No image available

The fun of feedback

I was lying on my side on the couch, and Tristan climbed onto my stacked knees. I reached out a hand to rub the base of his ear with my fingers and he put his paw in my palm, tucked his chin there, and then settled the rest of his head into my hand.

This is how Tristan trains me. I want him to. I let him.

Tristan, who wanted his head and paw in my hand

Whenever one of my cats appears, trying to catch my attention, this is an opportunity for both of us to advance our communication skills. If I ask Tristan to not wake me at three in the morning, help Mithy understand humans, and be a friend to Olwyn, I must return these favors.

Letting him arrange my hand, so he can express affection in a way he would like, is a very tiny favor which benefits both of us.

encourage interaction

By “accepting direction” from my cats, I enhance our partnership. I find the cat’s two-way street to be a delightful way of having a pet relationship.

When I raised bonsai, and trained strong-willed dogs, I had to impose my will upon these living creatures. Turns out, I’m good at it, but I discovered that what suited me better was encouraging living things to bloom without restriction. I switched to roses and cats, who do best when spoiled.

For some kinds of personalities in Western Civilization, there’s nothing worse than asking them to listen to what the cat wants. It is like their brains reject the concept of egalitarianism, much as their bodies would reject a baboon liver. “The cat is going to boss me around? That’s stupid!”

Sadly, what is truly stupid is trying to get cat cooperation any other way.

Most people are thrilled to find a way that works; a way of living happily with our cat. That is the goal, isn’t it? At the end of the day we want enjoyable pet interaction, not misery and complaining from either of us. We get a pet to have fun with another living creature; and each variety has their own rules of success.

Figuring stuff out doesn’t start with me deciding how the cat is supposed to act, and what I will do to make the cat act that way. That’s never part of Figuring Stuff Out.

What does work is discovering what the cat is asking for, and then giving it to them.

trigger training

This is the essence of cat training: letting the cat train us as much as we “train” the cat.

This can be a difficult concept for many. Perhaps they can only see pets this way; sadly, some actually see every living interaction as a form of will-imposing. While sometimes this is useful, or even necessary, it is a strategy that is pervasive in the military, a hidden skill in management, applies to children less and less as they mature, to dogs only as needed, and never to partners or cats.

I see cat training as a constant stream of back-and-forth feedback, where we each supply and adjust as needed.

Younger cats might remind us if we’ve been skimping on the play sessions. Older cats might appreciate us taking the time to find where they are taking their naps lately, a practice I call Bless the Spot. Shy cats also need to be “checked on.” One of the hallmarks of the Gamma cat type is a reluctance to make their needs known until they are rather urgent. Keeping track of their status is an important part of their care.

Whatever our cat is asking us for, or is grateful for, or asserts that they want: this is, in fact, a need. Wants and needs are the same things in the mind of our cat.

The essence of cat care is meeting their needs. The care of the cat creates the cat’s sense of obligation. Our cat’s sense of obligation is how they become cooperative about their behavior.

create affection

Of course, the best and greatest part of our responding to feedback is how it makes us both feel.

When I have had a busy week, Tristan becomes my little satellite; instead of the usual lap-sit in the evening, he needs three or four. He embeds himself against me at night, and needs some of our heart to heart cuddling sessions all weekend.

Since Tristan “loves me this much” I need to love him back just as much.

Mithrandir is becoming a Master of Insinuation. As I was typing this part of the post, he came around. The fact that I am concentrating on something else encourages him to settle his behind in my lap and stick his head under my typing hands. I am invited to hug the tail half all I want, while I gently caress his head and chest.

Hugging the whole Mithy is still a little tricky, but he’s getting there.

I am able to give generous half-hugs because I am careful about his resistance. If I move forward and backward the same way he does, I increase his comfort on all levels. When it comes to cats, I never have only a few ways of petting. I pet the way the cat likes; always.

Of course, the cat also needs to recognize the way I “like to be petted.” They learn to keep their claws in, not step on certain areas even if they look just like ordinary areas, and be able to distinguish between an activity which can be interrupted, and one which cannot.

Because the wondrous beauty of training our cat with the Law of Reciprocity is how this is a two-way street. Our cat is likewise attuned to our human needs, even if they take forms a cat has difficulty understanding.

They like lying on a heat source. We know their choice can get too hot for them. This would not happen in nature: a rock warmed by the sun does not get hotter at a pace that will endanger the cat. But our human-developed artificial heat source might.

This is our cat’s trust that when we tell them not to lie on the radiator, we are thinking of their best interest. We must also acknowledge that the cat is expressing a need we must meet. So putting a blanket near the heat source, at a safe distance, conveys to our cat that we want them to lie on the cushy spot we’ve made for them. See, isn’t that better?

It can be that simple.

    Cats come with their own instruction manual.

    Got here from a Link or Search?
    There’s more to raising and training a cat with The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See my CAT TRAINING TIPS.