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Published in 2001 by Cat Fancy

Name Your Cat's Personality

by Patricia Fry

I'm convinced that, when our 2-year-old kitty, Max, pushes his toys under the refrigerator, it's an attempt to get my attention. He seems to delight in helping me probe for the missing mouse, ball or feather. As soon as the item is recovered, he bats it under there again. And again he dances around my feet as if to persuade me to get down on the floor and retrieve his toy once more. Of course, I do.

I call Max The Manipulator. I also have a Possessive Cat and a couple of Nonconformists. I have friends who own Noncommittal Kitties, Bad Boy (or Girl) Cats and Wired Cats.

Labeling our beloved cats is kind of fun and I think it tends to help a cat owner accept their kitty's particular personality. However, animal behavior experts caution against categorizing cats in this way.

"When you use a label like The Manipulative Cat, there's some implication of intent," says Dr. Linda Goodloe, an animal behaviorist in New York City. She says, "I think it's kind of amusing to look at a cat that way." But she cautions, "When people believe their cat is doing something intentional, they sometimes get angry and they want to punish the cat. Some people believe, for example, that when a cat has a problem with inappropriate elimination, he is just being spiteful. Believing that leads to very wrong reactions and often the end of the cat. For that reason, when people come to me with a problem, I try to get them to take the idea of intention out of it."

Obviously cats do have personalities. While some are active and boisterous others are reserved and shy. There are highly independent cats and others that are quite affectionate. Let's explore some of the more common cat personality types. With the help of three animal behaviorists, maybe we'll learn how to better manage the traits that can sometimes overwhelm a household.

The Possessive Cat

"Almost always, when you have several cats in a household, there's going to be one that bumps the others out of the way," says Goodloe. "People get very upset about it. I get very upset about it. I have a big guy right now who does that. All of my poor little fellows get bumped. If I'm petting another cat and he starts to purr from anyplace in the apartment, the big guy hears it and comes bounding in and pushes himself between us."

Goodloe explains, "The thing about cats is that they usually work things out." She tells this story: "I had a cat who always slept next to me on the bed. Then, I brought home this old cat that was really sick. He would not leave my side. He started lying next to me at night and the cat that usually did, just never showed up there. The night that this cat died—two years later—the other cat was right back in the same place on the bed. Cats work things out and you're much better off not to try to change it."

The Manipulator

Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli, an animal behaviorist at Tufts University, describes this cat, "The manipulator cat is the one that gets up on the dresser in the morning and knocks things off just to get your attention because he wants you to play with him or he wants his food bowl filled. They are really training us. Is the cat being manipulative? No! It's using what it has in its cat behavior repertoire to get what it wants."

How do you stop this sort of behavior? According to Moon-Fanelli, "By ignoring it." She says, "One morning after my husband jumped up to fill the cats' food bowl, he came to me and said, ?Why do the cats keep doing that? Aren't you going to do something about it?'" According to Moon-Fanelli, she said, "I am doing something about it. I'm ignoring them. I'm not reinforcing their behavior. If I don't give them my attention and the food, they'll stop doing it because it doesn't work."

The Noncommittal Kitty

This cat keeps its people at arm's length. He expresses and receives attention only on his own terms. He might roll over in front of you and look up endearingly, but when you reach down to pet him, he scurries away. Or she may walk over to you on the couch, but panic if you attempt to pick her up.

My friend, Susan dreams of having a cat that will curl up in her lap and purr contentedly as she strokes his fur. While cats continue to find Susan's home and to enjoy the food and shelter she provides, none of them have become lap cats. Most of them have, no doubt, been rejected and even abused by the time they find Susan's safe haven. She says, "Unfortunately, it seems that an adult cat that is not affectionate, will never be affectionate even when they finally find a loving home." But, what about raising a kitten to be a cuddly cat?

Dr. Larry Lachman is the author of Cats On The Counter (St. Martins, 2000). He says that while kittens may express a lot of affection when they're young, they might still grow up to be aloof cats. "Sometimes cat owners will think the cat is noncommittal because it doesn't seem to want them anymore," he says. "It's just the cat's natural maturity and behavioral development."

The Bad Boy/Bad Girl Cat

When a Bad Boy (or girl) kitty weaves his way into your heart, your life will

never be the same again. If you decide to keep this cat, you'll have to learn to live with upset trash baskets and spilled houseplant dirt. You may never be able to display a bouquet of flowers safely into your home again.

Dr. Goodloe talks about the Bad Boy. "My first cat, before I knew anything, many, many years ago, was one of those. He liked to get up on furniture and counters and knock things over. I would chase him. When I could catch him, I'd give him a little smack on his behind. But the frequency of the undesirable behavior shot up immediately. This became his favorite game and it stayed that way until he died at 20."

Dr. Moon-Fanelli says that she has such a cat, but she considers her just a high energy cat that doesn't have enough stimulation in her environment. She says, "If I'm spending a lot of time at work and I'm not there with her, she torments the other cats, she jumps on things that I don't want her up on and she gets things out of the garbage. When I'm a good owner, I fill her Play and Treat Ball for her and I set up play times each morning and evening for her. When I do that every day, she's just fine. The high-energy cat is not a bad cat, it's a cat that doesn't have enough cat like things to do."

The Wired Cat

Do you know a cat that's excitable and rather unpredictable? He may be a Wired Cat. According to Dr. Goodloe, "There are a lot of them and they're the ones that get into trouble with aggressive behavior. They're very easily excited. They get into those strange states where they like to race around. Their intent is to play."

This cat often jumps out at you from behind the sofa when you're walking by and digs in with teeth and claws. "If you have one that does a lot of damage to body parts in that kind of manner," says Dr. Goodloe, "then you make the body parts boring by not reacting. It's sort of hard to do if there's a tooth or a claw stuck in you, but if you shake your leg or hand, the cat will find that exciting."

She recommends, "Give the cat something else to play with—something distant from your hand or your ankle. Grab a Kitty Teaser and start playing with the cat. This will gradually help them to disconnect from finding body parts to play with. With a cat that's wired, it's a good idea to do a lot of short play bouts. Get him to chase the Kitty Teaser. Wear him out in two or three minute play sessions throughout the day and then he won't have quite so much energy revved up."

Identifying your cat's personality is easy. Living with it can take patience and creativity. The bottom line, according to Dr. Goodloe is to remember that "Cats are what they are and we have to adapt to them."

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