Communicating with a cat is much like communicating with a toddler. You have to keep it simple and say things they can understand based on what they have learned to this point. Short, simple words should be used and you should use the same word each time to describe an item or action in order to aid retention. The cat (or kid) will respond by doing something or doing nothing.
We all know that cats say “meow”. That’s the simplest thing they can do that we dumb humans can understand. Beyond that, it gets complicated and we have to really pay attention. I remember being told as a child that cats and other animals won’t look you in the eye because they think that if anything locks eyeballs with them it plans to eat them. I’ve found that it’s not true. Izzie looks me right in the eye to tell me stuff. For instance, if we are in the living room watching TV and Izzie is curled up on the floor she may decide to do something. She’ll get up and start walking across the floor. When she gets past the coffee table and there is a direct line of sight between us, she will stop and turn her head and stare me right in the eye. If I don’t notice her (or pretend not to notice her) she will face forward and resume walking to wherever she was going. However, if I get up and walk toward her there are two possibilities. If she stands still and continues to look up at me then I’m supposed to pick her up and give her a hug. But, if she resumes walking then I am supposed to follow her (see Izzie-7, Escort Service).
No response can actually be a response. A cat’s ears are always moving as it’s their nature to follow every sound. So, for instance, if Izzie and I are outside, and I say “Okay, Izzie, it’s time to go inside” and she just sits there, staring in the other direction, and her ears are perfectly still, I know she is making a conscious effort to make no response to my wish. If she wants to comply she gets up and heads for the door. I guess you could call this a binary response…she either jumps up or not.
Pat and Izzie play two games that Pat refers to as “Chase” and “Hide and Seek” and they can happen at any time during the day or evening. If Pat wants to play, she’ll signal Izzie by walking up to her and “growling” and stomping her feet and yelling “where’s that cat?” Izzie will jump to her feet and race across the room and down the hall with Pat running after her (see Izzie-6 and Izzie-6a, Chase and Hide and Seek and Games.) If Izzie wants to start a game she has several ways of signaling. To make noise, Izzie extends her claws and hooks them in the carpet. Then, she jerks her paw back and causes a popping noise. When she races down the hall, popping her claws at every step, it sounds like a herd of wild horses. Another way she’ll get your attention is to stand in one spot and pop her claws and then, all of a sudden, jump straight up in the air, do a 180 degree turn, and come down ready to be chased. If none of that stuff works, she’ll go pop her claws in the end of the couch because that’s forbidden and she knows that will gain some attention.
Of course purring is a major cat trait. Isabella purrs most of the time though if you manage to aggravate her, her ears go back until the color of them blends into the color of her head and then she is not only mad but looks weird too.
So far, we’ve got the meow, the look, no response, popping her claws, the run, the jump, purring, and ears back. Izzie and I are both still learning this communication thing. In a few months she may be reading at a 3rd grade level. I don’t know where I’ll be.
May 18, 2012