I’ll rephrase the question: ‘Do domestic cats respond to words of praise?’
I say ‘good boy’ to my cat when he does something that I have informally trained him to do which benefits both of us. The words alone are not enough. You have to accompany the words with a reward of sorts. I don’t believe that the reward has to be a food treat. It might me a gentle stroke and more warm sounds. The words ‘good boy’ don’t of themselves convey anything to a domestic cat.
The cat understands that he has behaved in a way that pleases you if he hears the sound of the words because the words are accompanied by something pleasurable. Cats do respond to ‘good boy’ over time if the phrase is applied constantly as praise and if it becomes associated with a tangible treat. It is a form of training. In the end the sound alone becomes pleasurable in a small way to the cat.
But don’t expect a smile to break out on your cat’s face. Don’t expect him to give you much of a sign that he knows he is being praised or thanked. The response is dry and enigmatic. But you’ll still say ‘good boy’ because it is pleasurable to you as well.
Calling your cat
There was a lot of talk about cats not responding to the call of their name. It was said that they might come or they might ignore you. I disagree and I think one point was missed.
In my experience the response time for cats is slower than for dogs. There is no immediate response and the cat does not come bounding down the corrider towards you. My cat waits. He thinks and digests the sound of my call and about 3 minutes later he comes. He nearly always comes on my command but it is far from instant. A response, however, does depend on the relationship that the cat has with his human. It has to be one in which they have a connection in the classic interspecies sense.
It looks like my cat has ignored me and then suddenly he arrives after I have forgotten I called him. If I am right in how domestic cats generally respond to a call people should be patient. Patience is a big word in the world of cat ownership. You have to be patient with domestic cats. Perhaps humans have become too impatient due to the pressures of modern life as everything has become speeded up due to the internet.
SOME MORE ON TRAINING:
I hit my cat very hard a couple times for biting my new kitten very badly. Now he walks away when I touch him. What should I do?
Seven reasons not to train your cat to use a human toilet (and Jackson Galaxy doesn’t like it either)