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Home > Cats > Can Cats Learn From Their Mistakes? Learning Behavior Explained

Can Cats Learn From Their Mistakes? Learning Behavior Explained

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Cats are not so unusual from other animals that live on this earth. While humans utilize logic to try and keep themselves out of trouble, cats and other animals tend to use caution, instinct, and survival skills to outsmart their enemies and predators. These same skills are typically used when interacting with human companions and other pets in a household. So, one day, you may find that your curtains are torn up because your cat was trying to get away from the family dog.

You might also notice that your cat seems to do the same silly things repeatedly, just to get the same results. Some would call that the definition of “insanity,” but when it comes to cats, it’s just a fact of life. With all these things in mind, you might be wondering whether cats can learn from their mistakes. The short answer is yes, they can learn from mistakes. However, there is more to it than that. Let’s explore the topic here.


It’s Important to Understand How Cats Learn

Cats do not learn the way that we humans do. We understand right from wrong at an early age because it is driven into us by our caregivers, and it’s also inherited from our ancestors, who knew how to behave properly in a society that judged people who acted inappropriately in any way. We cannot expect cats to have the same instincts and genes that would help ensure proper behavior in a social setting.

Cats learn by understanding when something that they do results in dire consequences and when it produces awesome results. For example, if you discipline your cat every time they scratch the couch, they will likely stop doing so after a while. If you pet your cat every time they lie down next to you, they will likely start lying near you more often.

So, in a sense, cats can learn from their mistakes — just not usually on their own. There is almost always another person or animal involved when a cat learns a lesson to not do something again. Many times, a cat will continue falling off ledges and stinging itself on cactus plants. However, when a human goes to reprimand them or a dog chases them down, they quickly learn what not to do and where not to go.

Woman training a cat
Image By: DimaBerlin, Shutterstock

Your Cat’s Guilty Look Doesn’t Usually Mean They Feel Guilty

Just because your cat has a guilty look on their face does not mean they actually feel guilty about something that they have done. Instead, they likely look guilty because they just happen to have that kind of look or because they know that you are not happy in the moment. Cats can sense many of the emotions of their human companions, including anger and happiness, even when their humans aren’t trying to emphasize those emotions. So, their guilty looks are likely unintentional or due to their capacity to understand your disdain or unhappiness.

Do Cats Really Learn From Their Mistakes?

By expressing your emotions and reprimanding your cat (in a non-abusive way, of course), you may be able to help your cat learn from their mistakes. However, they can’t expect to learn from any mistakes that they make where the consequences are not immediate and can be associated as a consequence of certain behavior. Anything that immediately makes your cat feel sad, uncomfortable, hurt, or afraid will teach them a lesson about whatever it is that they’re doing. Water spray is usually the best way to send a clear message without hurting a cat or your relationship with them.

A cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit By:, Shutterstock


A Quick Recap

Cats can learn from their mistakes but only at their own pace. You can help out by making sure there are clear consequences whenever they do something that you don’t want them to, but this consequence has to be immediately after the undesired behavior. Otherwise, they will just have to figure things out on their own. Avoid punishing your cat and harming your relationship, positive reinforcement is a way more efficient way of learning.

Featured Image Credit: Tanya Plotnikova, Shutterstock

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