When our cat does not accept or become friends with the new cat we bring home, we automatically think something is wrong and that both cats are unhappy. The process of domestication facilitates social interaction of cats with other cats and humans. They participate in family functions. We perpetuate these kitten qualities through ongoing care and play with them. The kitten matures physically, but mentally retains kitten-like behavior. Cats that retain kitten-like behavior adjust to and probably prefer group living.

Some people describe cats as untrainable. Again that’s from the human perspective. What makes a cat appear untrainable is the fact that it will perform what it was trained to do on the basis of whether or not it wants to do it. Because the cat is not a pack animal, there is no inherent need or desire for the cat to comply with anyone’s wishes but its own. We humans have a difficult time accepting this because we relate as pack animals. A social group has a set of hierarchies and each individual has its place.

Dogs respond to peer pressure. Because dogs can be bullied and intimidated into obedience, we expect that the cat should too. If you try to train a cat using pain-avoidance techniques that are often used in dog training, the only «pain» the cat will avoid is you! Thus making the cat appear aloof and untrainable. As an editorial note, I strongly disapprove of punishment in dog training. Fighting for dominance is rare. Cats are more likely to fight to defend their territory.

Cats generally do not like confrontation. They go to extremes to avoid one another in order to avoid possible confrontation. Free ranging cats frequently have overlapping territories with a network of shared pathways. If one cat sees another cat on the path, he will wait until that cat is gone before going any further himself. If the two cats see each other at the same time, either they will both try to out-wait the other, or one or both will turn around and return the way they came. They will go through this ritual of avoidance even if one cat has already established itself as dominant over the other. Cats do not use their dominant or subordinate rank to control each other.

A dominant cat will allow a subordinate cat to pass first on the pathway. A dominant cat will not take food away from a subordinate cat. Cats seem to prefer non-confrontation. If a confrontation does occur, it is usually a noisy ritual of aggressive displays, rather than actual tooth and nail combat. Socialization in kittenhood has a pronounced and long lasting effect on the cat’s personality. If a kitten is raised in a large active home with several children, other pets and frequent visitors coming and going, then as an adult, it will readily accept strangers.

If the cat grows up in a quiet home with a single owner, then as an adult, it will most likely react adversely when approached and touched by strangers. If you want your cat to socialize freely and happily, you must give it plenty of opportunity as a kitten to socialize and play with different people, friendly cats and dogs. Most kittens are not threatened by strangers, so socializing them is easy. It is essential that these early experiences are fun and rewarding. If your cat has a terrifying experience as a kitten, then it will most likely remain fearful of these events into adulthood. Don’t wait until your cat is in emergency need of veterinary attention before getting it used to a veterinary exam. Don’t wait until your cat’s hair is matted before getting it used to being groomed.

Start socializing and getting your cat used to being touched and handled before your cat has any unpleasant experiences. To assure that your cat doesn’t become permanently frightened of strangers, vet exams, grooming procedures, etc. For adult cats that already feel threatened by the presence of strangers, the socialization process is much more time consuming. If your cat is nervous around people, don’t let these people approach your cat. They will just further frighten him. You should also not force your cat to meet strangers. Instead, give your cat the opportunity to approach the stranger on his own. It may take hours, it may take weeks. But until your cat approaches on his own terms, and finds that nothing bad happens, he will not develop his own confidence to trust people. You can speed up the process by starting with a hungry cat and a trail of extremely tasty treats leading up to the stranger.