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    What You Are Saying to Your Cat

    What You Are Saying to Your Cat

    A new study by Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo, published in 2013 in Animal Cognition magazine, has revealed that cats can really understand their owner's voices and, in fact, do pay attention when they are spoken to. Behaviorists say that how words are spoken is really important because cats are very sensitive and can feel safe or threatened by the tone of voice and its volume. Cats are more apt to respond and socialize with their people when spoken to in a soft and calm voice. And they can certainly learn to understand their names and come when called. However, if you have to use a strong tone of voice to indicate displeasure, never use their name and the word "no" in the same sentence because cats find this very confusing. Communicating with your cat isn't only about words; it's also about human actions and the way in which cats interpret them and thus understand what we are trying to say or do. Here are some human–feline communication tips.

    Smokey the Cat with the World's Loudest Purr

    On May 5, 2011, a twelve-year-old British Shorthair living in England named Smokey was officially listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the cat with the world's loudest purr. Her winning purr measured 67.7 decibels. Pet parent Ruth Adams, of Northampton, says that Smokey has even been known to purr as loudly as 90 decibels. Most cats purr at around 25 decibels.

    How Do You Do? How To Introduce Yourself to a Cat

    A handshake is the universal sign to a friendly introduction between people, and a closed fist is a sign of threatening aggression. If you are introducing yourself to a cat, the very opposite applies. Cats consider an open hand as a possible aggressive sign that you are going to pounce and attack them. A closed fist-with your forefinger slightly extended-is a sign that a cat will understand as you trying to be friendly, introduce yourself, and say hello. It's important to remember that cats have very different personalities, ranging from shy and timid to outgoing and friendly. The best way to make a formal feline introduction is to start by getting down to their level, whether this means kneeling on the floor or lowering yourself into their line of vision if the cat happens to be snoozing on the back of the couch. Slowly extend your cupped hand with an extended finger and allow the cat to make the next move by coming closer to sniff your finger. After the initial "sniff test," the cat may then rub her neck along your finger indicating that it's okay to scratch gently behind the ear or on the shoulders. Then you can notch it up a level by talking softly so that the cat can relate to the tone of your voice. Cats are, in fact, no different than people; you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression!

    Kiss Kiss

    Its become very popular (especially in Hollywood) to "air kiss" people by leaning past their cheek and kissing fresh air. The feline equivalent is matching your cat's direct gaze and slowly opening and closing your eyes in long blinking movements. Cats understand this to mean love and affection and will return the kisses by blinking back at you. And, very often, when they are "kissing" you back, their faces are relaxed, causing their ears to swivel slightly outward to form a "smile." Cats understand real kisses from their favorite people, too, and often will respond by licking you on the face or hand.

    Hey! Don't Bother Me I'm …

    You know what it's like when you are working at the computer and stop to think things through in your head. To an onlooker, it appears that you are doing nothing but staring into space, which makes people think its okay to interrupt. By the same token, cats find "drive-by" petting very irritating. If you happen to walk by while they are grooming or sleeping, and you suddenly give them a quick pet and carry on with what you were doing, you are in fact disturbing them. From the feline perspective, this action is annoying. After all, you interrupted while they were busy sleeping, grooming, or doing an intense manicure on the left hind foot. They have no real way of telling you its annoying other than to ignore you and go back to sleeping, eating, or switching over and manicuring the right hind foot. It all boils down to mutual respect. Don't yank them away from their projects when, in fact, you are not planning to hang about and spend quality time with them but are simply passing by!

    In general, cats don't enjoy "drive-by" petting. If you're going to pet your cat, stay and hang out with her for a few minutes.

    How Does One Gauge Feline Intelligence?

    According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, head of the Small Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, Massachusetts, feline cognitive skills can be gauged in terms of their behaviors. "Cats are smart and are especially good in their own biological niche. They excel in vision and image permanence testing because that's what a cat does when it comes to hunting for food in their natural habitat. Anyone who has watched a cat chase a mouse into a hole will know what I mean. They know it's in there and have the cognitive capacity to hold that thought. Thus they will sit patiently, sometimes for hours, knowing that it will reappear. The consequences of a behavior predict if a behavior will be repeated. In other words, your cat has learned that when he does a specific behavior, such as bringing you his cat toy, and you respond by playing with him, his intelligence shows that he is able to repeat this behavior when he wants to play with you."

    American psychologist Edward Lee "Ted" Thorndike (1874–1949) is believed to have pioneered the field of animal behaviorism as a means of gauging intelligence. His doctoral dissertation, Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Associative Processes in Animals, was the first in psychology in which the subjects were nonhumans. His goal was to discover whether animals could learn tasks through imitation or observation. Although he worked with different species, cats were his most popular test subjects. He created special puzzle boxes approximately 20 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 12 inches tall. Each box had a door that was pulled open by a weighted string on a pulley system. The cat inside the box had to learn by trial and error how to maneuver the string and open the box to exit and was subsequently rewarded with a treat.

    By observing and recording the cats' escapes and escape times, Thorndike was able to draw a feline learning curve. It showed that the cats had difficulty escaping at first, but eventually "caught on" and escaped faster and faster with each successive puzzle box trial. He reasoned that if the animals were showing insight, then their time to escape would suddenly drop to a negligible period. He found that cats "got it" and that they consistently showed learning abilities. Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Swedish pet toy designer Nina Ottosson is known for her extensive range of dog and cat puzzles toys that offer different levels of difficulty for pets to test their abilities. All the puzzles offer rewards in the form of treats or food. Ottosson says that her inspiration comes from the way animals in the wild hunt for their food, relying their amazing olfactory senses or their exceptional vision skills.

    As a result of Ottosson and other innovators like her, there is a plethora of games and activities that offer cats both mental and physical stimulation, from puzzle toys to "board" games such as a battery-operated mouse on a track that works to hone their hunting and pouncing techniques and keep them mentally engaged. And there is no question that today's generation of kittens is very adept at playing with such toys and enjoying the challenges they offer. When it comes to children, parents commonly remark that each generation seems to be born smarter. So, with all the buzz about pets toys and games that promote both feline mental and physical well-being, is the current generation of kittens smarter and more savvy than littermates born 10 or 20 years ago? Dodman says "no." He points out that evolution is a long and slow process and that, in his opinion, feline levels of intelligence haven't changed in the last 100 years.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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