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If you've found your way here, you likely have heard about ChatGPT. Briefly for those who aren't familiar, ChatGPT is a new AI text generator. It supposedly has people at Google worried and there are talks about it being used for students to write essays because it's really good at generating natural sounding text.
Given all the hype (and fears) surrounding this new technology, I wanted to try a fun experiment to see how well it does with giving out cat behavior advice much like my fake laptop experiment last year. I have no intention of making my blog posts AI generated moving forward (I actually like writing!), but let's see how much we can trust our future robotic overlords and their algorithm to give advice about cat behavior.
I didn't want to pick too complicated of a topic as something like litter boxes or biting could have many potential causes. I also wanted to pick a topic that I see a lot of bad advice floating around the internet and one that has the potential for the algorithm to suggest something potentially really harmful.
The topic that came to mind after some thought was furniture scratching. I see all sorts of bad advice about how to stop this including the use of squirt bottles or declawing your cat. It's also, compared to some other topics, generally pretty easy to manage.
The ChatGPT interface requires you to sign up in order to use it. After you click through a few screens, it takes you to a chat screen. Not to out myself as old, but it reminds me a bit of AOL Instant Messenger from back in the day. You enter a phrase or question at the bottom of the screen and it generates text.
The length of the text varies depending on what you ask so I figured I'd try two different queries: one that a cat parent may do and one that someone such as myself may enter if they were looking to quickly generate a blog post. I figure it's a good idea to see if there are difference between the two posts in the advice it generates and to see what the average user may come up with should AI eventually replace Google or all human interaction entirely.
Let's see what happened and review how reliable the advice is!
A Pet Parent's Query
For my first search, I went with what most people searching for information on scratching would search for. I used "How do I get my cat to stop scratching the furniture?" as the prompt. Here is what ChatGPT generated:
"There are several things you can try to stop your cat from scratching the furniture:
1. Provide a scratching post: Cats scratch to mark their territory and to remove the outer layer of their claws. By providing a scratching post, you can redirect your cat's scratching behavior away from the furniture.
2. Trim your cat's claws regularly: Trimming your cat's claws can help to reduce the damage caused by scratching.
3. Use deterrents: You can try using a spray bottle filled with water or double-sided tape on the areas of the furniture that your cat likes to scratch. This can help to deter your cat from scratching those areas.
4. Reward good behavior: When you see your cat using the scratching post instead of the furniture, be sure to reward them with praise and treats. This will encourage your cat to continue using the scratching post.
5. Consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist: If you have tried these techniques and your cat is still scratching the furniture, it may be a good idea to consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for additional advice."
Overall, not actually that bad... except for number three. Squirt bottles aren't a good solution for scratching for a few reasons. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and you're not going to be able to completely suppress it. Squirting them just causes stress for engaging in a completely normal behavior for cats to do and doesn't actually solve the issue. It also can make them fearful of you which isn't good either. Plus, your cat will likely still scratch the furniture when you're not around.
I'm also not a fan of the double sided tape method as it often just encourages the cat to scratch somewhere else on the furniture. A better option that protects your furniture (and is a much better choice than a squirt bottle...) would be something that your cat CAN scratch but prevents damage to your furniture. There are a variety of options out there including this corner scratcher that comes in a few color choices or this over the arm scratcher that has pockets for you to store things!
Better yet is providing your cat with an appropriate scratcher that they'll actually used (such as the SmartCat Ultimate Scratching Post that is extremely popular among my clients as their cats love scratching it!) and placing it in an appropriate location. Location and type of scratching posts are an extremely important factor in whether cats will use a scratching post, something the AI didn't capture in their suggestions.
Similarly, the AI missed out on suggestion usage of catnip, silvervine, or valerian root powder to attract the cat to the post or you can scratch the post yourself to draw the cat in. It sounds really odd, but it works for a lot of cats!
Another problem is that the order of suggestions that the AI generated doesn't prioritize the most effective methods and the order most behavior consultants would advise clients to use. Number 4 should have been second and... Well, you already know how I feel about number 3. The actual second suggestion isn't bad, but it's not going to get your cat scratching an appropriate surface. If that's the only thing you do, you might have less damaged furniture but your cat is still going to scratch your couch.
Generating A Full Blog Post
Next, I wanted to see what a more extensive post would look like as chances are ChatGPT is going to be used to generate blog posts. I doubt that most people using AI to create blogs would do much proofreading or fact checking, so it's important to look into this, too. I figured it would look provide similar advice to the last one, but formatted differently.
I used the query "Make a blog post on stopping cats from scratching furniture." Here are the results:
"Sure! Here is a blog post on how to stop cats from scratching furniture:
Are you tired of coming home to find your beloved furniture covered in scratches? Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, but it can be frustrating for pet owners when it damages household items.
Here are some tips for stopping your cat from scratching the furniture:
- Provide a scratching post: Cats scratch to mark their territory and to remove the outer layer of their claws. By providing a scratching post, you can redirect your cat's scratching behavior away from the furniture. Make sure to place the scratching post in an area where your cat likes to scratch, and encourage them to use it by praising and rewarding them when they do.
- Trim your cat's claws regularly: Trimming your cat's claws can help to reduce the damage caused by scratching. You can do this yourself using a pair of cat nail clippers, or you can have your veterinarian or a professional groomer do it for you.
- Use deterrents: If your cat continues to scratch the furniture despite having a scratching post available, you can try using a spray bottle filled with water or double-sided tape on the areas of the furniture that your cat likes to scratch. This can help to deter your cat from scratching those areas.
- Reward good behavior: When you see your cat using the scratching post instead of the furniture, be sure to reward them with praise and treats. This will encourage your cat to continue using the scratching post.
- Consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist: If you have tried these techniques and your cat is still scratching the furniture, it may be a good idea to consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for additional advice. They can assess your cat's behavior and provide more personalized solutions.
By following these tips, you can help to protect your furniture and keep your cat's scratching behavior under control. Remember to be patient and consistent, as it may take some time for your cat to adjust to using a scratching post instead of the furniture."
First, look at how friendly ChatGPT was! Such an enthusiastic algorithm.
As predicted, it was basically the same advice (including the bad advice). However, I actually like this one better. Why? It included some of the advice I thought was missing from the first one about proper location and expanded a bit more on some of the areas. That makes sense considering I asked it to generate a blog post so the response needed to be longer, but regardless it was nice seeing some nuance included.
All that said, in order for it to reach full blog post potential in my mind it would still need to be expanded upon and it still missed a few pretty easy pieces of advice that will likely help people. For example, it didn't include anything about picking out a quality scratching post or about the variety of unique scratchers out there that may fit your cat's needs. Plus... the f@%$&# squirt bottle thing.
The Big Picture
After seeing the results, am I worried that ChatGPT is going replace me? Have I changed my mind and plan to start generating all future blog posts using AI? Will Class Act Cats become Class Act ChatGPT?
That's a big no.
There was some good advice, but it's all pretty generic. A lot of other suggestions are missed and there is some actively harmful advice. The algorithm also wasn't able to correctly prioritize the advice in the order of what would be most effective. I worry that in some cases, such as litter box usage problems, it would suggest seeing a veterinarian last when that should actually be the first thing you do if your cat isn't using their box.
AI text generators, even ones as genuinely impressive as ChatGPT, don't have the same ability that someone who has studied cat behavior extensively does and can pretty easily include some or outdated information. I'm glad it didn't suggest declawing, but it didn't quite get how responsive cats are to reward based training and instead prioritized advice that is marginally helpful or has a strong chance of backfiring. It's basically just regurgitating the mix bag of information you get when you ask a bunch of randos on the interwebz what to do. That's not to say there isn't good information out there, but your mileage may vary significantly.
Until we get the algorithms good enough to be able to evaluate source quality, you're probably going to want to stick with human generated information when trying to address your cat's unwanted behaviors. Save the AI for generating rap songs instead.
About the author: Joey LusvardiCCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.