Cats aren’t just little dogs. That’s something dog people innately know, but still, we tend to approach them as if they are. Have you ever seen a dog-person trying to call a cat towards them? It’s awkward for anyone watching and irritates the cat.
“Hey Snowball, come here boy,” calls the person, arm outstretched, hand waving the cat towards him. The cat only looks on suspiciously. When that doesn’t work, the person uses the tried and true energetic thigh pat. Dogs love that one!
The cat will either stand his ground, not sure what to make of the noisy display, or run away, preferring to watch the spectacle from a safe space behind, under or on top of a heavy piece of furniture.
When these methods don’t result in attracting the cat, the dog person will usually give up, their beliefs that cats are anti-social once again confirmed. If the person would quiet down a bit what they might notice is that the cat is not being anti-social at all. The cat is being cautious and curious.
How do you think you would respond to something 10–20 times your size calling out your name and waving its arms frantically? Is the logical response to run forward and accept whatever attention the beast wants to bestow upon you, as many dogs would, or to flee to safety and observe from a distance?
I was raised as a dog person but had a cat adopt me in my late 20’s. This cat was extremely dog-like, actually coming to me when I called his name, even if I included a little whistle when calling.
“Squeakers, here, boy! *2 short whistles* Come on now!” Answering to that was extremely tolerant and one of the most effective behaviors he demonstrated that won me over.
He showed me that cats could be loving, loyal and cuddly. Sadly, he wasn’t in my life long, but he was there long enough for me to learn that cats are worth taking the time to get to know.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of dog people enjoy the fact that dogs don’t make us work very hard for acceptance. The bar is very low for pleasing a dog.
“Oh, you have a cookie! Let’s be friends!”
“You want to use that hand to rub behind my ears? Let me smell it. OK, you’re good.”
Maybe dogs are good for our egos. Having such loving, carefree creatures almost immediately accept us exactly as we are feels nice. It’s like their judgment of worthiness is a test we’ve passed. Dogs not only dispense good grades freely, but then they are happy to celebrate our fortune with us with tail wags, body wiggles, and sloppy kisses.
Dog people enjoy this simple acceptance and it makes us feel good.
If you want to win over most cats, it takes work. It requires patience, subtlety, and near silence. Cats don’t trust fast-moving, noisy predators, and let’s face it, that’s what humans are. So, we must move slowly and gain their trust over time. It could be minutes, but it could also be days, weeks, months or years.
My kids live with us part-time. It took a good three years before either of our two cats, adopted as kittens, would let the kids near them. They were too loud, moved too quickly, and were unpredictable. One of the cats still prefers watching the kids from a distance versus any up-close contact.
I have lived with many cats in my life. I had learned what I thought to be the universal “come here” motion for cats that have already learned to trust me. It’s rubbing the thumb rapidly over the first two fingers while slightly extending your arm towards the cat. Cat people, you’re with me here, right?
All of my previous cats responded to that motion in some manner. Some would come all the way to me and greet me with a head-butt and others would come most of the way and stare as if asking what I wanted. Our current cats do not understand the signal at all.
They are over 6 years old now, and I still try it on a regular basis as if expecting someday they will have received this bit of education that wasn’t handed out to them at birth. First I call their names which occasionally works. It might at least get them in my general vicinity. Then, I rub my thumb against my fingers, saying their names quietly. This gets no response. They already heard their names and came as close as they cared to at that moment. I rub again. No movement, not even a twitch. In fact, it is almost as if my entire arm is invisible. They are not watching my enticing motion at all.
There is one thing we’ve discovered that often works, besides opening a can of food. It is calling the name of the cat whose attention you are not trying to get. Maybe it’s simple jealousy or fear of missing out, but nothing makes our cat, Max come running like calling out his brother’s name, Jasper. He seems to believe all good things are bestowed upon Jasper and if he is first to respond, he will be the happy recipient of food, love or the knowledge that there is a fly needing to be caught.
I am still working on my understanding of cats. Deep down inside I am still mainly a dog person. I actually believe that at some point in time the cats will suddenly start responding to my beckoning with the same enthusiasm as our dogs do when called (or not called, as my mere presence is enough for them to come running). Maybe I just need to believe that I really am as interesting as our dogs think I am.