Heard of the cat-video-making guy who almost broke the internet?
That guy, CATMANTOO, is coming to the Sydney Cat Lovers Festival to teach us hoomans that it’s easier than we think to train cats and show us how to put a harness and leash on our furry friends and take them walkies! HARNESS and LEASH?! WALKIES?! Is he SERIOUS?!
We caught up with CATMANTOO between cat-tricks, from his hometown of Coolangatta, and fired some questions at the Californian-born professional animal trainer/behaviourist, who clearly loved working with Aussies Olivia Newton John and Mel Gibson so much, he became an Aussie citizen!
Meet the myth-buster with an impressive 1.1 million Facebook followers, who’s living proof that cats can not only be trained, but they can also become skateboard-riding internet sensations…
Q. Hello, CATMANTOO! How are you today? Purring along?
A. Hello! I’m doing fine, thank you.
Q. Good to hear. You sound happy. What makes a cat happy?
A. It’s the simple things… Eating, sleeping, doing zoomies, and getting ear scratches.
Q. Let’s start with the elephant in the room – your name! Your parents named you Robert Dollwet and you have rebranded as CATMANTOO. Please explain?
A. I started out as a dog trainer in the US Air Force, trained dogs for 40 years, but I’m a CATMANTOO! This was a purrfect name for starting a social media channel to help cats and cat parents all over the world.
Q. Why did you want to encourage cat owners to bring their cats indoors?
A. A long time ago, I had a cat called Quiz, short for ‘Quizno’s Subs’, a fast-food chain in the US. I named him that because he just walked up to me in a parking lot near the sandwich shop. He was an indoor/outdoor cat. I believed the myth that cats needed to roam to be happy, then he got run over by a car. I came to learn that outdoor cats have a much shorter lifespan; only two to five years. For me, this horrible incident, in combination with these terrible statistics, dispelled the myth that cats need to roam to be happy. This motivated me, when I moved to Australia, to start a channel for educating people about all sorts of cat things, and spreading the word about the many dangers cats face roaming outside, unsupervised.
Q. In just one word, describe your level of excitement knowing you’ll be talking to 30,000 cat lovers across the weekend at the Sydney Cat Lovers Festival in August?
A. 30,000? Terrified! No, I’m excited to be back after being part of the Melbourne show several years ago.
Q. You’re appearing at our first ever Cat Lovers Festival in Sydney, alongside your 11-year-old Domestic shorthair/Tabby called Didga (pron. Did-ja), short for Didgeridoo, which we hear you play. Impressive! As well as being known as the Super Kitty Skateboarder, Didga’s an ambassador for shelter cats. Tell us more.
A. Didga is living proof that cats from animal shelters aren’t ‘damaged’ goods. Every rescue cat just needs a loving guardian to show it how to reach its full potential. My hope is that Didga’s success inspires other people to consider fostering and adopting a cat.
Q. At the Cat Lovers Festival, we strongly believe every homeless cat deserves the opportunity to find a loving, well-suited fur-ever home and family. Why do you think people should consider fostering?
A. It’s always a good idea to foster a pet because it alleviates the overcrowding rescue centres face. It also allows you to ‘test drive’ the animal to see if its compatible with children and the rest of the family. If it’s not compatible, the rescue centre can find another foster family, and give the cat another chance to find its forever home.
Q. You’ll present a talk in Sydney called ‘Teaching A Cat Is Easier Than You Think’ in which you’ll share a one-minute training technique for helping cats learn better, and make training easier and more fun for fur parents. Clearly, you’re an expert, but was there a trick you found hard to teach Didga?
A. Three tricks stand out for me as presenting the biggest challenge. They were: the forward roll; the trust fall, where Didga fell backwards into my arms without flipping over onto her feet, which every cat instinctively does when falling; and ‘hippy-jumping’ over a dog while riding a skateboard! It took us a year and a half of repeating my one-minute method to first perfect these three tricks, then get them on to film – without getting me in the shot, which presents challenges of its own!
Q. You’ve been quoted as saying Didga has a ‘very high food drive’ and this helps you with your training, more than her breed, age, or any other factor. Being a superstar, she’d be forgiven for having rockstar ‘rider’ dietary requirements, like Axl Rose’s square melons, or Van Halen’s M&Ms with the brown ones taken out. What’s her favourite food?
A. Didga jumps at the chance to have kangaroo mince. You just need to find something healthy your cat loves. Unlike dogs, the almost exclusive ‘primary reinforcement’ for cats is food. Because we’re giving cats treats, and in some cases lots of them, it’s imperative the food is healthy and high value.
Q. What’s the most important piece of advice you have for cat owners who want to teach their cats new tricks, stunts or behaviours? Please don’t say, ‘just buy a GoPro and watch the magic happen’! We know you’re very safety conscious so where is the ‘line’ between ‘try this’ and ‘don’t try this at home’?
A. Know your cat’s limits. Don’t force them. Short training sessions are best. For the best results, watch my tutorials.
Q. Didga has a Guinness World Record for doing the most tricks (24) in one minute. How did this come about?
A. There was already a dog with a Guinness World Record for doing the most tricks in a minute, so they called me up to see if Didga could go for the cat’s equivalent world record.
Q. Which of Didga’s tricks do people ask her to perform the most?
A. The high-five! It’s a relatively easy trick to teach a cat and I’ve trained Didga to give high-fives to strangers. People always freak out, calling over their friends or kids to get a high-five from Didga, too.
Q. You’re taking to the stage at the Festival to demo how you train cats to use a harness and leash for outdoor adventures. Where do you even start with this (apart from ordering chain-mail gloves quick-smart)?
A. In the house! Lots of patience. And remember: your cat is not a dog.
Q. Your LinkedIn page lists ‘Pet Sitting’ as one of your many skills. Does this mean your clients come home from their holiday to find their British Shorthair skateboarding, and their pug giving the cat piggy backs around the house?
A. It did at one time but that was in the past when I offered a program to either take a dog into my home for a month, or stay at the owner’s home while they were on holiday. Before hiring me, they would ask if the dog will still listen to them if I’m doing the teaching. I’d explain that a vision-impaired person doesn’t teach a seeing eye dog. A professional trainer does the training, then works with the new owner to teach them how to keep up the training. Once the dog is taught, it’s much-much easier to then teach the owner, then the more they follow the advice and practice, the more the dog will listen to them. It was a very popular service that lasted more than 25 years. Today, I work part-time as a mobile service for animal training, here on the Gold Coast.
Q. You have the CATMANTOO channel on social media. Your most-watched video on YouTube, which has had 23 million views, is: ‘World’s Best Skateboarding Cat! Go Didga Go!’ Do you think this will be your ‘magnum opus’/the best work you’ll produce, or do you see yourself making Internet-breaking videos and tutorials for another 40 years?
A. Time will tell, but they say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ll keep making videos as long as Didga is happy. She’s 11-years old so I’ll probably rely more on CGI [computer-generated imagery] versus her doing physical acting. I’ll gravitate to making more tutorials so I can pass on the skills I’ve learned these many years. I uploaded some on Youtube, with many more on my Patreon page – a subscription page with over 65+ training posts.
Q. You look after arguably one of the world’s most famous cats on social media. How did you manage to attract over 1.1 million followers on Facebook, and what has that done to Didga’s ego?
A. The strategy I found most effective to grow our social audience was simply sharing my cat’s talents using good videos with good music. It didn’t take long at all. It went viral so fast it was wild. My computer came alive with messages from people from all over. It was overwhelming. In terms of Didga’s ego, she hasn’t changed at all, and I’ve tried to stay humble.
Q. Next year will mark your 40th year in the animal-care business. You’ve gone from training police dogs in the US Military, to becoming a professional animal trainer in Malibu and working with the rich and famous and their pets, to becoming an animal-behaviourist for the television and movie industry! There’s a theory going around that what we role-play as children, we eventually become as adults. Does this ring true for you? Did you grow up teaching your house-cats tricks?
A. Ironically, I didn’t have a close connection with domestic pets growing up, apart from wanting to be a Herpetologist, studying cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians. I joined the military and thought it would be fun to train military dogs. It turned out I had a knack for it. I realised this because my military dog kept winning competitions.
Q. Can you teach old cats new tricks?
A. Cats or dogs of any age can learn to do tricks, so it’s just a myth that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ What is true is that it’s harder to break bad habits in animals which are older, just as it is in humans. At any age, we can learn something new. It may take a bit longer, and more commitment, but we can learn. Breaking our habits or addictions, which are sort of similar to most behavioural issues in our pets, takes longer to unlearn. As an animal behaviourist, our approach is to replace the old, undesirable habit with something desirable. Now, just like humans, animals can have relapses. You can stop the addiction, but the behaviour may come back If you aren’t constantly managing their actions. The bottom line is, the higher the food-drive the cat has and the more knowledgeable you are about training techniques, the easier it will be for your cat to learn all sorts of things.
Q. If you could deliver one message to every cat lover in Australia, what would it be?
A. Come to the Cat Lovers Festival when we visit a city near you. Or subscribe to my YouTube channel or become a Patron on my Patreon page – shameless plug LOL!
Q. Finally, why should cat lovers come and see you at the Sydney Cat Lovers Festival?
A. There’s not only me to see at the Festival! There are tonnes of great reasons to come along, including talks from Dr Katrina and Jackson Galaxy, and there’ll also be lots of shelters with cats up for adoption, after the Festival. So, come along and meet Didga, ask me questions, and get training tips for cool tricks and outdoor adventures so your cat doesn’t spend its days just sitting on the couch. It’ll be fancatstical!
SEE CATMANTOO AT THE CAT LOVERS FESTIVAL IN SYDNEY
CATMANTOO and Didga will be appearing on the WHISKAS Stage at the Cat Lovers Festival, Sydney Showground, on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 August 2023, presenting: ‘Teaching a cat is easier than you think!’ 10AM daily; and ‘Training cats to use a harness and leash for outdoor adventures’ 2.15PM daily.