Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cats and Behavior - Why Cats Sulk

By Lamar Dean

Cats sulk for a number of reasons. A cat that has been scolded by its owner oftentimes will turn its back and with disdain refuse to look at him or her. Some cat owners describes this 'snubbing manner' this way: My cat turns its back, sits down on purpose, and will not respond if we call its name as it normally does, although it occasionally lays one ear back.' This conduct, noted by some owners when their pets have been corrected or disciplined in some manner, is generally referred to as a dignified sulk. But why is the cat really behaving this way?

The answer isn't that it's exhibiting wounded pride...this is usually what the owner thinks...but rather the pet is displaying its social inadequacy. Its arrogance is external, not genuine. Accepting this for some owners is hard to understand, since they have so much admiration for their feline friend. However they miss the fact that, to the cat, they're overwhelming and thus psychologically overpowering. When a cat acts up and doesn't behave and its owner snaps at it, the cat feels endangered. An owner's wrath at the cats misbehavior usually includes rough tones and intent staring. Staring is extremely unnerving to a cat and its instinctive reaction is to evade the unpleasant image of the staring eyes.

This activity is called 'cut-off' because it cuts off the input signal...the unpleasant face towering over it. It causes a twofold effect. It reduces the fearfulness in the cat itself and allows it to remain where it is, instead of moving off into the distance. It also hinders the cat from staring back, which would spell rebelliousness and possibly encourage more animosity.

The significance of this 'anti-stare' in a cat's social life is plain whenever two cats are embroiled in a status conflict. The dominant cat constantly maintains a fixated stare pointed towards its opponent. The inferior cat, if it wishes to defend its ground, purposely looks away from its foe and makes totally certain that its stare never goes anywhere near the glaring eyes of its opponent.

The stare threat event also illustrates another peculiarity of cat behavior. A few observers have observed that domestic cats, when hunting small birds in the garden, seem to be surprisingly intelligent in one specific regard. If the bird's head disappears behind some small obstacle, the cat can be seen to charge forward and pounce, as if it knows that at that moment the bird can't see its speedy approach. For the cat to rationalize this out would call for considerable

mental agility, however there is of course a simpler explanation. As long as the bird's eye is in view, it's automatically giving the cat a stare that inhibits its attacking lurch. Once the eye is accidentally out of sight behind some obstruction, the stare is turned off and the cat can attack. Studies of big cats stalking prey have uncovered a similar interaction. If the prey looks up and stares straight at the lion or tiger, the big cat looks sheepishly away as if all of a sudden it's indifferent to the whole business of predation. So for any prey with the courage to hold its ground and stare down a hunting lion, there's some considerable advantage to be earned.

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