Late Night Feline Antics

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to stop attention-seeking behaviors.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: January 28, 2011, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: Our wonderful 6-year-old domestic longhair, Pistol, has a rather quirky habit of bringing things into our bedroom in the middle of the night -- a huge afghan that he dragged from the other side of our house, decorator pillows from other rooms, towels and a Christmas doll, just to name a few. When he gets them to our bedroom door, he cries and wakes us up. We are not mad, of course, but hope that you might be able to shed some light on why he does this and what he may be trying to tell us, if anything.

A: Pistol is probably dragging objects into your bedroom because he’s been inadvertently reinforced for his quirky activities. Most likely, you and your husband are reinforcing the behavior by interacting with him in some way when he brings you the odd gifts and then makes sure you are aware of them. Your smart, funny cat has effectively found a way to be the center of attention -- on his schedule. Responding to Pistol’s midnight offerings gives him the attention he is seeking. 

Although Pistol’s habit of bringing large presents into the bedroom is cute and comical, you might not welcome the behavior if you are trying to get a solid night’s sleep.

This attention-seeking behavior can be changed if desired. In order to stop it, both you and your husband need to be consistent when modifying the behavior. Although it sometimes might be hard to resist interacting with Pistol when he gifts you with household furnishings, both of you will need to fight the temptation if you want to stop the behavior. Otherwise, he will continue to bring you objects at midnight and stand over them crying for your attention.

Pistol’s comical behavior can be stopped by providing him with other activities he enjoys while simultaneously ignoring him when he engages in the unwanted behavior. Supply Pistol with interactive toys such as ball-and-track toys and puzzle boxes. Put treats he adores in treat balls and puzzle feeders, then place them in different areas of your house. Play with Pistol before going to bed, using Pam Johnson-Bennett’s play method that imitates the hunt

In addition to giving Pistol other activities to focus on, do not reinforce the unwanted behavior by interacting with him when he engages in his attention-seeking antics. Don’t be surprised if the behavior first escalates before it finally ceases. This is called an extinction burst. Since the behavior has worked in the past for Pistol, he will intensify his efforts in order to get your attention. After a few days of fruitlessly trying, he should finally stop when he realizes that his attempts aren’t paying off any longer. Be aware though, if you sometimes find Pistol’s attention-seeking behaviors cute and you interact with him while he’s doing them, he will continue his efforts for attention.

Everyone’s tolerance levels are different. Many people would not find the humor and fun in Pistol’s antics and, understandably, would want to stop the behavior. Others enjoy living with creative cats like Pistol, even if it means disrupted sleep.    

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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