The cat is doing something, and we decide what it means. But if we are having trouble, it’s worth stepping back and asking ourselves, “Am I right?”
Because when Reality does not align with our expectations, we are the ones who are wrong.
I think my love of science fiction has informed my success with cats. If I think of them as a different species (which they are,) who evolved in a different environment (which they did,) who speak a different language (which they do,) we get along great.
When I am having cat problems, I simply remind myself that they are always right, because they are only asking for what they need.
I often get requests for help that state: “The cat is being stubborn/nasty/mean.” Then I know this attitude is part of the problem. If cats don’t like us, they avoid us.
They don’t sit around figuring out ways to spite us. They sit around figuring out ways to meet their needs.
So if we ask our cat to stop doing something, and they do not comply, they aren’t being disobedient on purpose. They are saying they still need to do that thing. We need to find another way for them to do that thing that doesn’t have the drawbacks of the method they picked.
Might be a good time for Yours and Mine.
We dig traps for ourselves by thinking more-harder when we encounter a barrier. This works with pickle jars. But if we are in a situation that does not require force, (and cat situations are always those kind,) we need a different kind of reflexes.
If we try something with our cat, and it fails: we should stop.
Because of a cat’s supersenses, it is extremely unlikely that we didn’t do whatever it was enough. It is not like the cat isn’t going to notice, so that we have to be louder or angrier or more emphatic. It is that what we did is not working, and we should think of something else.
After a busy week at work I spent a Saturday at home relaxing, and Tristan was beside himself wanting my attention. I have written about him “running through our repertoire” before. This isn’t a case of wearing him out with play, as it was when we was younger. He wanted all the facets of our relationship touched on, because he wanted me to know he had been missing all of it.
It would have been easy to slip into a mental attitude that he was annoying me on purpose. Well, yes, it was on purpose, but he wasn’t annoying me. He was telling me he missed me.
So I filled his need for play, for cuddling, for walking around and talking about things; for opening the door and letting him out and opening the door when he rings the temple bells and letting him in. He finally folded up and went to sleep totally happy, and he’ll wake up “normal” again.
And he was right. I owed him all these things.
teaching the negative
It can be a tough task: how to tell them not to do something. Because we often get into a punitive approach. We react negatively to something they do, thinking this will let them know we don’t want them to do that thing.
But it doesn’t work that way. We need to train ourselves not to do that.
What will work is Positive Discipline. From distracting kittens with something they can play with to gifting our cat with a safe version of whatever-it-is, we substitute something they can have as a way of telling them not to mess with the other place or thing.
If we love our cats, we will show it. If they love us back, we will have cooperation. Once this is in place, it’s all a matter of communication, back and forth, as we negotiate what works best for us both.
Using Positive Discipline turns training into friendship.
One of the tougher cat interaction tasks is when we get so upset about the signal we are getting, we lose track of why the cat is sending the signal.
When our cat is missing the litter box, we can get fixed on the upsetting aspect of this for us; and not realize the cat is sending a serious distress signal. The first step should be addressing the cat’s issues: are they ill? Upset about happenings in the home? Are we not keeping up with the box properly?
Likewise, rowdy play can be a sign we haven’t been giving them enough. Food issues can signal an upset tummy or an upset mind. We sometimes need to stop being upset about what we are being told and realize that it means the cat is more upset.
And it is our job to fix that.
world they did not make
If I am baffled by my cats, I remind myself they are adapting to my world. Their instincts, still strong, are sometimes in conflict with my civilized environment of human adaptations. I call this the world they did not make.
Because they do a very good job in what is, for them, a very unnatural environment.
So of course they get things wrong, sometimes, just as I would have a hard time in the prehistoric desert from which they came. We all interpret the world in ways we are used to seeing it, and stepping out of ourselves into a different perspective can be daunting.
But it is a task well worth undertaking, and cats are an incredible guide to help us master this skill. It is probably more of a stretch to put our feet on the same path as our cat’s paws than it would be to imagine the life of a fellow human, but we live in a world where many perspectives ask for our attention. Rightly so.
All of them have something to teach us.
Cats have the flexibility to actually live in our world. We can acquire the flexibility to understand theirs.
Remember to act from the absence of malice.
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There’s more ways to understand our cat with The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my posts on WHY CATS DO THAT.