How Cats Have Learned to Manipulate Their Humans
How did house cats go from roaming mountains to purring in our laps?
Everyone knows the history of dog domestication. It probably went something like this:
Thousands of years ago, a friendly human was cooking by a fire. The smell attracted some friendlier-than-normal wolves. They sat by the fire, maybe enjoyed some of the food, and hung out with the humans.
Over time, humans and wolves both evolved towards a mutually beneficial relationship. Wolves that were more companionable, enjoyed a scratch and a cuddle, and maybe were protective of their adopted human “pack” were given food and love. And humans grew to love and appreciate those friendly wolves right back.
Today, we’ve bred dogs to a variety of shapes, sizes, and functions. Truly humankind’s best friend.
But what about cats?
You might be tempted to believe they arrived in our lives, fully formed, with no influence from us. Perhaps one day a wildcat leapt into our lives and demanded some treats. They’d certainly like you to believe that. The fact is, it’s not far off the truth.
Experts agree that cats, true to form, domesticated themselves. Mice and rats have long followed humans, as people have a messy habit of leaving crumbs behind. Like the pied piper, this brought cats into our lives, too. Unlike dogs, who were selected and bred for specific traits, cats wandered into our lives 4,400 years ago for the promise of food and never looked back.
This might explain why some people believe cats aren’t truly domesticated. As William Burroughs wrote:
“The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.”
While some cats can be trained, it’s a lot harder to do than with dogs. When you call a dog’s name, she bounds over to you, tongue lolling out in a canine smile. When you call a cat’s name, he might stop washing a paw, stare at you for 10 seconds, before seeming to consider coming over to you.