All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cat has Human Trained!

Dear Marie,
Can you please explain this – whenever I do anything that does not involve my cat, he does everything and anything within his power to get in my way. For example, when I read the paper in the morning, he immediately jumps onto the very article I am reading and proceeds to lie down and start washing himself. If I am in bed reading a book, he will jump up and get between the book and me. If I am studying or doing homework – same thing…up he plops right in the middle of my book or paper. If I do any kind of art
or sewing project, he’ll sit on whatever material I have spread out and make it impossible for me to lay out a pattern or cut. And get this – right before my alarm clock goes off in the morning, he will jump up on me, stretch out, get comfy, and fall asleep – which makes it extremely difficult for me to get up and out of bed because I hate to disturb him when he seems so content. What do you think about all of this?
Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,
Your stories involving your kitty are feline phenomena that almost every cat owner has experienced at one time or another – and most likely as routinely as what you have described. I can’t tell you how many times my own cats have done these exact antics – but it is a daily occurrence and that is no exaggeration.

There will be plenty of people standing in line to tell you that there is no real cat-plotting going on behind these behaviors. But after seeing this happen over and over with almost every cat I've ever had in my life, I’m going to have to give kitties a little more credit than what most scientific-minded folks will agree with.

First, I do believe that cats are capable of highly intelligent, complicated thinking, and more and more researchers are finding this to be true. Cats are very observant little creatures and they notice when you are giving attention to something other than them. In very short order, they figure out that if they get right in the middle of what you are doing, that you have no choice but to change the object of your attention to something more appropriate – ahem - and focus all your energy on them.

Cats generally don’t get negative consequences when they interrupt in this matter. Instead, they get pet – which is exactly what they want. So, they have effectively trained their humans at that point to recognize that cats – not newspapers, books, crafts, sewing projects, etc. – are the only things in the house that deserve attention.

Of course, after they have success in this area on more than one or two occasions, you can pretty much
bet that they will continue this behavior for as long as they get the positive reinforcement.

If you absolutely don’t want your cat to do this, you can give him a negative consequence - like a quick mist with a water bottle; but I think the reason we all pet our cats when they engage in this behavior rather than get irritated is because deep down we know that kitty time is quality time. And that is why you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning once your cat settles in. It wouldn't be very difficult to gently move your cat off of you and then get up. But no cat owner likes to do that, and somehow all kitties know this.

Again, it all boils down to your cat paying attention. Each day he sees you get up around the same time. You get ready for work or school, and then you leave him for hours and hours. His internal body clock knows when that dreaded time is coming and he has learned from past experience that if he “pins you down” and appears to be sleeping, you’re not going to go anywhere…at least for a little while. And I suspect that during that time, he’s getting a few minutes of petting too.

So, he’s trained you and you've trained him to enjoy a few minutes of stolen time here and there. I strongly recommend not trying to change a thing. Petting a cat releases stress and provides a number of health benefits – both psychological and physical. Enjoy
those moments whenever you can.

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