My article was first posted on Candid Slice about Norie’s advice on teaching me how to understand feline body language. http://www.candidslice.com/cat-confessions-body-language-training-for-humans/
Hi, this is Norie speaking. I am the black cat with the thick luxurious, short hair. I have a friend named Sister, who has gray and black stripes and the oddest white legs. She has simpler needs than I do and doesn’t have the complexity of intelligence that I have so she has fewer problems. We live with our Mommy in a condo…something or other. We have a lovely screened in porch with lots of sunlight and a safe hallway we can go out to explore when Mommy is with us.
I have decided my mommy needs some “body language training.” It isn’t always easy communicating my desires to her, bless her heart. She just doesn’t always seem to understand me. I realize when one has a mouth and can talk, that communicating with posture, behavior, one’s tail, ears and eyes may be foreign. Body language is a whole language in itself for us cats. So I am working hard to train her to understand my efforts to signal to her. Boy, sometimes I wish I could write!
A smiling cat on her back means she feels happy and safe.
Back to the subject: There is a cabinet where Mommy keeps treats for Sister and I. Mommy knows that I love these treats. So every time she goes to that area of the kitchen, I come running! I walk back and forth and rub against her legs and she knows I want a treat or food.
She says I am like a little shark (whatever that is!). I simply do not understand why she would call me that! After all, I am showing her how excited I am and how glad I am that she thought of giving us a treat. Unfortunately she doesn’t give me a treat every time I demonstrate these behaviors. I know she thinks she is trying to keep me from getting fat, but she doesn’t know that I keep slim by chasing Sister around for fun and exercise.
So this evening, I was walking back and forth, rubbing against Mommy’s feet and legs to tell her I wanted her to hold me and love on me some, but only for a brief time. Unlike Sister, I don’t want to be stroked and held for an hour at a time! Mommy kept ignoring me, she thought I wanted a treat! (I wonder why she would be confused??) Finally she decided to pick me up. Yea!! A breakthrough!
Mommy sat down with me in her lap and rubbed my chin and stroked my nose and talked lovingly to me. I was so happy. But then after a few minutes I wanted to get down. That’s when the trouble began.
The problem is I don’t want to interrupt that kind of loving by just getting up suddenly, so I start swishing my tail back and forth, faster and harder, warning her that my heightened senses were being stimulated.
Think about it. We hunter cats have to have heightened senses to tell when there is prey nearby; sharper eyes, acute hearing, even our whiskers are acutely sensitive. So we hunting cats have senses that are easily stimulated. Stroking our fur, head, chin or back is a feeling of stimulation to our senses. A little bit is okay but too much petting for too long makes us get restless.
So here I was trying to tell Mommy that I needed for her to stop petting me; and what does she do? She changed to stroking my back, thinking that I wanted my back petted. She was wrong. I still love her anyway, but it is frustrating to know what I want, but not be able to get the message across quickly and efficiently.
When I spread my ears apart and flatten them, she has learned this means I am getting impatient or tired of the present situation. Switching my tail back and forth is the first warning that I want something different.
I used to act like I was going to bite at her hand to tell her to stop but she seemed upset when I did, so I stopped this communication. I wouldn’t hurt her on purpose. I do want to continue good will with Mommy. She does, after all, love me, feed me, clean my litter box, and shines the red light on the floor so I can chase it and get my exercise.
I have also trained her that when I push her hand down with my paw, that means stop! She knows that if she continues I will get irritated. (See, she can be taught!)
So I am slowly conditioning her to put me down when I start swishing my tail around, instead of waiting for my ears to flatten out of irritation at her slowness to understand. I have to be patient. Maybe someday she will have my language figured out.
On the other hand, I have a good understanding of some of her words. She has tried to use the same words when she is going out for the day so Sister and I will understand that “I am going out for a little while but I will be back,” means exactly that. Then when she comes home, she says, “I am back.”
Sometimes she asks us if we want wet food and I will give her the silent meow. This is a sign that I want it so badly that I can hardly talk!
I also understand, “Do you want to go out on the porch?” and “Do you want to go out in the hall?” I love to lay out in the sun on my back against the cool cement of the porch. (Until someone walks by with a pesky dog!)
Really I do have it pretty good with her. Mommy really does try to make me happy. So I shall continue to work with her until she more fully understands my signals and thereby lessens my irritation and frustration.