LETTERS TO LUCINDA 8: Cat Behavior Solutions

black cat with glasses reading bookWelcome, my friends, to another edition of Cat Behavior Solutions from Lucinda, the literate cat. This edition is number eight. How time flies!

Our question for this column comes from a Mr. Jack DeWitt, who writes:

Lucinda, I have a burning question about my cat, and someone suggested I ask you. Why will my cat not obey me when I issue a very simple command? Isn’t she smart enough to understand what I want? She will not pay attention to anything I tell her to do. What is wrong with her?

My dog, now, is different. If I tell him to do something, he’s more than willing to oblige. He wants to please me in any way he can. Not the cat — it’s almost as if the cat wants me to please her instead of the other way around.

What am I doing wrong here? Why won’t the cat do what she is told?

Lucinda: You are not doing anything wrong, Mr. DeWitt. You simply do not understand your cat. Why do you expect the cat to act like a dog? The two are very different animals.

Two-leggeds in the know have a couple of good sayings about cats that highlight this behavior. They are: “Dogs come when they are called. Cats take a message and get back to you,” or, “Dogs have masters; cats have staff.”

You see, cats do not consider you a master, but an equal. Equals do not command each other, but they work together to solve a problem. Since their earliest contact with two-leggeds, the cats have understood the truth of this idea.

Our first recorded interaction with two-leggeds occured in early Egypt. Here, those ancient people discovered that the cats could provide a valuable service by killing vermin such as mice, rats, and even snakes, that found their way into the grain storage — the two-leggeds’ food supply.

An agreement was reached: In exchange for shelter, a warm bed, and an occasional meal, the cats would protect the food supply and destroy any creatures who invaded it. They must have done a very good job, as they went beyond “equals,” to the status of gods and goddesses.

Cats’ ancestral memories have kept alive this old history, and though cats today are not expected to protect communal property, they do protect the home where they live from any infestation of these lowly, destructive creatures. As far as the cat is concerned, he always has been your equal.

Therefore, do not command your cat, as it won’t work. Instead, through suggestion and loving attention, teach her what you want from her. Though she might refuse, chances are if you have made a reasonable request and have followed it with some affection, she will do as you wish.

There is no way, however, that you can persuade her to follow orders. She will do so only if she wants to.

Cats, no matter how much they have bonded with two-leggeds, never lose their instincts. They never forget, either, that they were once worshiped. When you try to exert control over a cat, he may just move out and look for other lodgings.

The cat expects to be treated well and admired. You are to play with him and stroke or scratch him in all his favorite spots. You must not raise your voice or try to punish your cat, because all that does is make you look bad and confuse the cat, who knows he does not deserve such treatment.

If you want to issue commands and feel in control, reserve those actions for your dog. If you treat your cat as he expects to be treated, you will be rewarded with loyalty, affection, and unconditional love. Obedience — never, but love and affection if you show that you deserve such treatment.

A young cat I recently met is a bit confused about the same issue. Here is his question:

Tell me, Lucinda, why does my two-legged try to tell me what to do all the time? Doesn’t she realize who she is talking to? Why isn’t she embarrassed about being so controlling? She doesn’t see how unattractive that behavior is, especially to me.

It seems I can do nothing right. Can’t she just relax and live in harmony with me, instead of being so constantly critical? You’d think she considers me some kind of slave, which I am not. I am every bit as important as she, and will not let her belittle me.

After all, I protect her home from small, evil invaders. By marking our house with my scent, I warn intruders they do not belong here. Don’t I get any thanks for this? It makes me feel like biting and scratching.

And what about this behavior? I have my daily routine, and if my two-legged gets some wild idea about taking a road trip somewhere, she expects me to go along gladly. I hate to travel!

My whole agenda for the time we are gone is compromised. Now I must deal with the discomfort of adjusting, briefly, to some new place, and just as I figure out what this experience is all about, she moves again. The change makes me confused and anxious.

I am nearing the end of my leash. I can’t take much more of her unsettled behavior and her control issues. I am thinking of looking for a new home.

Lucinda: You have my sympathy. Many two-leggeds just do not understand cats at all, and think of us as some kind of furry toy, meant for their pleasure. It’s just because we are so small. If we could suddenly morph into one of our very large wild cousins, such as a tiger, perhaps we could get our point across.

Yes, you could leave. But think about that carefully. You do have a secure home, warmth, and good meals. Until you find a better home, you would be on your own in the great outdoors, where survival by your wits is a necessity. If you have become soft from living in a home, you might be in big trouble out there.

Instead, why don’t you see if you can train your two-legged? When she does something you don’t like, refuse to cooperate. Perhaps you might need to hiss, and then bite her hand, gently — just enough to let her know you are displeased.

However, you need to swallow your pride; do not allow this negative behavior to become too pronounced, or she may take you to the cat prison they call the Animal Shelter, and leave you there.

Instead, be sure that you reward her immediately for any good behavior she displays. If she plays with you or pets and scratches you, or if she gives you some special treat, make sure she knows you appreciate it. Be sure you purr deeply, as two-leggeds often respond to this sound.

Hopefully, this punish/reward technique will produce some good results. It is important for us to let our two-leggeds know our feelings, as well as our wants and desires. They are no good at guessing.

This concludes our eighth Cat Behavior Solutions column. If you have enjoyed it, or if you have a question of your own that you would like Lucinda to answer, please include these in the comment section at the end of this post. Thank you for reading.

8 thoughts on “LETTERS TO LUCINDA 8: Cat Behavior Solutions”

  1. Lucinda is amazing! I can only hope my Marlon will someday be as savvy as she is. He needs his claws trimmed and he hates getting it done. It doesn’t hurt; he is just super fussy about being held still as some human splays his toes and does his job of footcare, which he believes he does perfectly well. It’s just that he doesn’t have enough rocky surfaces and solid trees to scratch, so his claws start snagging the carpet. I generally only need to trim the front ones once a month and back ones maybe every four months. It takes him a whole minute, sometimes, just to forgive my transgression. Then life flows smoothly for another month. Lucinda is wise. She probably is content with her claw maintenance.

    • Well, I wrote an answer to your comment and it disappeared, so guess I’ll have to do another one.

      Glad you find Lucinda amazing.  I will pass on your comment.  She likes getting fan mail.

      My cat, too, hates to have his claws trimmed.  I finally got some regular cat-grooming clippers, and so far have been too chicken to try them.  I have to do so soon, though, as he is getting his claws stuck in things very regularly.

      Lucinda does a perfect sharpen job on her scratching post,and I don’t have to trim her claws.

  2. Cats are amazing creatures!
    I used to enjoy dogs more but as I learnt more about cats, I started to understand why cats behave the way they do. They can still love their ‘staff’, only that they do it a different way as compared to dogs. You are so right about not being able to ‘command’ the cats. They really do have a mind on their own!

    • Grace, there is a Chinese proverb that goes something like “I gave my cat an order, and he gave it to his tail.”  You are right — they cannot be commanded.  However, if they learn to love you, they will often do many sweet things to show their affection.  I just wish sometimes my cat could speak English!  He gets messages across by acting things out, but speech would be so much easier.  

      Oh, well, he’s a cat, and I love him.

  3. Lucinda, you seem to know exactly what we two leggs think. I appreciated your history from Egypt. I didn’t know that about them. I knew they were referred but that gave me things I didn’t know. I do have a question ? We have four cats two that are three years old and two brand new only eight weeks old. One of the older cats is totally ignoring the two new ones. Does he not like them or is he just waiting hoping they will go away?


    • Maybe a bit of both…Cats are very territorial, so he probably has his tail a bit out of joint that these young ones are around. Better that he ignore them than try to beat them up.  Just give him time.  He’s seen a lot of life and doesn’t appreciate these young upstarts interfering with his way of doing things.  

      Right now, your older cat probably doesn’t like the new ones yet.  However, just let him get used to them. That could take a while. Things could change, once he becomes resigned to the fact that they are there to stay.

  4. This is such an interesting post about cats! I really enjoy the person’s perspective as well as the cat’s perspective of the stories.

    When I was a kid, I learned that if I ran towards a cat, most likely the cat would run away and I would not be able to get closer. So I changed my approach – crouching down, reaching out with one hand, and waiting for the cat’s reaction. If the cat likes people, he/she will come and check out my hand. Once he/she comes close enough and done the sniffing, I can touch the forehead and gain trust quickly. The trick works quite well for me.

    Hey Lucinda, do you have any advice on how to approach cats that are more introvert?



    • Try treats.  We cats always like a nice bite of something tasty.  Crouching down to make yourself smaller is a very good idea.  Talk in low, soothing tones.  You two-leggeds are so loud!  Unless they are in a life-or-death battle, cats do not make that much noise.  Try a little piece of fresh fish.  That might do the trick.  Don’t try to touch the cat until he realizes when he comes to you, he gets something good to eat.  Good luck!


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