Cats Can Copy Human Behavior

Illustration demonstrating action and cat’s performance after “Do it!” Action A: (a) the owner raises her right hand and touches the box with it; (b) cat’s action scored as matching the demonstration of action A

4 October 2020

And now for something completely different — not a wild animal but a wild result.

Last week Science Magazine reported the first ever scientific proof that a cat can imitate human behavior. A Japanese cat named Ebisu demonstrated it in a “Do As I Do” experiment.

“Do As I Do” is a training technique in which the owner gets the pet’s attention, performs an action, and then says “Do It.” The animal learns that Do It means copy me and repeats the action.

Ebisu’s owner, Higaki, said the cat learned easily because of her high food motivation.

Higaki showed that Ebisu could copy familiar actions, like opening a plastic drawer and biting a rubber string. Then she asked the cat to imitate two new behaviors [for which she had not been trained]. While standing before Ebisu, who sat on a countertop next to a cardboard box, Higaki raised her right hand and touched the box. At other times, she bent down and rubbed her face against the box.

— Science Magazine Kitty see, kitty do: cat imitates human in first scientific demonstration of behavior

As you can see in the video, Ebisu watches her owner place her hand on the box and tap it. Her owner stands straight, then says “Do It.” Ebisu places her paw on the box and taps it, then immediately asks for a treat. Of course she gets one. Good Kitty!

In the photos below, her owner rubs her face on the box. So does Ebisu. Lead author Fugazza says this is remarkable because only dolphins, parrots, apes, and killer whales have so far been shown to imitate people

Illustration of demonstrating action and cat’s performance after “Do it!” command. Action B: (c) the owner bends down to rub her face on the box; (d) Cat’s action scored as matching the demonstration of action B

Skeptics say that Ebisu would have rubbed the box anyway. Really? Having lived with cats for most of my life I can tell you that getting a cat to do something on command is the tricky part.

Sadly Ebisu can no longer show off her talents. She got kidney disease this year and died in June. I know how hard that is. I’m sure Higaki misses her.

Read more about Ebisu at Kitty see, kitty do: cat imitates human in first scientific demonstration of behavior in Science Magazine.

(photos from Did we find a copycat? Do as I Do in a domestic cat (Felis catus) at Springer Link)

p.s. For a video of a dog trained to copy human behavior see the video in this article: Your Dog is a Copycat. The dog is even multi-lingual, trained in Italian but “Do it” in English. 😉

4 thoughts on “Cats Can Copy Human Behavior

  1. I used to have a tabby cat who would watch me intently, then try to pick things up with her paw the way I picked things up with my hand. She succeeded with a nickel and with a belt loop I had removed from a pair of jeans. The size, shape and weight of both things were just right for her to scoop under them and balance them on her upturned paw for a couple of seconds.

  2. I love the pause after the demonstration as the cat’s tail decidedly moves up and down. I’d like to know what the cat is thinking during that time.

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