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Feline Mind Games: How Our Cats Train Us to Behave

We know that cats can be trained, but in what ways do our feline friends do the same to us?

Rita Reimers  |  Nov 11th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our September/October 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

When I tell people that my cats are well-mannered and trained, they nod their heads
and smile politely while trying not to roll their eyes. I used to think they just didn’t understand cat behavior; after all, I do this for a living, and they don’t. But perhaps they’re seeing things I overlook.

Is it that my cats are well-trained, or is it really that my cats have trained me well? In an attempt to determine just exactly who rules the roost, I started taking notice of how my cats routinely act. I began to realize that I may well have been brainwashed — feline style.

Those feline wiles

There’s nothing cuter than a little whiskered face looking up at you intently, emitting a purr, often while simultaneously rubbing against you. We think this must mean they love us, when what it really means is, “I want you to drop whatever you’re doing, and pay attention to me NOW.” My Pinky is doing it right now because she wants me to stop working and pay attention to her. But I must resist her control. Well, OK, maybe just one little scratch behind the ears.

You had me at meow

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When just being cute and loving doesn’t work sufficiently, cats will add the meow in an attempt to reason with us on our terms. This is not a “noe meow fits all situations” scenario, mind you. Sometimes they resort to using a very annoying and high-pitched meow, which means “I want something,” but it’s your duty to figure out just what that something is. Until you figure it out, the meows get louder and more persistent, and if you don’t guess right, you’ll be the victim of feline revenge.

Stare, glare, and grab There’s also the “I want something” stare (also known as the glare). Again, you have to guess what your cat wants. As you get closer to the object of her desire, she may again throw in the meow to give you a hint that you’re getting warmer, and once you have it in your hand, she’ll no doubt reach out a little paw to grab it. My Boo-Boo does this to me. He actually cups his paws around my fingers to pull whatever I’m holding toward him.

Playing hard to get

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I can always tell when I have upset one of my cats, because I get the cold shoulder. Similarly, not coming when called is another way that cats play hard to get. Do cats ever come when they are called? Yes, but only if you make it worth their while.

Watch your step

Trying to walk into a different room, particularly if you’re carrying something, will become a new Olympic sport if you have a cat or two in the house. Weaving between your legs and slowly walking right in front of you to make you stop and change directions will have you losing your balance and stumbling. How cats are able to anticipate exactly where your foot is about to land and end up being right in that spot as you take your next step is a true feline talent. Your cat steers you onto a new course, usually toward the refrigerator and the chicken leftovers he saw you put in there.

Purrs and warm laps

Just so you don’t feel entirely controlled, your cat may at times decide to lie on your lap, look up at you with love, and purr. How can anything so cute be so demanding?
So who is doing the training, and who is really owned by whom? In the end, all that matters is the lifelong, loving bond shared between humans and our kitties. Right?

OK, I admit it: I’ve been tricked by my cats’ mind games, and I’ve been the one who was getting trained all along. As a proud member of my cats’ staff, I am delighted to be owned and operated by all of my feline housemates.

That’s MY spot

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Photo by Shutterstock

Have you ever tried to work on your computer, make a phone call, or read with your cat in the room? You won’t accomplish much, since your cat will no doubt lie on whatever object has your attention. She’s letting you know that your attention is reserved only for her. And don’t expect to have your spot on the sofa waiting for you if you get up! She’ll take your spot the moment you stand up.

About the author: Rita Reimers’ cat behavior counseling sessions have helped many kitties remain happy in their forever homes. Visit her website, the Cat Analyst, to learn more about her services and to read her cat behavior blog. Rita is also owner/ CEO of Just For Cats Pet Sitting. Connect with Rita on Facebook and Twitter.