Someone asked: why does my cat sulk when I scold him?

I’d like to discuss the question, “Why does my cat sulk when I scold him?” I think that the question is full of misconceptions and is wrong in many ways. Firstly, in my experience cats don’t sulk. To sulk is to be silent, morose and bad-tempered out of annoyance or disappointment. It’s the kind of thing kids do when their mum tells them off. Which is why the question is being asked because often people relate to their cats as kids. They do behave a bit like kids, mischievously and they can be a bit naughty.

Sulking

And that is the problem is with the statement in the title. Cats aren’t kids, they are felines and they don’t sulk. You have to be a human to sulk or perhaps one of the primates. You have to know you’ve done wrong if you’ve been criticised. Or you might disagree with the reasons why you been scolded because you don’t think that you’ve done something wrong. These kinds of thoughts depend upon measuring what you do against society’s norms. It means that you’ve been taught to do certain things and you understand the reason why you should do certain things in certain ways.

Anxious cat because of shouting
Anxious cat — photo by aturkus
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Domestic cats simply don’t think like that. You can train a cat to do certain things but the training is built upon a reward system and the reward is something which cats naturally and instinctively like. Their whole world is built around natural behaviour and instincts. You won’t get a cat to do something which is unnatural to them. Therefore, I don’t think cat sulk. They might well be confused if they are shouted at and become anxious as a result. Their owner has suddenly turned from being friendly to hostile for no apparent reason. Result: anxiety.

Scolding

If a cat owner scolds their cat it probably means that they have shouted at them. Cats might back off and run away out of fear when that happens. The anxiety created might not last long and they will come back and cat and person will make up. However, scolding is a form of punishment. It is verbal punishment and we all know by now hopefully that punishment is not suited to domestic cats. They don’t understand the concept of punishment because it’s based upon understanding what is right and what is wrong and that they’ve done something wrong.

So, the question in the title is wrong at both ends. Scolding is wrong and sulking is wrong. Some experts say that when you scold a cat you stare at them and cats don’t like being stared at. This is because the stare is meant to be a hostile form of behaviour. I think that this is an over-egg concept in relation to the human-to-cat relationship. This is because cat owners should have a close relationship with their cat. They should be great friends and companions.

Staring

You can look your cat in the eye if you are friends and companions because they know you’re not hostile. They know that you are a provider and highly friendly (or you should be!). And the so-called stare does not override this. They don’t equate the stare with hostility as a result. This argument about staring and being hostile doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure that it even works with a strange cat. It’s a cat behaviourist statement which you see a lot but it’s overdone.

Dominance

Some experts might say that if you scold a cat and stare at them you are acting as a dominant cat and they become submissive. When they “sulk” they are accepting their submissiveness and it is a form of apology. I disagree with the idea that cats can apologise. That’s incorrect. Although, cats understand that humans are the dominant partner for the simple reason that they are providers; humans behave as if they are their feline parents.

Different species

I think above all that we have to remind ourselves that we live with a top predator of an entirely different species who has learnt to enjoy the company of humans and vice versa. It’s a special relationship but we are two very different characters with different motivations and desires which we need to understand. Domestic cats do understand our behaviour but not necessarily the reasons behind it. They fit in with our behavioural rhythms and routines because they’re good adapters to the human environment but they don’t get into our heads and understand human thinking. We have the ability to understand feline thinking and we should make sure that we do.

Some more on punishment

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