Wednesday 2 November 2011

Do cats learn from other cats?

Mum taught me - Photo by yajico
Yes, cats are "excellent observational learners". They can learn by watching another cat do something and they do this quite quickly. Kittens learn fastest when they watch their mother. This form of learning usually applies to learning hunting skills. The mother starts by bring dead prey back to the nest (den) and then live prey when the kittens are about four weeks of age. Thereafter the kittens might accompany their mother hunting and learn from that experience. If a kitten's mother is present when her kittens are being introduced and socialized to people, they learn more quickly. Kittens also learn social skills from observation. (1)

As humans are surrogate mothers, cats learn from us sometimes. An examples is opening doors. There are many examples of cats opening doors by depressing a door handle having jumped up to it. I remember a video of a cat watching TV. The program showed a boxing match. The cat was waving his arms around as if boxing. Individual cats might learn from watching TV.

Observational learning of social skills is important in groups as communication between cats is important for the well being and survival of the group. Cats learning from other cats is an efficient way to problem solve.

Cats who live together often teach each other certain forms of behavior. A typical example in a household is a new cat learning how to use the cat flap (door) by watching an existing cat use it. My older cat has taught my younger boy cat that the garden is safe to visit and certain parts are good places to rest and watch.

Although mother cat provides the main source of learning, other relatives and particularly fathers play a role. In colonies of ferals cats and multicat households learning social skills from parents and indeed other cats is important for the harmony of the colony.

Some commentators say that learning by watching is not so much about copying mother doing something but more about acting "as a stimulus for the cat to focus attention on the problems..." (2)

See: Cat Training Fundamentals | Cat Clicker Training


(1) The Welfare of Cats by Irene Rochlitz - ISBN-13: 978-1402061431

(2) The Cat It's Behavior, Nutrition & Health - ISBN 978-0-8138-0331-9

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