Does ‘No’ Mean ‘No’ to Cats?

What do our cats hear when we ask them to kindly stop what they're doing?

I was working up in my home office when my fiancé walked in, holding Summer. He dumped her in my lap and I knew she had been misbehaving.

“What has she done now?” I asked.

“I’m trying to fix dinner but she won’t stay off the kitchen counter,” he complained. “I tell her no, but the moment I turn my back, she jumps up there again! And she’s quiet like a ninja, not noisy like the other one.” Binga is a counter jumper too, only she usually meows an announcement when she is doing something forbidden.

Later that night, the scenario was repeated (yes, I was still in my home office), only this time Summer was being too aggressive with the bedtime treats. She was all over my fiancé, and he wasn’t able to give Binga and Boodie their share. “She’s out of control!” he said.

Well, yeah, Summer’s a kitten and she’s a handful sometimes. So is Binga. (Boodie, in her attempt to be as invisible as possible, tends to behave.) But they know what “No” means and they obey. At least when I say it.

My fiancé has a problem with saying “No,” and the cats get it. There’s no power or force behind his reprimands. He’s the kind of guy that wants everyone to like him, and I think he is secretly convinced that saying no will make people – and cats – like him less. I say “No” like I mean it, and the cats all like me just fine. They know that when I say “No,” it means “Obey me right now,” and they do.

People who aren’t used to cats – and some that are – don’t realize how important it is to be firm with them. Being firm is not being mean. In fact, if the cat is endangering herself, you are protecting her. If you are one of those people who hate saying no to anyone, cats are going to walk all over you, your counters, and anywhere else you don’t want them to be. Cats don’t like you more or less, no matter how you say No. But if you wimp out when you are saying it, they won’t respect you.

Cats live in a world where other cats let them know what they think and they don’t waffle around. Even if they are pals, if one is getting on the other one’s nerves, the offending cat will get a growl, hiss or even a smack. Of course, as cat caretakers and humans who are ten times a cat’s size, smacking is completely off limits for us. But a firm No is the human equivalent of a growl or hiss, and when said with intent, they get it.

This is why cats pay attention to my Noes, and ignore my fiance’s … although after they’ve obeyed my No, they will probably misbehave the moment I am in another room and they think they can get away with it. Which is a whole ‘nother issue when it comes to cat behavior. But if you need a cat to stop doing something right now, say No and really mean it, and chances are they will listen.

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