Teaching the cat new words

Dogs are fairly open to commands and can be taught to do what they’re told to quite an impressive degree. Cats, less so. It’s not that cats don’t understand words – they are smart and can figure out meanings. They just aren’t motivated to please and obey in the same way.

All creatures have a better shot at language if you use the same phrases or words to signify the same things, and you keep it short. For some time now, Mr Anderson has understood many words pertaining to cat food and cat treats. He understands ‘cat go out?’ as meaning we’re going to put him on his lead. ‘Cat go down?’ is a question for when he’s being carried. He prefers to be carried out and walk back, most of the time, and it is helpful to remind him when we’re heading for home.

Saying ‘no’ to a cat is pointless. They hear you, but they are seldom that concerned about what you want if it doesn’t align with what they want. In recent weeks I’ve been working on the phrase ‘bad idea’. I say it when I think something isn’t going to go well for him, and I reinforce it by saying it when he makes a bad choice and it doesn’t play out well – usually this involves Mr Anderson having made unreasonable assumptions about how physics won’t impact on him. Saying ‘bad idea’ doesn’t get him not to do a thing, but increasingly I see him pause, and reconsider. Sometimes he changes his mind. Sometimes he clearly fancies picking a fight with physics and does the thing anyway.

Much of this has applications for people, too. It’s worth thinking about how individual people use language, what kind of language they respond to and what actually motivates them. Most people are far more like cats than like dogs. If you can find a way of communicating that engages them in the right way, what it is possible to communicate changes dramatically.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Teaching the cat new words

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