I have a secret to reveal. It’s why people who are used to working with dogs have such a hard time understanding cats. In fact, it’s why a lot of people in general don’t really get cats. It’s a cat fact of life, and it should be the simplest thing in the world to learn. But many humans remain mystified by our behavior, and have a hard time figuring out how to live with us kitties. Even humans who have cats sometimes don’t fully understand it. Are you ready to hear this big secret, one that will make your life with your cat so much easier? Okay, here goes.
It is necessary to teach dogs how to conform to what a human wants. With cats, it is necessary for humans to conform to what their cats want.
The reason for this is based in canine domestication. Humans have spent tens of thousands of years developing dogs to be what they want them to be. Qualities that are important to humans, like sociability, the need for approval, and the ability to follow orders, have been instilled in dogs over many generations. In other words, dogs have been bred and trained to conform to humans’ lifestyles.
Cats, on the other hand, domesticated themselves. They befriended humans because of the mice invading grain storage. Wherever humans gathered food, there were also critters that served as food for cats, and cats used that for their own benefit. Somewhere along the way, cats found that humans made good company and chose to hang out with them. Humans didn’t have to breed or train cats to do what they needed because the cats were already doing it: catching the vermin that was destroying their stored food. Beyond that, nobody ever thought of creating other duties for cats. And cats never found a need to do anything other than what they wanted to do, whether that was to hunt mice in barns, or solicit attention (and perhaps some special treats) from the grateful humans who owned the barns.
That is why you can make dogs do things, but you can’t “make” a cat do anything. Either the cat wants to do it, or she doesn’t. End of story.
Anyone who starts a question, “How can I make my cat…” is setting themselves up for failure. Cats just don’t work that way. If you want a cat to behave differently, you have to work around it from the human angle. How can you behave differently to get the desired action out of your cat? That’s why the best way to “train” a cat is to exchange a benefit for a behavior. For example, I like food, and I like my human. If I get to spend time with my human and get treats for putting on a dress and ringing a bell, I am going to do it! If I disliked wearing dresses more than I liked treats, I wouldn’t wear them (actually I don’t mind them at all, so I’m getting the better deal — it’s like getting treats for free).
Cats work on incentive, not approval. If they are going somewhere you don’t want them to go, or doing something you don’t want them to do, you have to offer them a better alternative. And it has to be something they think is better. If their behavior doesn’t change, then clearly they don’t think it is better, no matter what you as a human think.
If humans thought more like cats, and figured out how to mold themselves around situations and exploit them for mutual benefit (theirs and their cats’), they would have a much easier time solving any problems they are having with their favorite feline.
Have any of your humans shown signs of learning this valuable lesson? I’d love to hear about it!
Good post! MK has to tell peeps that say cats are aloof that they are wrong.
Like everyone else, education and good info make all the difference!
Catherine lingg says
Every word Gospel Summer. My human (Princess here) has taught me numerous tricks (so she thinks) It’s all a piece of cake and it makes her so happy, what the heck lol We have an understanding I do what she wants and I train her to do my bidding. I have some dog qualities (follow her, guard her, meow on command etc.) But between you and me, we know who’s in charge. Love your wardrobe. Wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress but have worn Christmas hats, that cost her a whole bag of organic treats and a severe case of knee and elbow rug burn crawling around after me. She’s sweet ha ha
Poor kittehs have to work hard to train us humans!
Sandi Stefani says
We all have the hoomans trained, dog and cats.
Toffee ripple Fuzzypants says
Sorry, Summer. Mine LADY was hogging the innernets!
My favorite thing about cats has ALWAYS been their individuality……you can’t stick a cat into a mold but you can get a dog into one. Cats will fully cooperate when they’re in the mood and some cats are just in the mood more often than others! I often have to tell my husband (who keeps saying Teddy doesn’t do this/that like Sammy did) that ALL animals are different and have their own unique personalities and traits. Some are just more “moldable” and dogs really seem to be WAY more willing to be molded than most cats. Anyway, I’ve always let my cats be what they wanted to be – little free spirits who have unique traits and an ability to keep us guessing. I adore all animals but cats are just so darn INTERESTING!
MrJackFreckles/Pipo & Angel Minko says
Well, we have both…kitties for a much longer time…and yup, they do waht we want…but actually its more like they do what they know won’t get them into trouble…but we just let them live the way they wish…dogs?? Well, they need more directives in my opinion.
But it can be a challenge to think like a kitty or a dog…
Ruckus Eskie says
We finally understand dogs a bit but never had a cat to be with!
Shouldn’t humans be humbling themselves to their cat overlords? 😉
Spitty the Kitty says
Hello, Summer. Have you given up on me? I have just about given up on my Human. Do you think you could write a column about how CATS can get HUMANS to do what we want by offering the correct incentives? I mean, your advice today is stellar and all, but it’s not exactly what I need, you know? Like, what if I poked a claw into her arm and removed it only when she helped me visit my furiends? Would that work, do you think? XOXOXO
Cathy keisha says
I know you’re gonna disagree with me, Summer, but I think your human has YOU trained. She knows if she pays attention to you and gives you treats, you will do what you wants whether it be wearing dresses or posing for a photo shoot.
Brilliant observation, Summer! We did learn some things from our angel sisfur Sadie like following Mommy from room to room and greeting her at the door but mostly we’re the ones teaching our peeps new things.
Summer, we have both dogs and cats here and we have to confess we have to give both of them an incentive to do as our human wishes. Our human believes in “free thinking” and consequently has never tried to control/dominate either dogs or cats in her care. She knows , deep down in her heart, that whenever a cat or dog who lives with her does something she asks of them, that particular animal is responding accordingly because they ultimately want to do it, not because she demands it of them or rewards them with either affection or food. Our human feels she is never actually fully in control of either her cats or dogs but rather she feels she has been enlisted to ensure they remain safe in her care and when they intuitively trust her motives, they respond well to her requests of them.
the critters in the cottage xo
caren gittleman says
I completely agree that cats work on “incentive” but I will say that NOT ALL DOGS can be made to do things. I completely disagree with I have a Shetland Sheepdog who is ranked among some super intelligent dog breeds. Dakota will often NOT do what we want and if someone is tuned into him they can tell he is actually “thinking” about what we are asking of him. To be honest? I think dogs with less intelligence are far more compliant. Dakota will SOMETIMES do things on incentive but not always. He is not always seeking our approval AT ALL. The only time I ever really see Dakota seek my approval (where Cody does not), is if I am upset with him. If I am upset with him he will try everything for my approval, but if I am upset with Cody it doesn’t bother him at all. Regardless of what motivates cats or dogs, it is important that the human who lives with them REALLY takes the time to understand their pet. Just like people, there is no cut and dry rule for pets either…….they are each different just as we are. You are tuned into your pets and I am too, but not everyone is.
William's Kith & Kin says
That was brilliant, Summer!
Too bad our mom is such a poor study. 🙁
The Island Cats says
You are spot on, Summer. We hope every pet owner, whether dog or cat, reads this.
Melissa & Mudpie says
You are so smart, Summer! Pawsome, informative post.
My human understands cats…She says it is easier to start when they are kittens, but she has taken a few older cats (like me, and Queen Penelope and a before cat named Attila) and trained (er convinced) us to learn how to walk on a leash (I am a work in progress) come when we are called, even with distractions, not scratch what we are not to scratch and get our nails clipped. It is difficult if cats are not food motivated and in Queen Pemelope’s case…she did NOT like to be touched!
We love reading about your training as some of your human’s tips have really helped! (Especially with Kozmo and Jo Jo)
The Swiss Cats says
Great post, Summer, and so true ! You explain how to think like a cat very well. Purrs
Bravo, Summer! What a fantastic post! Our mom liked this sentence: “If they are going somewhere you donâ€™t want them to go, or doing something you donâ€™t want them to do, you have to offer them a better alternative. And it has to be something they think is better. ” As you know, she’s a behavioral psychologist and she strongly believes in this approach to behavior! Maybe you could be her assistant!
Well said, Summer. It baffles me that some humans try to treat their cat like they would a D-O-G. The horror! Fortunately my mom doesn’t treat me like my Basset minor. Thank goodness! I have Mom wrapped around my lil’ paw. Dad, on the other hand isn’t always easy to crack. BTW, you are so cute in your pink dress! Tee hee hee! Hugs!
Brian Frum says
You are wise, wise, wise pretty Summer!
you have very accurately described why i’m a cat person and not a dog person.
This is so true, Summer! You can’t make kitties do something…but my boys trained me so well that they can make me do anything for them 🙂
Eastside Cats says
Some people just cannot figure out that cats aren’t little dogs, Summer!
CRAIG S. C. OKAJIMA says
Such pretty pictures, Pretty Summer!!
The first picture, you look so Regal in that pose!
Ellen Pilch says
That is an excellent lesson Summer. I wish I could find something Sammy preferred to beating up Brody.
We do joke in our house that the cats have us well trained but indeed, with any relationship, you have to adapt to what works…
The Poupounette Gang says
#1 never tries to get any of us to do anything, so we’re col over here. As for Tommy, he never went to a single class of any kind, but she has always been with him, talked with him and done stuff with him, so he instinctively knows! He’s a good guy, our Tommy!
Our human didn’t grow up with cats. When she started cat-sitting for a friend, she was clueless so she just watched the cats and did what they wanted her to do. She’s gotten a little rebellious with age but is still pretty well-trained.
Madi and Mom says
Yes we are the intelligent species…your human thinks she has you trained to ring the bell but you have her trained to give you a snack
Hugs madi your bfff
Miss Bootsie Woo says
Summer you hit the bell just right! We has to wants to do sumthin furst…. howsumever sumtimes us kitties duz stuffs cause we trust our humanz. My brofur Sandy (OTRB) used ta sit and wait fur Mom to gets him some water from bathtub cause him trusted her and sumtimes the only way to gets her to get hims water was to waits. I miss Sandy furry much.
I hope you haz time to stops by my post today… my name gotted in the local paper!
An article about Kitty names. My name am under the cattygory of “Names We Just Don’t Know Why.”
Purrz from Itzy Bootsie Woo.
Our human works on both incentive and approval. It’s tricky but we are teaching her. We love dogs too but let’s face it, they are high maintenance compared to us kitties. Very interesting post.
That is all so true. Dogs will let you train them probably just for the attention. Cats do like to get treats, so some of them are trainable. But it takes a lot more patience with a cat. I like both cats and dogs but they are totally different companions. Great post.
Purrjamm Cats says
Very well said Summer. Mom does not “make” us do anything we don’t want to do. She “gets” us. When we get caught doing bad stuff she is stern but gentle. We have taught her well. Purrs
Fur Everywhere says
Amen, Summer! You hit the nail on the head. I actually like cats better than dogs (I do like dogs, too, for the record) because they DON’T seek my approval and direction. I like that they have minds of their own, so to speak. When Carmine is doing something I don’t want him to, I offer him a better alternative, and he goes for that. Seems pretty simple to me. 🙂 Maybe your advice will help more humans learn this simple principle!
This is so spot on. I love cats because I have to earn their love and it makes me feel so good when they love you back. Donâ€™t we have to learn how to get the love and respect out of bosses, teachers, co workers, etc.? But we donâ€™t have to earn anything to get dogs to love you. That may seem to some to be a good thing. But what is special about a dog who loves you no matter how mean or rude you are? Cats have it right and teach us humans that we need to earn respect and love. And then that respect and love actually means something. Something to be proud of. Love ya, Patzy
We gotta say dat is generally true. Although there are definitely some “stubborner” dogs who are a bit more cat-like (I just think they’re more evolved!)
The kitties of PURRING pines says
Great explanation Summer!