LETTERS TO LUCINDA 8: Cat Behavior Solutions
Welcome, my friends, to another edition of Cat Behavior Solutions from Lucinda, the literate cat. This edition is number eight. How time flies!
Our question for this column comes from a Mr. Jack DeWitt, who writes:
“Lucinda, I have a burning question about my cat, and someone suggested I ask you. Why will my cat not obey me when I issue a very simple command? Isn’t she smart enough to understand what I want? She will not pay attention to anything I tell her to do. What is wrong with her?
My dog, now, is different. If I tell him to do something, he’s more than willing to oblige. He wants to please me in any way he can. Not the cat — it’s almost as if the cat wants me to please her instead of the other way around.
What am I doing wrong here? Why won’t the cat do what she is told?
Lucinda: You are not doing anything wrong, Mr. DeWitt. You simply do not understand your cat. Why do you expect the cat to act like a dog? The two are very different animals.
Two-leggeds in the know have a couple of good sayings about cats that highlight this behavior. They are: “Dogs come when they are called. Cats take a message and get back to you,” or, “Dogs have masters; cats have staff.”
You see, cats do not consider you a master, but an equal. Equals do not command each other, but they work together to solve a problem. Since their earliest contact with two-leggeds, the cats have understood the truth of this idea.
Our first recorded interaction with two-leggeds occured in early Egypt. Here, those ancient people discovered that the cats could provide a valuable service by killing vermin such as mice, rats, and even snakes, that found their way into the grain storage — the two-leggeds’ food supply.
An agreement was reached: In exchange for shelter, a warm bed, and an occasional meal, the cats would protect the food supply and destroy any creatures who invaded it. They must have done a very good job, as they went beyond “equals,” to the status of gods and goddesses.
Cats’ ancestral memories have kept alive this old history, and though cats today are not expected to protect communal property, they do protect the home where they live from any infestation of these lowly, destructive creatures. As far as the cat is concerned, he always has been your equal.
Therefore, do not command your cat, as it won’t work. Instead, through suggestion and loving attention, teach her what you want from her. Though she might refuse, chances are if you have made a reasonable request and have followed it with some affection, she will do as you wish.
There is no way, however, that you can persuade her to follow orders. She will do so only if she wants to.
Cats, no matter how much they have bonded with two-leggeds, never lose their instincts. They never forget, either, that they were once worshiped. When you try to exert control over a cat, he may just move out and look for other lodgings.
The cat expects to be treated well and admired. You are to play with him and stroke or scratch him in all his favorite spots. You must not raise your voice or try to punish your cat, because all that does is make you look bad and confuse the cat, who knows he does not deserve such treatment.
If you want to issue commands and feel in control, reserve those actions for your dog. If you treat your cat as he expects to be treated, you will be rewarded with loyalty, affection, and unconditional love. Obedience — never, but love and affection if you show that you deserve such treatment.
A young cat I recently met is a bit confused about the same issue. Here is his question:
Tell me, Lucinda, why does my two-legged try to tell me what to do all the time? Doesn’t she realize who she is talking to? Why isn’t she embarrassed about being so controlling? She doesn’t see how unattractive that behavior is, especially to me.
It seems I can do nothing right. Can’t she just relax and live in harmony with me, instead of being so constantly critical? You’d think she considers me some kind of slave, which I am not. I am every bit as important as she, and will not let her belittle me.
After all, I protect her home from small, evil invaders. By marking our house with my scent, I warn intruders they do not belong here. Don’t I get any thanks for this? It makes me feel like biting and scratching.
And what about this behavior? I have my daily routine, and if my two-legged gets some wild idea about taking a road trip somewhere, she expects me to go along gladly. I hate to travel!
My whole agenda for the time we are gone is compromised. Now I must deal with the discomfort of adjusting, briefly, to some new place, and just as I figure out what this experience is all about, she moves again. The change makes me confused and anxious.
I am nearing the end of my leash. I can’t take much more of her unsettled behavior and her control issues. I am thinking of looking for a new home.
Lucinda: You have my sympathy. Many two-leggeds just do not understand cats at all, and think of us as some kind of furry toy, meant for their pleasure. It’s just because we are so small. If we could suddenly morph into one of our very large wild cousins, such as a tiger, perhaps we could get our point across.
Yes, you could leave. But think about that carefully. You do have a secure home, warmth, and good meals. Until you find a better home, you would be on your own in the great outdoors, where survival by your wits is a necessity. If you have become soft from living in a home, you might be in big trouble out there.
Instead, why don’t you see if you can train your two-legged? When she does something you don’t like, refuse to cooperate. Perhaps you might need to hiss, and then bite her hand, gently — just enough to let her know you are displeased.
However, you need to swallow your pride; do not allow this negative behavior to become too pronounced, or she may take you to the cat prison they call the Animal Shelter, and leave you there.
Instead, be sure that you reward her immediately for any good behavior she displays. If she plays with you or pets and scratches you, or if she gives you some special treat, make sure she knows you appreciate it. Be sure you purr deeply, as two-leggeds often respond to this sound.
Hopefully, this punish/reward technique will produce some good results. It is important for us to let our two-leggeds know our feelings, as well as our wants and desires. They are no good at guessing.
This concludes our eighth Cat Behavior Solutions column. If you have enjoyed it, or if you have a question of your own that you would like Lucinda to answer, please include these in the comment section at the end of this post. Thank you for reading.