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Cat Affection Move: Invisible Petting

When I am dealing with a shy cat, I don’t actually pet them. I pretend to pet them.

In my experience, any cat can figure out this move, and then understand what we are saying. They “feel” the petting without the stress of my actually approaching, or touching, them.

Invisible sinister church organ solo

Invisible Petting is a powerful, and easy, move we can do most times and places. As we and our cat become comfortable with the concept, it gets better and better. I use this all the time with my own cats, from recovering-feral Mithy to practically-a-stuffed-animal Tristan.

shy cat connections

If we have a shy cat, we should use moves like Cat Kisses and Their Song to reach them without touching them. Or even thinking of touching them. At this early stage, we don’t want to do any affection moves that will create anxiety for them.

Invisible Petting happens when we have established our good intentions with these non-touching moves. They aren’t ready for actual touching yet, but they are now better able to handle pretend touching. This harnesses the incredible power of the cat’s imagination.

Cats are all about the body language. This is how they speak to each other. So when we use body language with our cats, we are literally “speaking their language.” That is how Invisible Petting works so well. Our cats understand that we are longing to pet them, yet we are sensitive enough to their feelings that we aren’t going to pet them.

It is catspeak for “I love you but I also understand and respect your feelings.”

we become mimes

The first step is to get their attention; from gently saying their name, making eye contact, or getting the slow-blink of a Cat Kiss from across the room. With the cat’s ability to see motion, we can do this from pretty far away.

I also signal my cats what I am about to do by making a circle with thumb and forefinger and looking through it, like I am sighting through a telescope. This is a great Sign Language signal to help them understand our next moves. Feel free to create our own signal to be the beginning of the Invisible Petting ritual.

Now we pretend we are scritching them with our fingertips. Or we cup our hand and rub their head. Or we swoop down their imaginary spine or gently rub their belly. We can even do an elaborate presentation of scooping them up and hugging them to our chest, swinging our head down to rub their head.

At first, our cats might look puzzled, or even startled. That’s okay. Do a few different petting moves, to help the idea come across. If we have another cat handy, use the same moves to actually pet them. This will help the concept get across to our shy cat.

I’ve found it’s helpful to actually treat the “tiny cat” we saw through our finger telescope as the imaginary cat we are petting. I use a single finger to pet their head, going around the ears and under the chin, the way they like. Or I pet the tiny cat along the spine, all the way to the tail, where I get even more gentle. Or I pretend I am sneaking a finger under their body to “tickle” their belly.

It’s fine to do a few invisible pets and finish with an extra slow blink or the bit of their song with their name in it, then go back to what we were doing. If we have another cat to pet, use our finger to pet them the same way, only for real. It’s also fine to let them puzzle over our behavior.

Any time they spend thinking about us is time that moves our relationship forward.

concept of our love

We can do this as often as we wish, at times we want to pet our shy cat, but cannot. We are creating an imaginary world where we are petting our scaredy-cat without stress. This is the first step to making it happen in reality.

As we continue to Imaginary Pet our cat, they continue to develop the mental picture of us showing them affection. This virtual representation is not nearly as frightening to them as the actual petting. This lets them relax and enjoy the imaginary petting. As they signal their enjoyment of our gestures, we can get closer to them all the time. By backing off the distance when they show anxiety, and advancing a little when they respond, we get closer and closer to actually touching them, and petting for real.

Don’t rush it.

The number one problem with any fearful cat situation, from introducing a new cat friend to moving house to getting them to enjoy our touch, is the human getting impatient while the cat still needs to make mental adjustments. Remember that we humans are coming at the situation with a lot more information about our intentions than our scaredy-cat has.

Scaredy cats have had their survival instincts activated. Maybe for a long time. They will need to silence all their alarms about human contact before they can enjoy human contact.

But they want to. We can help.

And in the meantime, we get to pet them! Best of both worlds… until those worlds can come together.

    We also calm a shy cat by petting with our voice.

    Got here from a Link or Search?
    There’s more ways to get our cat to be affectionate in The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my CAT AFFECTION posts.

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The cat’s incredible variety

One of the first things to astonish me about cats was the incredible range of their personalities.

Each new cat I acquired was different. It took a while for me to come up with my Cat Type concept, because each cat was a fresh discovery.

Here is a tall cat vs a pile of cat.

This has led to me being a fervent advocate of choosing the cat we get. Human to human compatibility is based on both shared traits and intriguing differences. This same alchemy is at work in the human/cat bond.

asserting preferences

This process starts with we, the human, figuring out what we would like.

This is an overlooked first step, in my experience. People want a pet, find barriers to a dog, then get a cat. Probably from a background where they always liked having pets, but didn’t get involved in the full responsibility. With the best intentions in the world, they can wind up with a mis-match; because they didn’t know about about the different kinds of cats, and they didn’t think about what they wanted.

We can start by figuring out what Cat Type we are.

Sir Tristan is a large slice of ham, a boisterous personality who wears his heart on his sleeve and likes intense play sessions. He’s an Alpha, and so am I.

Olwyn is a cat who likes social interaction, even though it often takes the form of her giving orders. (That’s the Tortie in her.) A born Supervisor who adores figuring out the best way to do things, she has a lot in common with her favorite person, Mr WayofCats. They are both Betas.

While neither of us is particularly Gamma, we both loved our little Smokepuff. Because his charming little ways were also what we wanted from our cat experience.

This is just a light-hearted approach to understanding Cat Types, but might help us figure things out. We can also use my quiz, What Cat Personality Will Be a Good Match?

Knowing if we would love a play machine, or wish to have a gentle cat who needs a minimum of supervision, lets us make our wishes clear to shelter personnel. This is where knowing how affectionate and interactive, playful and inquisitive, a cat can be will help us find the right cat.

If we think cats aren’t friendly, we can emphasize that we want a friendly cat; and then get a cat who needs more social interaction than we can provide. If we emphasize playing with the cat, thinking they tend to be lazy, we can be taken aback by how that very playful Alpha kitten will not slow down — for years.

An excellent example is described in a previous post, Dear Pammy, I’m right because shut up that’s why, where a commenter claims to have gotten the “rare affectionate cat.”

Whereas I have had lots of cats, and in my experience it is rare to find one who is not affectionate.

picking up clues

The next step is figuring out how to tell which cat will bring us the qualities we have decided to look for. The older the cat, the easier it is to tell what they are like. We can simply observe them in action, and ask the shelter people about their likes and dislikes.

Kittens are trickier. Under six weeks, they tend to be clumsy little balls of fluff who are more reflexive than anything. Even in the same litter, cats can be all over the map regarding the genes they inherited, as I discuss in Gracie’s babies, which has tips for picking young kittens.

If our cat is at least few months in age, they will already be showing breed and personality clues which will help us understand how this kitten will probably develop.

If our prospective choice has already reached adolescence, they will be showing a lot of body development that lets us know where they lie on the Cat Type Spectrum. Cat body types range from long and lean (more Alpha) to stocky and muscular (more Gamma.)

These are clues: they are not the final word. See how the kittens play together and how they play with toys. Even more important, see how they react to us, and how we feel about them. The most important thing is that we feel the connection with our new friend.

It’s also important to know if we have deal breakers and what they are. If we have a household which already contains big dogs and little children, we probably should get an adult or older cat, at least to start. A recent post, The awesomeness of senior cats, was about a senior cat who took a family like this into his heart, with great success.

The possible choices are so much wider than many people realize.

going for quantity

Another element where I find people don’t give much thought, and should, is how many cats we will want.

Because: What if we like it?

It’s not just us wanting more cat enjoyment, though that is a great reason. There’s also the Ease of Use that comes with more than one, what I call the Multiple Cat Advantage. If our present cat is not playful or lovebuggy enough, we can get a cat for that purpose, and also enjoy their other fine qualities, and still enjoy our original cat, and their fine qualities. When our cat slows down, we can get two kittens. Getting cats in twos, what I call Cat Social Units, will avoid all kinds of problems.

If we go in planning for a Cat Civilization, which is three or more cats, we can make our original choice in ways which make things easy; or difficult. After the first one, every new cat choice we make will need to take our present cats into consideration.

In our current situation (small apartment, Mr WayofCats chronic illness, current Civilization) I tend to look for a laid back Beta under six months old. I don’t have the room for Proper Introductions, so I need a cat young enough to avoid territory issues and social enough to send the right signals. Three times in a row, my choice has blended smoothly into our existing Cat Civilization with a minimum of friction.

But if I had a separate room to make the transition gradually, I could choose almost any cat, as long as they were willing to be social. Because my present cats are all willing to be social. One of my discoveries, running a home rescue situation, was how well most cats got along in groups. The more cats, the more likely the new one will find a friend in the group.

Whatever we decide, and however far we go, choosing a cat is a responsibility which can last for the next two decades.

A decision that deserves some pondering.

    Find out more with a visit to my page on How to Choose the Right Cat.

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Cats are communal

I get a lot of disbelief when I share that I have a Cat Civilization. Many people don’t believe multiple cats can live together in harmony.

So That's Where I Left My Pile of Cats

My own experience taught me that cats, if not stressed by scarcity, prefer to live with a bunch of like-minded friends. Now, science is backing me up.

Cat Civilization

This. This right here.

[C]ats aren’t naturally solitary. We just assumed they were based on observations of European wildcats – but housecats aren’t descended from European wildcats. They’re descended from African wildcats, which are known to hunt in bonded pairs and family groupings, and that social tendency is even stronger in their domesticated relatives. The natural social unit of the housecat is a colony: a loose affiliation of cats centred around a shared territory held by alliance of dominant females, who raise all of the colony’s kittens communally.

It’s often remarked that dogs understand that humans are different, while cats just think humans are big, clumsy cats, and that’s totally true – but they regard us as adult colonymates, not as kittens, and all of their social behaviour toward us makes a lot more sense through that lens.

That thing about how cats think humans are big kittens is a myth, y’know.

See? We are not “crazy” to have multiple cats. In fact, more-than-one-cat is a cat’s natural state. Understanding that cats are not solitary creatures turns out to explain so much about them.

It is also the key to happy care, training, and affection. Cats communicate with us about their needs, swap favors for us so they know how to behave, and have the ability to feel friendship bonds because that is how their cat society works.

When we know that, cats are not so mysterious after all.

Law of Reciprocation

In psychology, reciprocity is the fuel society runs on. I always treat my cats like fellow adult colonymates. It works great.

Societal cooperation means: I do you a favor, and you do me a favor. This is also the Way of Cats training method. We now know why cats find this procedure so understandable, and how they are compelled to be cooperative with us when they see we take care of them. While they are not pack animals, they are social animals.

Despite the persistent myth of cats being solitary and aloof, Cat Appreciators know that our cats are very connected and loving. The reason this myth continues to be believed by so many, is that it continues to be true: for people who do not know how to let the cat see them as a friend. When a Cat Skeptic sends all the wrong signals to a cat, the cat sensibly withdraws; just as we would from a person who is being rude and inappropriate to us.

This also explains how I see Cat Civilization (three or more cats) as something that not only gives us more cat enjoyment, it also keeps our cats’ social gears tuned up and running correctly. By practicing society with each other, they are even better at doing so with humans.

Of course, a single cat can happily be part of a social construct, too, whether that is one other person or a family that includes humans, dogs, birds, and the like. I encourage multiple cats because so often people fix cat problems by offering such targeted cat socialization. Cats who want cat companionship are expressing a need for play, discussion, and friendship that only fellow cats can provide. This is why, if we have an older or sedate cat, getting two kittens is actually more sensible than getting one.

And now we have a Cat Civilization.

As I explain in Cat Math, we actually lighten our human workload when we get other cats to help out. They wear each other out more efficiently than we can, they increase everyone’s communication with humans by acting as translators and message bringers for each other, and they provide companionship while we are away from home.

Restrictions of Domestication

For centuries, people essentially lived next door to these same wild cat colonies. “The barn” (or equivalent agricultural facility) was full of cats who caught mice, got the occasional handout, and were given shelter from the elements. All while they continued their ancestral pattern of communal cat cooperation.

More modern humans want even more from their cat relationship. For best results, we recreate a cat colony in our home. This creates more engineering of our homes, now that we share them. We need more exercise and amusement for our indoor only cats.

We also need to spay or neuter our cats. This keeps down the cat population (too many cats already don’t have homes) and also keeps our cats from displaying difficult sex characteristics like marking territory, fighting (for males) and sneaking out to come back pregnant (for females.) Cats with their sex hormones shaping their behavior are also social; except indoors, where they rarely have enough territory to meet the needs of their instincts. This can lead to conflicts that do not occur in cats who have been “fixed.”

However, one of the interesting things about cats is that science finds very little has changed due to their association with humans, unlike most domesticated animals. Just as we did not want to change anything about our cat’s hunting abilities, which worked so well for us in our own civilization, so we have not changed anything about our cat’s social abilities. They are also working for us.

We use the vital social tool of communication to work with our cats for a mutually satisfying relationship. Care, training, affection; none of it would work if our cats were as anti-social as their aloof reputation says they are. One thing I find particularly ridiculous is the favorite way that Cat Skeptics manage the cognitive dissonance between the popularity of pet cats and the fact that, from their point of view, there isn’t any reason for it. Their chosen method is to claim that Cat Appreciators are all delusional and making up the entire thing because of their “neuroticism.”

And some of these people call themselves scientists.

I came to cats with an open mind and used my own observations, and those of my fellow cat rescuers, to craft my approach to cats. I was all about what worked, and what kept working, and the more I came up with good strategies, the more these strategies tended to contradict the many myths I kept hearing about cats. It turns out, when science is properly done, the Cat Appreciators are the ones who are correct.

We enjoy cats best when we enjoy cats most.

    I explain more about Cat Civilization.

    Got here from a Link or Search?
    There’s more about multiple cats in The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See more posts on the MULTIPLE CAT ADVANTAGE.

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Dear Pammy, I’m right because shut up that’s why

I approved a comment which ended with:

Cats still suck!

Dear Readers,

Feel free to click on the link and read the whole comment, though I am going to quote all of it here as I explain where this person fails to use logic to support their Cat Skepticism.

This comment appeared on my post Are cats family? Like all Cat Appreciators, I said Yes.

Blended families rock.

What makes this comment so dissectible is how it has so many misconceptions in it.

mistaken interpretation

Ahhhhh… seriously cats are part of your family…You have to be kidding me… I just caved in and got a cat… And it seems like I remember why I never liked them… they give you the same death stair no matter what…

The “death stair” the commenter is referring to is the unblinking stare cats use to look at anything. We humans find it unnerving. But it simply reflects the cat’s low blink rate.

As I explain in What’s with the intent stare?, cats come from the desert, and their corneas are highly resistant to drying out. They can hold a gaze for far longer than we can. But that is all it means. It is far from a “death stare.” This is how a cat’s eyes work, that’s all.

Ironically, the commenter is using human interpretations of a cat’s actions to complain about them. This is a rampant attitude among Cat Skeptics; they will gladly give a cat human motivations and emotions if the result is a negative. Yet they will never use this same reasoning if it says something positive about a cat.

To Skeptics, cats only hate. They cannot love.

lack of etiquette

Yes I’ve learned things but cats are still loners who don’t want to be bothered…. It’s insane… cats are loners who want to be left alone until humans force them to join there family… cats are extremely selfish too…

This one is easy, because a previous post explains why science now realizes cats are communal beings. Which is something every Cat Appreciator knows.

But this is not something a person will observe unless they try, properly, to make friends with a cat. If they are cold or rude, the cat will avoid them. Then they say, “See! Cats don’t care about people.”

This isn’t true. Cats are often given the cold shoulder by Skeptics, and so they get one in return. To use a human analogy, if they were rude or aggressive with a person, they shouldn’t be surprised if they get a cold shoulder from the person. To claim that person “doesn’t like anyone” is ducking responsibility for the actions the Skeptic took, which gave them the feedback they do not like.

But to admit they triggered that response would put blame on the Skeptic; which is often something such a person has trouble with. They might have a hard time stepping outside themselves and seeing their actions from another point of view. If they have a hard time admitting a mistake, it will always be the other being’s fault.

I understand if someone doesn’t know how to extend friendship to cats, but these folks often don’t take instruction very well either. They will insist that treating the cat like a Labrador Retriever puppy (loud voices, wild gestures, forcible wrestling, and enthusiastic belly rubbing) means the cat is being a bad sport about getting affection from them.

For the record, I don’t like being greeted this way, either.

argument from exception

But wait. This cat is not like other cats.

our new cat is cool… he will lick me and sleep along my side and all the things you say he will do for affection…. but my observations are he’s actually one of the more affectionate cats which makes me feel lucky since we just got him at a shelter but still he’s selfish and just really wants to be left alone…

Hmmm. It’s not that the cat is enjoying affection when he receives affection. No matter what it looks like. Yet, this cat is also, somehow, different by being “more affectionate” than all those other cats.

This is known as “special pleading” in which an example which does not prove a person’s case is seen as an exception. We see this whenever a prejudiced person’s declaration about a group is easily contradicted by the people who do not fit the assertion. However, to the bigot, all these people are exceptions. That way, they can still hold onto their prejudice, and still feel logical.

Special pleading is a logical fallacy because “just being lucky” to get the rare affectionate cat does not even come close to proving that cats are not affectionate. Especially since there are so many Cat Appreciators who also got those rare cats.

I have four in a row! I’m heading for Vegas!

psychological projection

This is extremely common. The Cat Skeptic claims cats feel the way about humans than the skeptic feels about them. This is one of the earliest Freudian defense mechanisms; throwing an uncomfortable attitude away from themselves and onto someone else.

and no damn way he’s part of my family no matter how often my wife and kids say so… and it’s not my thinking… the cat would rather not be prisoner in my house… he’d rather be left alone…unless he needs to eat…

The rest of the family thinks he’s family. I wrote a whole blog post explaining why I think my cats are family. But this commenter declares that the cat only sees humans as food dispensers. Since the commenter can get along without the cat, they decide the cat would prefer to be “left alone,” too.

I am sure, if asked, the commenter would claim that their whole family is mistaken. Just as I am constantly told that I am imagining the affection I get from my cats. Or, if I do get some, it is because they only want food. If I point out that the cats have been recently fed, they still won’t see the affection as gratitude. It’s always something else.

So this commenter has the “rare” affectionate cat, the family regards the cat as family, but the commenter still feels the need to find a blog post that declares our cats are family, and disagree.

There’s a psychological word for that. Denial.

    I love busting cat myths.

    Shut up that’s why is a reason from The Simpsons.

    Got here from a Link or Search?
    There’s more ways to get our cat to be affectionate in The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my CAT AFFECTION posts.

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Cat Seems To “Laugh” When He’s Pet Where He’s Ticklish!

We love when cats make noises because it makes us feel like they’re communicating with us. From purrs to meows to chatters, it’s hard not to smile when you hear your cat “talk.” And when cats make unusual or funny noises, showing off their quirky personalities, we kitty lovers are especially smitten!

The cat in the video below loves getting pets, and when his human reaches his “sweet spot,” he lets out a hilarious chatter! It’s almost as if he’s laughing about being tickled, but judging from his happy expression, he’s probably just telling his human that those pets feel extra nice!

This hilarious video will make your day:

Have you ever seen or heard anything like this? Does your cat make a funny noise when he / she is particularly happy? Tell us in the comments below!