Yes, you can teach a domestic cat sign language. You can teach a cat almost anything if you have the time and patience. This very well known video clearly shows that this cat has been taught a specific sign in the sign language lexicon which requests a food treat. It looks super-cool and extremely cute. It’s a Dr. Dolittle moment.
There are other videos on the Internet of cats doing sign language. There is one video with an alternative take on communicating with domestic cats using sign language. The cat owner uses sign language and the cats respond positively to it. Of course, that’s completely different to training a cat sign language but it does initiate a nice discussion on this subject.
Using sign language to communicate with your cat
I am sure a lot of people use hand signals and of course their body language to communicate with their cat. The woman in the video is silent except for hand movements so it’s a refined version of body language. It does make me wonder if people might communicate better with their cat using hand movements and body language, only, rather than talking to their cat in a vocal language they don’t understand. Domestic cats are very good observational learners and therefore certainly pick up on hand signals.
There are two videos on this page. They may stop working one day and if it happens it is beyond my control.
My sign language
I naturally do it myself and I’m sure millions of people do the same thing. I tap on my lap when I want him to come onto it. He responds very positively. It’s easy to do. If you provide your cat with something that he enjoys such as sitting on your lap or some nice food, all you have to do is precede that pleasurable experience for your cat with a hand signal and he or she will associate the hand signal with the reward. As you probably well know this is training by positive reinforcement.
All the communication between domestic cats and humans is through a combination of sounds, body movements, body language, routines and rhythms. It is not through human language. The only use of sound is to get attention and announce your presence both by the human and by the cat. And as a call from a distance, or when the cat’s back is turned, when hand signals and body language cannot be seen. The point I’m making is that it might be a good idea if people used their own version of sign language more often when communicating with their cat.
Theoretically – and for practical reasons this is theoretical – you could teach your cat a whole range of sign language actions. If you achieved that holy grail of human-to-cat communication it would be as if you were communicating with another person. You would have given your domestic cat companion a common language that you both understood. It would be a Dr. Dolittle moment.