Last night Olivia reached over the side of her sleeping basket and patted my boyfriend, George, on his arm as he settled into sleep. George immediately responded by stroking her and giving her a quick kiss — she purred and chortled back. Meanwhile, Sudan, my other cat, lightly scratched the top of the bed. I immediately lifted the sheets for him so that he could snuggle under the blankets and push his back against my side — the quintessential position for ear scratches and head rubs. These endearing behaviors are predictable. They occur almost every night. We look forward to these sweet interchanges with my cats.
Sudan and Olivia aren’t unique. Cats, after they form bonds with the people around them and they feel comfortable in their homes, often develop behaviors that become personal exchanges between them and their people.
You might have a special kitty who gently taps your cheek for attention, or she might balance on her back legs while extending her front paws up to you when she wants to be picked up and cuddled. She might also give you sweet kitty kisses or gentle nibbles, and sing to you with soft chortles and meows or subtly push against you when you are sitting or lying down. Other expressive behaviors include dropping toys at your feet for you to throw for her, and gently touching or wrapping her tail around your arm or leg or running to greet you when you walk in the door. There are many other endearing behaviors she may engage in as well. Depending on how you react to them, they often grow into special interchanges exclusively between the two of you.
There are always reasons for behaviors. Cats, like all animals, will repeat them if they are reinforced. Sometimes these activities are unintentionally and accidentally reinforced; other times they are deliberately encouraged and rewarded. Cat lovers who cherish their kitties’ antics often reinforce the behaviors by giving their little ones the attention, affection, and treats the cats crave when they do them. Felines are smart. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that when they gently tap cheeks, greet their favorite people, or do other endearing behaviors they get the results they want.
It’s not just the cats who enjoy the interchanges. People, enjoying the little pats, chortles, and other sweet behaviors respond favorably, giving their cats the attention they want. The cats, of course, to the delight of their owners, repeat the behaviors — the cats reinforce the humans’ responses while the people reinforce and encourage the cats’ behavior. Everyone benefits from the exchanges.
An added bonus is that these endearing interchanges build and strengthen the relationships between people and their kitties. They confirm what all cat lovers know — that cats are intelligent, affectionate, and full of personality.
What special behaviors do your cats do?
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Do you have a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian.
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site and Skype consultations. She uses positive reinforcement, including environmental changes, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.
She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods. Marilyn is big on education—she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors.
She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.