The One Thing You Should Never Do If You Want to Earn Your Cat’s Respect
By Sarah Ashley, Jul. 12, 2022
Earning your cat’s respect is a journey, not a destination. As with dogs and most people, cats respond best to positive reinforcement and thoughtful care. Healthy relationships with felines require compromise, attention to detail and an understanding of where they come from and how they’ve evolved to inhabit more than 31 million households in the U.S. But the one thing you should never do if you want to earn your cat’s respect is to assume an alpha, pack-leader mentality. This attitude leads to fear-based relationships, which are not only ineffective when it comes to getting your cat to do what you want, but also rob you of all the benefits of cat parenthood (like cuddling and making biscuits).
What does it look like when a cat respects you?
Respect is similar to love and a lot like admiration. It is not following commands blindly or bending to your will out of fear or frustration. Cats aren’t huge on communicating emotions, so we must rely heavily on their actions to infer whether or not they respect us.
Veterinary behavior expert Carlo Siracusa and animal ethics and welfare professor James Serpell at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine say research on cat behavior reveals cats do actually love their humans. Like, a lot. Serpell created the Feline Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire and found cats express behavior issues when separated from their humans for a long period of time. They’ve also been known to respond to their names and come when called!
Respect, especially coming from felines, is subtle. In fact, it could look like your cat is ignoring you completely. This is a sign they are comfortable with you, trust you and want to be near you (even if they don’t want to touch you).
5 signs your cat respects you
1. Rolling over and exposing their bellies
Felines will not do this in front of someone they don’t trust. Essentially, they’re exposing their most vulnerable body part to you— willingly.
2. Turning their backs to you
Again, this is a sign of trust. As predators, cats don’t like having blind spots. If they sit down where they can’t see you, they trust you not to harm them.
3. Rubbing their faces on you
Also called bunting, this is when your cat covers you, your face, your shoes, your shins or anything else of yours in their scent.
Making biscuits, or kneading, is a gesture left over from kittenhood when cats would nurse. If your kitty kneads you or around you, they’re very happy and in a loving mood.
5. Sleeping on or near you
A predator falling asleep on you is a sure sign they love and respect you!
Some cats quickly learn commands and enjoy performing tricks. Just because yours refuses to do this doesn’t mean they don’t respect you. Again, in a cat world, obedience is not respect!
6 do’s and don’ts for getting your cat to respect you
First and foremost, toss any comparisons between cats and dogs out the window. Cats aren’t dogs, pets aren’t people and everyone is an individual. Trying to fit a cat into a dog-shaped box never works. While canines thrive on what world-renowned cat behavior and wellness expert Jackson Galaxy calls the “guardian-companion dynamic,” cats don’t necessarily find this sort of relationship comforting. (Galaxy’s book, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat is absolutely necessary for any cat owner serious about understanding their cat.) Galaxy encourages people to become parents rather than trainers or disciplinarians when dealing with felines. We’re never going to get them to do exactly what we want. We can, however, provide our cats with environments and routines based on their specific needs to encourage the healthiest, most respectful relationship possible.
1. Don’t become an alpha pack-leader
Unlike domesticated canines, who evolved alongside humans for millennia to become a highly social species, felines prefer solo lifestyles. Big cats hunt alone. Cats have certainly become more social in the past couple of thousand years (as evidenced by them sharing apartments with us and using litter boxes), but they aren’t hard-wired to respond to dominant figures. Trying to be an alpha, whether through physical force, loud speech or a spray bottle for discipline will only push your cat away. It doesn’t lead to respect.
2. Don’t use harsh discipline
Galaxy says trying to discipline a cat is basically impossible. Disciplinary tactics alone, especially harsh ones, don’t work. Instead, you must provide your cat with alternatives to the behaviors you dislike. Shift your focus from stopping one behavior to encouraging another; this boosts kitty confidence and gives them a different outlet.
3. Don’t change up their environment too often
Serpell and Siracusa acknowledge cats are “very sensitive to changes in their environment.” Unfamiliar spaces or suddenly moving litter boxes to a different room can totally disrupt their flow. As predators, they don’t enjoy not knowing where their safety spots are (this is why they may hide under the bed or couch for a while in a new home). As territorial animals, they need to have consistent scent markers throughout their home (like litter boxes and scratching posts).
4. Do give them space
Just because a cat sits next to you, doesn’t mean they want to stay there – or be touched. Some cats love a cuddle session! Others refuse to stand for it. Respond accordingly. Don’t push it. Give them space and maybe—eventually—they’ll trust you enough to nap on your lap.
5. Do let them hunt
Now, indoor cats do not need to be let outside to indulge their hunting instincts. There are plenty of games to play with your cat to give them the sense they are actually hunting. A laser pointer game pre-meal or interactive wand toy playtime can mimic a hunt! Just be sure to reward them after (to mimic the prey part).
6. Do remember cats mirror your emotions
You give what you get, and that includes respect. Not only are cats highly sensitive to our emotions, they actually mirror what we put out there. If you’re stressed, chances are your cat is, too. If you respect your cat, they’ll learn to return the favor (in their own way). A compassionate approach is always the best bet.