Rae and Cats
"Rachel Givin with her cats in Pullman Washington"

Trait Pairs

The Cat Purrsonality Temperament Type Sorter is designed to test which of 4 pairs of traits your cat most often exhibits. The trait pairs were chosen to represent the range of response for a cat's approach to:

  • a new environment - Bold or Cautious
  • interaction with others - Social or Aloof
  • a difference of opinion - Defiant or comPliant
  • communication - Vocal or Quiet

This produces 16 possible temperament types. These 16 types provide enough complexity to categorize the tremendous variety of feline temperaments you are likely to encounter with emphasis on those aspects of temperament most likely to impact relationships.

Bold or Cautious

When exposed to something new how does your cat respond? Almost all cats will eventually investigate a new space or a new object placed in a familiar space. Cats are curious creatures by nature. However each cat differs in the style of investigation conducted. At the extremes there are cats so bold as to be reckless or so cautious that they will become ill hiding under the bed rather than chance an encounter with the unknown environment of a busy new household. Experience may teach the bold kitty caution, and familiarity may allow the cautious kitty to behave more boldly, but each will generally approach new environments with a natural inclination for boldness or caution.

The bold cat appears to thrive on novel experiences. He likes to be where the action is. His postures generally reflect his confident attitude. Standing tall, tail up, ears forward, he marches about his domain. The bold kitty is one who goes forth with confidence in the nature of an explorer, ready to take on what ever challenges he encounters. People are often attracted to a bold cat. He is the cat that will most likely be described as "dog-like" by those who value canine behaviors and use the dog as a yard stick for measuring the ideal pet. He is the cat who stands tall and either greets you or calls you to him. A bold cat is less likely to panic and run at a loud noise or clapping of hands. He may even find the vacuum cleaner an object of interest rather than fear and loathing.

The cautious cat on the other hand prefers the familiar. He will seek a safe hiding spot when placed in a new environment. Even in a familiar environment the cautious cat will have safe zones. His resting areas will tend to be where he can slip off easily to a safe zone if any unexpected intrusions occur. The cautious cat generally maintains a lower profile. He is more of a scooter than a marcher. The cautious kitty is one who feels that careful, thorough investigation is warranted before any action is taken. He likes to know what is around the next corner before putting himself at risk. He prefers to have an escape route in mind as he advances his position. The cautious cat likes to be sure that you are someone he knows and can trust before he gets too close.

A bold or cautious nature is often the easiest of temperament traits to evaluate in a cat. Most people have a sense of the relative level of self confidence their cats exhibit. All other temperament attributes will be affected by the relative boldness or caution that a cat exhibits. It is important to consider this when evaluating behavior.

Social or Aloof

This temperament pair addresses a cat's interest in companionship and physical contact with others. Specific choice of companion(s) will be influenced by many factors, including prior experience, opportunity, and compatibility. Exposure to other species during the "socialization" period of 2 to 7 weeks of age facilitates later interaction but does not guarantee that an individual cat will be interested in social interaction with any of them. Just as some people enjoy contact with many people, and others prefer to be alone. Some cats seem to seek out social interaction and others barely tolerate it.

The social cat is interested in interaction with those around her. He or she will often initiate contact especially if he or she is also a bold kitty. Social cats choose to share a space even when there is plenty of room to distance themselves from social interaction. In multiple cat households the social cat will likely have a buddy or two. He or she may even get chummy with the dog. Social cats are more likely to sleep with companions and engage in mutual grooming behavior. They like interactive play. Chase and wrestling games are favorites. The social cat will tend to follow a human companion to the bathroom and kitchen. He or she will often be found sleeping or sitting in the same room with you. He will take an interest in what ever you are doing, watching closely to make sure you are doing it right or may actually try to participate. Social cats are more likely to play 'fetch-and-throw' games with their owners. (i.e. interactive play) Social cats seem to enjoy physical contact such as petting, lapsitting, bunting (face rubbing and head butting).

The aloof cat, on the other hand, likes his or her privacy. Comfortable social distances are probably greater than those of a social cat. The aloof cat tends to play alone, inventing games to amuse himself or to practice his skills. Aloof cats may resent the intrusion of others (people or cats) and walk away from a game he was quite enjoying up until then. In multiple cat homes the aloof cat seeks privacy over companionship. The aloof cat may seem like a boarder in your home, showing up for meals and a place to sleep, but otherwise leading his or her own independent life. Having a limited desire for interaction, the aloof cat may become attached to a specific individual and be a one person cat. When in need of intellectual stimulation, the aloof cat may enjoy sharing the space with you and show interest in what you are doing, but not actually participate. Aloof cats are less comfortable with physical contact. A bit of head scratching in brief polite encounters may be ok, but full body stroking may be seen as forward and rude. Too much physical contact may be over stimulating for an aloof cat.

Sociability is an important trait when you want to have frequent affectionate interaction with your cat. If you want a lap cat you need to make sure you find a cat who enjoys physical social interaction. If you are satisfied with a more intellectual relationship based primarily on mutual respect and non-interference, an aloof cat may fill the bill. When looking for clues that will indicate the likely temperament type of new feline acquaintance, all aspects of temperament will influence what behaviors you will observe. In order to assess sociability you must have an opportunity to observe the cat in an environment where he or she feels comfortable and secure.

Compliant or Defiant

This temperament pair reflects the degree to which an individual cat has the need or the ability to control the world around him. The compliant cat is all about conflict avoidance, while the defiant cat is all about control. When emotionally aroused, the preference for a fight, flight, freeze, or negotiation strategy is an aspect of this temperament trait. The extent to which a cat will accept our handling and bend to our will may change over the life of the cat and is influenced by prior experience, however, a fundamentally passive or active style of response does tend to remain consistent for an individual cat. For some, resistance is the first option considered, for others it is the last.

The compliant cat is generally easy to work with. He has a broad tolerance for physical manipulation, or at least he chooses passive resistance over active defiance. Compliant cats generally adopt a 'go along to get along' attitude. Nail trimming, grooming, pilling and placement in a carrier are accomplished with little fan fare. You can usually pick up and hold a compliant cat. A cat that will allow a child to pick him up and then just hang there is most definitely a very compliant cat. Compliance has its limits in any cat. Previous negative experience or perception of hostile intent may provoke vigorous resistance in an otherwise easy going cat. The compliant cat just allows a greater latitude before becoming unruly or aggressively defensive.

The defiant cat on the other hand is more easily provoked to active resistance. Whether fearful or angry the defiant cat resists manipulation and wants to be in control. The defiant cat often resents and actively resists confinement. Although some cats will become hysterical in the face of adversity and loss of control, indications that your cat has a defiant nature may actually be subtle. Most cats will bow to the superior size and ability of human beings to control situations and individuals. (at least for the moment) Whether a cat concedes the battle with a willing grace or a grudging acceptance is often the key when assessing this trait.

It has been my experience that cats are better at training human beings than human beings are at training cats, therefore a cat who prefers to be in charge can be difficult for most people to handle. Most of the time it is easy to just allow your cat to have his way. Cats are fairly reasonable in their expectations. It is only in those instances when a difference of opinion results in conflict, like a trip to the veterinarian, that a defiant nature makes things more difficult.

Vocal or Quiet

How does your cat let you know what he wants or how he is feeling? Understanding what your cat is saying to you, be it by the set of his ears, the position and movement of his tail, a growl, a meow, or a look on his face is very important. Our interaction with individual cats is greatly influenced by the communication style of that individual. Some cats are talkers, others rarely speak above a purr. The vocal repertoire available to cats actually exceeds that of dogs, but individual cats vary greatly in the volume and variety of sounds that they routinely use. The tendency for some cats to utilize vocalization instead of, or to augment gesture definitely varies from individual to individual. Those who vocalize a lot around people are perhaps, attempting to accommodate our human preference for verbosity. Do "talking" cats tend to talk to other cats as well? Some inter cat relationships are certainly more vocal than others.

Vocal cats attract our attention both in positive and negative ways. Even an extensive vocal repertoire does not guarantee that a cat can make a person understand what he means to say. A vocal cat can make some scary noises that reflect his level of anxiety. He may be threatening you, or maybe he is just questioning your intentions, and not actually intending violence. Vocal cats tend to speak when spoken to. They are likely to meow or chirp when touched, and often call to get your attention. Expressing their opinions out loud is common and they may even seem to walk about talking to themselves. A vocal cat probably feels that you need constant encouragement when you are preparing his meal and meows enthusiastically.

Quiet cats communicate primarily with gesture, expression and posture. Most cats are probably very good at reading and speaking this "sign language", but most human beings are not. Quiet cats in a busy household may escape notice altogether. A quiet cat may not make a sound of warning but may still be ready to blow up and rip your face off. Laid back ears and a violently swishing tail may be all the warning you get. To get our attention a quiet cat may touch you, or knock something off a table to get you to look his way. Once he has your eye a 'drop-and-roll'manuver may be used to invite a caress, or he may gesture then move in the direction he wants you to come.

Recognizing communication style on a scale from vocal to quiet, therefore, rounds out the feline temperament profile.

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