Lesley on Quora.com asks how she might be able to ensure that her cat relates to her as the boss and that he’s obedient towards her.
It’s an interesting question. Without being critical of Lesley, it’s a misplaced question. She doesn’t want to be her cat’s boss. That’s not the kind of relationship that you have with a domestic cat.
You can certainly train your cat in much the same way that you can train your dog. It’s harder and takes a bit longer but domestic cats are trainable. If you do it then your cat will obey you on the cat behaviours that you have trained.
However, domestic cats are barely domesticated and they’re not pack animals. Domestic dogs look to their owner as the leader of the pack whereas cats don’t do this. Domestic cats look to their owner as a surrogate mother normally (being fed etc.) and sometimes as a kitten. This is why domestic cats bring prey back to the home. They want to train their human companions to hunt successfully.
If you want your cat to obey you I think you have the wrong mentality and you might not be the sort of person who should have a domestic cat as a companion. You’d be far better off with a dog. However, as mentioned, a person can achieve a certain amount of obedience in their cat through training if that is what they want. However, very few cat owners train their cat beyond a certain few basic behaviours.
Dominance over animals
There is another aspect to this question. It hints at the person’s need to dominate their companion animal. This leads to the possibility of training by punishment or negative reinforcement. That is not a good idea in any animal in my view and certainly not with respect to domestic cats. All training should be done through positive reinforcement. In my view, punishment is a human concept based on norms and standards. For it to work properly the recipient needs to understand how their behaviour does not meet those standards. Cats cannot do this. Therefore punishment is inappropriate.
The question also hints at trying to remove certain aspects of domestic cat behaviour which might irritate the owner. Owners might describe this is “bad cat behaviour”. The same rules apply. A lot of people think cats should be punished if they behave badly. The cat doesn’t know he or she is behaving badly. They are behaving naturally and normally. To punish the cat for natural and on behaviour will confuse and alienate the cat. It’s an ongoing problem: so-called ‘bad cat behaviour’ which is not bad from the cat’s perspective.
For me, it is something that humans have to accept. They have to fit in with cat behaviour because we have in our power to do so. Domestic cats are not able to rationalise these things as well and therefore find it more difficult to fit in with our behaviour. Although of course they live in a human world and therefore adapt to it. I don’t think you want a domestic cat to lose all their feline behaviours and just do what people want them to do.
People adopt cat companions because they are what they are, different, feline, charming and sometimes a bit destructive because they are a top predator. You go into the relationship with eyes wide open.
P.S. I accept contrary points of view on cat punishment. And there is a fine line between punishment and ‘educating’ your cat to understand that certain behaviours are unwanted.