Of all the things non-cat-lovers damn our feline friends for, chief among them is the belief that cats never listen to us, and if they do, they don’t care one single iota about what we say. Sure, if you’re used to the fawning adoration and obvious expressions of a dog, you might not think cats listen to, or talk to, their people. But once you find out how cats talk, and how they listen, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing.
Here are some ideas for establishing communication with your kitty.
Being a good communicator means being a good listener first and foremost. Get to know your cat’s body language. Observe his reactions to different stimuli. What does his body look like when he’s staring out the window at a bird or a squirrel? Have you seen similar body language when he interacts with you? When was that? What does your cat look like when he’s dozing in a sun puddle? Have you seen that same expression at other times? Listening to your cat is much more about sight and intuition than hearing.
From a distance, close your eyes slowly and then open them again. Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy describes the speed of the blink as a slowly spoken “I love you” — close your eyes slowly as you think “I,” hold them closed as you think “love,” and open them slowly as you think “you.” Do this when your cat is calm and relaxed, and you’ll see him return your love blinks.
Cats often greet each other by touching noses. You can replicate this by sitting down or crouching, curling your index finger into a shape sort of like a cat nose, and slowly extending your arm. By doing this, you’re giving a cat a chance to greet you in a way that makes sense in his language. Be sure you extend your hand slowly and come from in front of him or just to the side rather than from above.
Cats have very sensitive hearing, so if you bellow at your cat like a drill sergeant or greet him with the kind of overly enthusiastic greeting common to kids and dog people, he’ll run off. Siouxsie hates shrieky people, and I don’t blame her. I find a quiet lilt is the best tone in which to share affectionate words with cats or to tempt a shy kitty to get closer.
When I say, “Hi there, Mister Handsome. Come on up here,” Thomas knows it’s time to have his pre-bedtime special moment with me. Bella will occasionally sit on the floor and look up at me while I’m writing, as if she’s asking permission for lap time; when I look at her and say “Come on up” or make a kissing sound, she knows that means she’s welcome.
When kittens play, they’re developing social as well as physical skills. When one kitten is too rough with the other, the victim will squeak loudly and disengage himself from the bully. Do the same thing if your cat insists on using your fingers and toes as toys: Say “Ow!” in a high-pitched voice and put the cat on the floor, then ignore him for a while. Do this consistently until your cat learns that it’s not okay to chew on you or claw the heck out of you.
Each cat has his own dialect, so to speak. The best way to learn your cat’s language is to observe him carefully. Every little gesture and look speaks volumes, and with enough experience, you’ll find yourself understanding your cat’s language better than you ever imagined.
How do you communicate with your cats? What techniques have worked for you when introducing yourself to a new cat or working with your own cats? Share your experiences (and cute photos) in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.