If you’ve owned both dogs and cats, you’ll know one of the biggest differences between the two species is that our feline friends don’t seem to come when you call their names. And if they do wander over, it seems to be on their terms.
At least that’s been my experience over the years. As I sit here with Alfie, my ginger Maine Coon, I’ve been wondering whether other cat owners have had the same experience as me.
So I’ve been digging around for scientific proof to see if cats really do know their names but can’t be bothered to come when called (my own personal hunch) or if they actually don’t know.
In my investigation, I came across research done by Japensese scientists. In their study, a person would say four different nouns which had the same length. The scientists said the cat’s name to see if there was a different reaction when the animal heard its name. Four words, by the way, seems to be enough to get some sort of attention.
But what was the actual response to the cats’ names being called? The answer was that cats did know their name. This is is quite reassuring and yet frustrating at the same time. The researchers tested their theory on 78 domestic cats – some in their own home environment, others in a cat cafe.
Their research also showed that even when strangers called their names, the animals did turn their heads. Atsuko Saito from Tokyo’s Sophia University, who conducted the experiment, said that it was possible that the cats had associated their names being called with a reward.
Jennifer Vonk, a cognitive psychologist at Oakland University in Michigan, who wasn’t involved in the research, said that she had conducted a similar experiment but more from an anecdotal angle. In her study, she found that her cats generally did not respond to their names.
Tim Mitchell from Epsom, who last year took in two rescue cats, says he has had more success with cats responding to their names.
“When I call their names my cats will sidle up towards me but if they are busy playing they will completely ignore me.”
I also get a mixed response from Alfie and Pasha. It does sound like cats are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. They’ll choose to come when they want, not the other way round which is fair enough!