Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to Win Cats and Earn Cuddles

When a year passed and I was still getting growled at for minor infractions on a regular basis, I gave up hope of ever achieving the same level of trust that Felix had with my boyfriend.

Maybe it was something that had to be cultivated in kittenhood, which means I missed the boat by about four years. I would just have to accept that Felix would tolerate me and nothing more. At least he wasn't as touchy with me as he was with everyone else.

Felix had (who am I kidding, he still has) the reputation of being the Big Bad Mean Cat. Our home has access to the downstairs through a hydraulically-operated floor hatch. When we were discussing how to open it without catapulting an unsuspecting cat, someone joked, "Well, I don't know about Felix. I wouldn't mind catapulting him." It hurt a little- even being a joke- but I know how easy it is to become discouraged by an angry cat. But that's the thing: Felix doesn't necessarily react so much out of anger, as much as he does out of fear.

Realizing that a year ago is what made me decide to actually sit down and work with Felix instead of giving up and writing him off as a pissed-off feline with a chip forever on his shoulder. So I looked up ways to encourage trust between cat and owner, and over time I started to put those methods into action. A year later, Felix can still be touchy, but he is significantly more trusting and easier to please. These are some of my tips:
  •  Start off with the basics. The very first thing you need to learn, before anything else, is how to speak their language. Though their vocalizations are pretty much variations on "meoooww" and "HISSSSSSIMGOINGTOCLAWTHEHELLOUTOFYOU", their body language says volumes. Fellow cat blogger, CatsnCo, wrote an entry on this very thing. You'll need to know what your cat is saying, so that you know when it's safe to proceed and when it's time to back off.
  • Figure out where to start. If your cat comes up to you and accept pets, start out there. If he's a bit further behind, start there and then build up. The big thing with cats is "slowly". It's almost like you have to trick them into thinking that nothing's changing at all. But the point here is to show the cat that you're not going to go past his boundaries, which, in turn, instills trust. The more trust he has at whatever level you're at, the more you can push it a little.
  • Stop before your cat gets angry. The big thing with teaching Felix was that I had to stop before he got angry. That's why you need a good sense of how your cat is feeling based off his body language, so you'll know when he's starting to get antsy. When you stop before he gets angry, it shows him that he doesn't have to get angry in order to get this behavior to stop. Again, it's about building up trust. If he can trust you to stop on your own, then he doesn't have to pull out the claws and sink them into your face.
  • Build up to more and more exposure. So you know where the line is. You stop at the right time, and now he's okay with what you're doing. Up the ante a little-- start petting him for longer periods of time. Get closer while you're petting him. If he's fine with that, try encouraging him into your lap. Work up to having your arms around him. Work even further up to a hug. Eventually, he might be okay with cuddles. He might even be okay with being picked up.
  • Sometimes, they're just not in the mood, and that's okay. People aren't "on" all the time, and cats certainly aren't either. If your cat is just having an off moment, let him be and respect his boundaries. If you work on his terms, it'll help maintain a trustful relationship between you and your cat.
  • Enjoy your cat cuddles. Your mileage may vary, but you should end up with a cat that trusts you enough to accept pets and cuddles. Enjoy!

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