It’s no secret that cat people love to talk to their cats, often addressing them in the same manner in which they would talk to a baby or young child. But are we really understanding cats and their thought process when we talk to them? Are they understanding us?
Now a new study by Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo (published in the July issue of Animal Cognition) has revealed that cats can really understand their owner’s voices and, in fact, do pay attention when they are spoken to.
“How words are spoken is really important,” says certified feline behaviorist Marilyn Krieger. “Cats are very sensitive and can feel safe or feel threatened by the tone of voice and the loudness. Cats are more apt to respond and socialize with their people when spoken to in a soft and calm voice.”
“They can certainly learn to understand their names and come when called,” adds Krieger.
However, if you have to use a strong tone of voice to indicate displeasure, never use their name and the word “no” in the same sentence as cats find this very confusing.
But talking “catlish” isn’t only about words; it’s also about human actions and the way in which cats interpret them and thus understand what we are trying to say or do.
How To Introduce Yourself to a Cat
A handshake is the universal sign of a friendly introduction between people and a closed fist is a sign of aggression. If you are introducing yourself to a cat, the very opposite applies. Cats consider an open hand as a possible sign that you are going to pounce and attack them. On the other hand, a closed fist – with your forefinger slightly extended -- is a sign that a cat will understand as an effort to be friendly, introduce yourself, and say hello.
It’s important to remember that cats have very different personalities, from shy and timid to outgoing and friendly. The best way to make a formal feline introduction is to start by getting down to their level, whether this means kneeling on the floor or lowering yourself into their line of vision if the cat happens to be snoozing on the back of the couch.
- Slowly extend your cupped hand with an extended finger and allow the cat to make the next move by coming closer to sniff your finger.
- After the initial “sniff test,” the cat may then rub their neck along your finger indicating that it’s okay to scratch gently behind the ear or on the shoulders.
- Then you can notch it up a level by talking softly so that the cat can relate to the tone of your voice.
Cats are in fact no different to people in that you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression!
“Next, if you have a treat, place it on the ground in front of her,” advises Jane Brunt, DVM Executive Director of the CATalyst Council, an organization whose mission it is to change society’s image of cats as aloof and not in need of human contact or care.
How to Give Cat Kisses
You may know that it’s popular in France to “air kiss” people by leaning past their cheek and kissing the air.
The feline equivalent is matching your cat’s direct gaze and slowly opening and closing your eyes in long blinking movements. Cats understand this to mean love and affection and will return the kisses by blinking back at you. And very often, when they are “kissing” you back, their faces are relaxed, causing their ears to swivel slightly outward to form a “smile.”
Cats understand real kisses from their favorite people too, and often will respond by licking you on the face or hand.
Don't Bother Me I’m …
You know what it’s like when you are working at the computer and stop to think things through in your head. To an onlooker, it appears that you are doing nothing but staring into space, which makes people think it’s okay to interrupt.
By the same token, cats find “drive-by” petting very irritating. If you happen to walk by while they are grooming or sleeping and you suddenly give them a quick pet and carry on with what you were doing, you are in fact disturbing them. And from the feline perspective, this action is annoying. After all, you interrupted while they were busy sleeping, eating, or doing an intense manicure on the left back foot. They have no real way of telling you this is annoying other than to ignore you and go back to sleeping, eating, or switching over and manicuring the right back foot. It all boils down to mutual respect. Don't yank them away from their projects when, in fact, you are not planning to hang about and spend quality time with them, but are simply passing by!
The Power of Love
However, if you are planning to sitting down on the couch, get down to their level in their favorite nap zone and stay a while, petting your cat in long loving strokes is the feline equivalent of human cuddling. Cats understand petting as something pleasurable and, like people, will nudge you to their favorite petting zones.
Let the purring begin…
More on Cat Training
Litter Box Training for Your Cat
How To Train a Kitten
More on Cat Behavior
Reading Cat Body Language
Is Your Cat Weird? Cat Behaviors