necessary!
You can use dopamine both to your and your cats' advantages. Set small goals and slowly increase them, rewarding often. Add an extra block to your morning run. Ask your cat to hold their paw just one second longer. And enjoy the blissful dopamine surge!