by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Establishing trust means putting the needs of the cat first, and patiently keeping our desire to jump in, hug and cuddle to ourselves. Restraining our desires and feelings of no progress are well-rewarded when he chooses to be our friend.
Initial interaction is the getting-to-know you stage, where he learns about us and we learn what he can cope with at this stage. The aim is to gradually increase his ability to be around us, to increase his confidence, and to show that we are safe and caring.
Possibly the hardest part for us is to have no expectations beyond that we want him to be the best cat he can be. There are many reasons for the lack of trust, including a genetic disposition, so there is never any guarantee for turning every cat into a cuddly lap-cat or happy party-animal.
This phase takes the length of time he requires to feel comfortable and to learn to trust. Trying to force the pace usually makes him retreat, and the process takes longer. Our acceptance of his limits, and gently helping to overcome them to become more social, are more likely to speed up the process than frustration, anger or any form of rejection or punishment from our side.
Learn to read his body language, respect his space and the boundaries he sets. Always leave a pathway open to at least one of his hiding places, and allow him to hide when he feels the need. If he feels cornered or trapped, walk away quietly and leave him to recover.
Create a routine which includes fresh food and water, cleaning the litter tray, any other cleaning or sorting toys etc. That may be necessary, and allow for a short conversation. Do not interact physically unless he initiates the action; watch his body language and do not touch beyond what he is prepared to accept.
Ideally this routine should be executed a few times a day at roughly the same time. Gradually increase the time spent with him, or add an extra session for conversation purposes only – always adhering to his boundaries.
Our attitude and mannerisms impact on his ability to trust us. As far as possible, be careful and gentle in your movements, and speak calmly in a friendly conversational tone, without too many wild gestures.
When talking to him try to keep your profile as low as possible. Sit on a chair, bed or on the floor; lying down is always better although not always practical. When you can’t think of anything to say, read aloud from a book, newspaper, email, or discuss the latest cars, fashions or grooming tips. He is more interested, at this stage, in hearing you speak than the topic
The next step is to encourage physical interaction.