I tried to communicate with my cat and this is what happened
My neighbors occasionally send me DMs on Saturday mornings to see if things are okay. My cat knows it’s wrong. But my cats know it’s Soft Food Saturday too. We even have our little song about it. I’m not ashamed to say it, I’m one of those people whose voice is really loud when talking to their cat. It will probably be etched into my epitaph: “Here lies Kelly, her voice could crack panels. May he rest in peace. »
Every Saturday since my baby was a little girl, I sang “It’s a Soft Food Saturday, for my little pussy cat” to the beat Puppy love from Donny Osmond by giving them their weekly ration of cat food. I don’t know why I chose this song, and I also don’t know why I sing miles and miles higher than the original version, but let me tell you, it really hits them. Suffice it to say that the people who visited me on Saturday morning were speechless in front of this spectacle.
Since then, other choirs have joined our repertoire. There’s this song “I Like Fishy Soup, You Like Fishy Soup” on the days I gave them the juice from a can of tuna – it fits right in Cheese poof by Eric Cartman of South Park, a very underrated songwriter if you ask me. I also have some original compositions, but I don’t want people to think I did too much.
I like to think that responding to those short squeaky songs shows that my cats respect my voice and that they understand the meaning of the songs — in short, it shows that they and I understand each other. Fuck me if you want, but it turns out that talking to your cat in a high-pitched voice like mine may be the key to good communication with our fellow felines.
A new study led by Charlotte De Mouzon, from the University of Paris Nanterre, shows that cats recognize their master’s voice. Interestingly, if this voice is high-pitched, like we use when talking to babies, the cat will pay more attention to it than if it’s a normal pitch, like we use when talking to other adults. Unfortunately, the study was not interested in my Osmond tune.
De Mouzon’s team recorded 16 cat owners saying things like “Would you like a treat?” both in the high-pitched voices they use with their cats and later in normal conversation between humans. They played these recordings to the cats when their owners weren’t around. room, then recorded and recorded their reactions. They found that the cats reacted more to their owners’ “high-pitched voices” than to their normal voices or to the voices of strangers, even if the latter adopted the high-pitched voice.
“This research shows that cats pay attention not only to what their owners say, but also to how they say it. »
Cat behavior expert Kristyn Vitale, an assistant professor of animal health and behavior at Unity College in Maine, conducted a similar test using voice recordings as part of a Netflix series. Our language for cats and the conclusions are in the same direction. What did Vitale think of De Mouzon’s conclusions about baby voices?
“This research shows that cats pay attention not only to what their owners say, but also how they say it,” says Vitale. This matched his observations: cats behaved differently depending on how humans interacted with them. “Many cats prefer human social interaction to other forms of reward. When placed in new situations, the presence of a master can also significantly reduce stress on cats. »
To test this theory on my cat, I invited my friend Jim to join us for Saturday’s big food event. As expected the cats were a bit annoyed when this bearded man started singing our song to them in the early hours of the morning. They turned to me, as if to convince themselves. When I ‘picked up the mic’ everything was back to normal – they were circling, meowing and circling around their bowl like a normal Saturday morning.
The following weekend, I went out and gave my neighbors very specific instructions to play a tape of my performance of “Soft Food Saturday” at the scheduled time. He was so shocked by their reaction that he dropped his phone in their food bowl and I had to pay him for a new screen.
I asked Vitale what he thought of my cat’s reaction to my song. “Cats are very good at drawing conclusions from various experiences in their environment, including the behavior of their owners,” he replied. “Your cats have probably learned that when they hear this song it signals the availability of food, so they run to you expecting food. Apparently, this is a form of “operant conditioning” – when animals learn from the consequences of their behavior. “Operant conditioning is a form of learning that I use regularly to train cats,” he explains.
Since the dawn of domestication, humans have tried to communicate with their pets, and new technologies have brought us closer to this goal in recent years. Whether it’s the smart collar that classifies a dog’s barking based on emotion or the hexagonal mat with buttons you may have seen on social media.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the TikTok Bunny phenomenon, a dog whose owner says he trained him to use one of these soundboards to form basic sentences like, “Bunny wants to eat,” or more existential questions like, “When are there more bunnies?”. Dog enthusiasts will tell you their best friends are smarter and easier to train than cats, but research on cat behavior is about 15 years behind dogs, and we are only just beginning to understand how cats interact with us. Rabbit fans may know that there is also a cat named Billi who uses the same type of mat.
“Cats have a reputation for being untrainable, but they can learn in the same way as dogs. »
I asked Vitale if there was any evidence to suggest that cats are too proud to be trained as dogs, but he insisted: absolutely not. “I offer training classes and socialization sessions for both kittens and adult cats, and they learn a lot of behaviors, some of which are quite complex,” she says. “Cats have a reputation for being untrainable, but they can learn in the same way as dogs. Vitale suggests that if you’re having trouble training your cat, it may be a matter of approach. “They may not use a favorite object to reward behavior, which decreases their cat’s motivation to train. He added that most of the cats tested preferred social attention over food.
I have tried another technique inspired by Our language for cats on my cats: slow blinking seems like cat kisses, but when I try it, both of my cats look at me like I’m crazy. On the other hand, my long-haired cat, Rudi, responded well by winking back and happily bumping his muzzle against my outstretched finger.
I asked Vitale for other ways to strengthen my relationship with my cat besides the tried and true song method. He offers regular training sessions, starting with basic behaviors like “sit”, “high-five” or “target” – when an animal learns to touch an object with a part of its body.
“You can train a cat to touch an object, like a stick, as a reward,” says Vitale. “After repeating the operation several times, the cat will learn to approach the stick and touch it when it sees it. You can then use this method to communicate with your cat. He suggests guiding your cat into its crate using a stick, rather than picking it up and forcing it inside.
It’s still early days, but I’ve started training sessions with my cat and the results are mixed. Rudi has learned to stand up, while Sheena looks less enthusiastic, but I may not have found a method that works for her. The “Saturday Soft Meal” method still works for both of them and I’m sure they’ll learn more tricks if you stick with it.
So if, like me, your voice rises a few octaves when you talk to your cat, rest assured, science says that’s the way to go, even if your friends and neighbors frankly prefer you to abstain. For me, it’s nice to have confirmation that the communication between my cat and me is very real. If you’ve never tried performing festive mealtime songs for your cat, you might want to try “Soft Food Saturday.” For me, I’d be working on a new title for the demo EP, because you have to make good money.
Kelly Bishop is active Twitter.
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