Cats Train Us: The Cold, Hard Truth

A common stereotype out there is that we humans don’t train cats, but rather, cats train us. In reality, it seems to go both ways; you work with your cat on improving desired behaviors, and stopping undesirable behaviors, with a reward system, while your cat likely thinks she’s training you to give her treats and attention whenever she does certain things. Is it true that cats train us, rather than us training them?

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Kali: Evidence that cats train us, not the other way around

Kali is a picky eater. Some days, she’s a little piglet; eating all her food before I have a chance to sit down and get comfortable. Other days, she eats a little, then wanders away, then goes back and eats some more, then takes a bath, then eats some more. Maybe she finishes, and maybe she doesn’t. She does what she wants.

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Oftentimes, when she walks away from her food after only eating half, I’ll just let her be for ten minutes or so. Then I go over to where she is, and start scratching her back, her ears, and her chin, and lightly rubbing her neck. She gets happy, and starts head-butting and purring, and I step up the attention. After a few minutes, she chirps, trills, gets down and goes back to her food.

So, what just happened here? Did I figure out that petting her, and making her happy, makes her want to eat, or did she figure out that if she stays away from her food long enough, I’ll come to her and give her attention? Is she evidence that cats train us?

Chase has us trained pretty well, too

We’ve got a similar thing going on with Chase. While we’re fixing the cats’ breakfast and dinner, he’s rubbing on our legs, standing up with his paws on the drawer handle, and mewing plaintively, or screaming in his desperate voice. Obviously, this behavior stops as soon as he gets his bowl of food. If cats train us, then he knows that all that screaming and pawing and rubbing gets him his food. That’s why he does it.

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Of course, we’d feed him regardless of whether he did all this, or just sat quietly and waited, the way that Gizmo and Aria do. They all need to be fed, so we feed them.

The honest truth is that we’ll actually never know if we’re training our cats, or if cats train us. It looks to me like Kali and Chase have me pretty well trained, but I’m sure they let me think I’ve gotten some training done with them, too.

One Reply to “Cats Train Us: The Cold, Hard Truth”

  1. Kim

    It’s not so much that they train us as it is that they know how to remember time, place and action extraordinarily well. If they experience something pleasant at a specific time one day, they’ll watch to see if it can be duplicated the following day at about the same time. (Example: give treats at 7:30pm, the next day they’ll look to see if it is a repeat process. If it is you’ll soon find yourself haunted by the feline friend until you give those treats.) They love routine particularly if it benefits them.

    Problem is, folk prefer to say the cats are training people instead of recognizing their intelligence for pattern recognition. It could be that there is a constant comparison between them and dogs so it seems as though the training has backfired. In fact it’s easier to train a cat than it is a dog simply because dogs just don’t have this sort of memory. (I think I can say this with some experience as I am a former owner of 3 border collies, very well trained, and a current owner of 4 cats.)

    Reply

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