Cat Saves Kid From Dog Attack: What Motivated The Cat?!

Cat Saves Kid From Dog Attack: What Motivated The Cat?!

I am both a cat lover and a dog lover and have had and loved several of each.

But, I have loved them for different reasons.

I find that dogs most easily and reliably affectionately attach to people. They most easily understand our facial expressions, tones of voice and even learn the meaning of many of our words. They are amazingly loyal and can be trained to do the most complex activities. Most commonly, they will protect their loved ones. Dogs have earned the title of “Man’s Best Friend” for many reasons.

My cats have had very different characteristics than dogs.  They can be trained, but it seems to take a great deal more effort to do so. For example, I have easily taught my dogs to come when called by simply praising and petting them when they do so. I have been able to tell two of my dogs: “Go see Momma” and they go to my wife Sally. She can say: “Go see Daddy”, and they come to me. This was done without any specialized training that I can discern, outside of praise when they went to the right person! The natural contingencies of social reinforcement were enough for this wonderfully social behavior to unfold.

The natural contingencies of reinforcing food and warmth have taught my cats to come to eat when hungry and snuggle when its cold. They also like it when they are tickled under the chin, around the ears and on the head, etc. I suspect that specific humans can acquire learned reinforcing properties (i.e., become rewarding) to specific cats under these and a few other conditions.

With my cats, I have learned to teach them to come using a high pitch whistle. This high-pitched whistle is apparently an unpleasant stimulus to my cats, and perhaps other cats also. The method I used is called shaping (technically, differential reinforcement of successive approximations). This is formally called a “negative reinforcement contingency” because when they do the desired behavior I subtract (stop) the unpleasant stimulus.

It works like this: When the cat is in close proximity to me, I start my natural mouth high-pitched whistling.  The cat typically stops dead in its tracks and looks directly at me. The second it takes a step closer to me, I stop. Of course it could move away, but it seems oddly interested in the source of that sound. I do this many times in different training sessions. By requiring that the cat comes closer and closer to me in “successive approximations”, before stopping the whistling,  I finally  am able to teach it to jump into my lap and I instantly stop the whistle and tickle it under the chin and around its ears, etc. and praise it.

I admit that I have gotten winded and red-faced with this demanding whistling method. But to do it using my natural whistle, obviates the need to carry an artificial one with me. It requires patience, but it has worked with my cats. There is no” money back guarantee” it will work for you however!

My cats also came running and salivated drops on the floor when I have turned on the electric can opener in order to feed them. They have rubbed against me and bumped their heads into my legs while I prepare their meal.

My cats have come to snuggle with me when it is cool in my home. They have slept with me nightly  (I keep the room cold in the winter and cool in the summer).

One cat was cared for by someone else when I was away on vacation. Upon my return home from a vacation, it rubbed all around my legs when I first entered the house and drooled on my shoes (I was one who often fed the cat).

All of my cats were obtained by me as kittens and I held them very loosely, allowing them to come and go whenever they tried to do so. If you capture and restrain the cats I have known, they will avoid you like the plague. My  dear wife cannot let a cat go. She has never met a cat that she does not want to assault with very loving, but firm restraint. Each of our cats were learned to be phobic of her and her form of cat love and affection. However, the three cockapoos we have owned couldn’t wait to jump into her highly restraining “love-holds”.

One of our cats was born in a barn to a real barn-cat momma. It was weaned a few days early so would lay on my shoulder and suck on my neck (I told you I loved cats!).

This cat was the most closely bonded with me of all my cats. Unfortunately, it would attack most everyone else. Its front paws were declawed, but it still scared the daylights out of most everyone who ventured into our home. It would watch them intently and then slowly move closer and closer. It gave no clue as to what was about to unfold. The visitor would normally extend a hand to the cat and it would suddenly fly into a rage and bat them with her puff-ball paws while making loud hissing sounds.

Some friends and acquaintances were both startled and amused. Extended family members who also love cats were mostly enjoyed the spectacle. Others may have been traumatized for life. For example, a worker came to install a gas line in our basement. We had not seen him for a very long time when he finally appears in a rather shaken condition at the top of the stairs. He explained that he had entered a dark crawl space under the flooring through a small opening. Once inside our cat sat in that opening and attacked him with her hisses and puff paws whenever he tried to get out. I imagine he suffered a bad case of “PTCSD”.

After that, we learned to isolate her in another room when unsuspecting guests came to visit.

Oddly, occasionally when she came to sit with me and I would pet her, she would suddenly stare into my eyes and would suddenly hiss and whack at me before jumping away. My extended family and close friends came to affectionately call  this special kitty, “The Attack Cat”.

Sadly, my harmless attack cat was killed when I was on a sailing trip. My wife had let her out and the a neighbor reported that she may have been attacked two large roaming dogs. The owner of the dogs apparently lied when he denied they were on the loose. No one saw the attack, they only saw the dogs wandering the neighborhood. I was traumatized.

I imagine that our cat saw these dogs on our property and attacked them, sustaining fatal injuries as a result.

I suspect cats can be very territorial and I have seen a number of videos in which cats have intimidated much larger dogs who are clearly fearful of going near them.

I seriously doubt that the recent very popular video of a cat saving a child from a vicious dog attack had anything to do with the cat’s loyal and protective nature.

It seems to me to be more likely a result of their phylogenetic territorial nature.

Please see the great video of the famous attack cat below. Then, if you are interested in what animal science has to say on cat territoriality and aggression, see that section in the second article.

V. Tom Mawhinney, 5/20/14





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