Wednesday, April 7, 2010 11:50 AM

Are There Really No Bad Cats?

Many books have been written about how to change nasty behavior in cats. Some tips are better than others, certainly, and the general idea seems to be that you can change a cat's behavior simply through training. By necessity, these books have come down squarely on the "nurture" side of the famous "nature vs. nurture" debate, since there is not much you, as a cat owner, can do about the genetic makeup of your pet. The question is, though: Are they correct?

As usual, the answer is, "Yes, and No". Very few things in life are black and white; most are shades of grey. Something as complicated as animal behavior most assuredly fits into the latter category. I remember studying the nature vs. nurture theory in college psychology classes, and thinking how ridiculous it is to even suggest that all of one's essence stems from either genetics or the environment. Anyone with several decades on this planet and an ability to observe the behavior of others knows that every individual is a product of both her heritage and her background. It is true of people, and just as true of animals.

If I had to lean more in one direction than the other, though, I would definitely give environment more weight in the formation of an animal's nature than genetics. True, genetics are very important, so much so that breeders strive for those behavioral characteristics they know are desirable in certain breeds. Look through any book on cat breeds and invariably there are listed identifiable traits associated with particular breeds. Of course, none of these traits are "bad" ones, but you get the idea.

The question remains, though, whether you could place a cat bred for a mild temperament into an environment that would turn him into a hellion, and vice versa. I believe that this scenario is entirely possible, and, in fact, probable. We'll start off next week looking at this very issue, so tune in.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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