You’re Petting Your Cat All Wrong!

Jackson Galaxy  explains why everything can seem to be going fine and cuddly when your cat suddenly turns mean.

What he calls the “finger nose” actually works great for scratching too, if you go slow and are observant your cat will guide you to where they want skritches, for how long they want them, then where next, just like someone saying “Ohhh, up a little.  A bit  harder.” and will love you for it!

Move on, leave, run away, escape this place… but don’t forget about me, about us, about this town. Always remember where you come from so you can appreciate how far you’ve come.
—  c.j.n.
How Every "My Cat From Hell" episode works:
  • People: My cat doesn't know how to cat.
  • Jackson Galaxy: No, YOU don't know how to cat.
  • People: if cat doesn't cat, cat has to go.
  • Jackson Galaxy: Do the thing and your cat will cat.
  • People: *doesn't do the thing*
  • People: Cat still won't cat
  • Jackson Galaxy: DO THE THING
  • People: *does the thing*
  • People: My cat is catting!
  • Jackson Galaxy: dumbasses.

OKAY here is one of the videos that has honestly made the biggest impact on my training approach and every interaction I make with animals.

It’s a really simple video. Eileen (from Eileen and Dogs, which you should all be reading) points out that while we love petting dogs, dogs often don’t want to be petted, either at all, or in the particular ways we pet them. One great example is the way people (and children, which is so fucking dangerous) are so eager to grab onto a dog’s face and head. This can be extremely uncomfortable for a dog. Better places to try petting a dog (particularly a new one) are on the chest and shoulders, neck and ears if the dog is really feeling the attention (and I have never met a dog that did not appreciate a good butt scratch).

But beyond just being respectful of what dogs do and don’t like, Eileen demonstrates a simple consent test.

To test whether your dog is enjoying being petted, simply stop petting, and see if they try to restart it.

(Jackson Galaxy also gives great input on how to properly touch cats in this video. One way that he gives a ‘consent test’ is by performing the ‘fingernose’ - he holds his finger out to the cat, who comes in to sniff it [like cats naturally sniff noses], and then can choose to rub their face on the finger and actually direct it to where they want to be petted. ‘Let the cat pet you’)

Eileen gives two very clear examples in this video. With the first dog, while they aren’t exhibiting extreme stress, they show small signs of discomfort (looking away, full body turning, lip licking), and they don’t try to restart the chest scratching. They aren’t unhappy, but they don’t want to be petted.

The second example is a dog that actively shoves their face/chin into the petting hand. This is a dog that not only wants physical attention, but knows how to ask for it.

Teaching my animals how to ask for the kind of attention they want, and teaching them how to direct my hands (instead of teaching them to just allow touch), has done amazing stuff for both of us. I’ve been working on waiting for my cat to solicit the attention he wants, and otherwise keeping my hands away from him, and there has been a huge uptick in him seeking my attention and trusting me in his space - because he is learning that I won’t bother him, and that he can receive exactly what kind of physical affection he wants.

This has also led to a minor breakthrough with Zeke. You all know him as the horse that hates being touched, and he still does. But lately I have been taking some time just to stand with him through the fence, putting my hand out, and allowing him to pet himself with it. Instead of explicitly teaching him to hold still while I touch his face, I let him guide my hands to stroke his eyelids and around his ears, where I would have had a difficult time touching him if I had wanted to. When given the choice, Zeke not only consented to touch, but encouraged and directed it.

So to dial it down, here are some of the benefits of this approach to petting:

  • You improve at reading your animal’s body language
  • They can direct you to particular itchy spots, or direct you away from uncomfortable spots, potentially tipping you off about budding discomfort and health problems
  • Your animal feels more secure about being around you
  • Reduces the likelihood that an animal will bite
  • The animal learns better how to communicate directly with you about their care and handling, instead of being a passive recipient of it

And no this doesn’t mean that every time you’re around a cat or a dog or a horse that you have to get ‘consent’ in the human sense of the word, because animals don’t have a concept of consent, but it DOES mean that if you learn to read and respond to the way they respond to your touch, you will both benefit.

You claim to love her, inside and out, but the only time you call her beautiful is when it’s 3 in the morning and I’ve already turned you down.
—  girls tell each other everything, c.j.n.