Monday, August 27, 2012

The Hand Monster AKA What I know - "hand play"

*insert dramatic monster type music here*

Whisppy wisely commented:
Hmm...we've always read that we shouldn't use our hands as toys for the cats or they'll learn that it's okay to bite them.
This is true. But there is a difference between treating your hand as a toy and trying to engage a kitty to interact with a human and helping it learn where the limits are.  Most people do "hand play" and let the cats play with their hands as they would toys and end up horribly scratched and bleeding because they don't speak / communicate what is happening to the cat in a language they understand.  The cat thinks it is all fun and games and just doesn't understand it is hurting you.

I take on as part of my job as foster mom to teach these kittens that human skin is quite fragile so they can interact more effectively and that if a warning bite or swipe ever needs to be taken with their human just how hard or how much claw can be given before it is no longer a warning and is a direct hit.

I know it is a lesson I am grateful my cats have learned.  There was one time I was trying to take a mat off my Jack and I was so intent on breaking the mat and getting it off that I wasn't paying attention to what it was doing to him. I thought I was being careful and considerate so I didn't bother to check in with him, figuring he would rather I be quick.  I was completely wrong.  I was hurting him and since he's not really a growler I need to be careful of his warning signs and this time I missed all of them.  He turned around and put his mouth over my hand and touched his teeth to my hand.  It was more then enough to get me to stop.  If I hadn't taught him I am sure that would have ended way worse - for both of us.

Since the kittens are still quite reluctant to interact with me, I need to give them something small to interact with so it is not quite so intimidating.  The clicking of my nails on the floor is very very enticing to a kitten and when the 'hand monster' is retreating from them they feel confident enough to stalk the prey.  When it goes towards them they back off not knowing what kind of damage can be done by this "hand monster".  And rightly so.  As both predator and prey, kittens have a LOT to learn about the world.  Advance and retreat, advance and retreat, and soon they learn that the hand monster isn't going to hurt them and there for must be prey or at least prey-ish.. and that builds confidence.  They then will paw at the hand monster.  Generally they don't use claws as they are just testing the waters and the last thing they want is to get a claw stuck in something that might hurt them.   When they paw and realize that they don't get hurt that builds confidence.  Then it becomes fun.  I stop when they get to the point of wanting to actually *kill* the monster..

When kittens get to the stage where they feel biting and scratching the hand is their next step, I will often let them, on a one on one basis, then employ the methods their siblings and mom will use to tell them they have gone too far.  I will stop all movement and say "ow" in a high pitched meow like tone.  When you get it right the kitten will stop biting and scratching and then lick you as if to say "sorry".  I have only had one kitten fail to learn this crucial lesson (either with me or his siblings and even from his mother) and since him I have generally gone around with out a scratch or bite mark on my hand no matter what stage the kittens are in.  Occasionally I'll get a scratch from an improper hold when trying to medicate, but that is completely my fault because I get overly cocky occasionally.  And OK, so I occasionally get a scratch on my leg, but that is my fault too, going into the kitten room with shorts on when they are at that climbing ANYTHING stage..

Learning this lesson along with some of the others I find it important to teach (like the take your kitten to work days I do) brings out the self confidence and assurance in the kittens that helps them deal with pretty much anything that comes their way.

I probably take my job of helping the kittens find their True Spirit a little too seriously, but I enjoy it.  Watching a cat totally accept their Mojo and blossom is as much fun as watching them learn to walk, watching them eat real live dead chicken for the first time, watching them learn they have a 'stranger danger suit" and that they have toes and a tail... :)


  1. This was an excellent post! My crew still loves to "attack" the hand and arm--even bunnykick--but they are always gentle and I've only ever been bitten or scratched when I crossed the anger line. Rupert in particular likes to disembowel my forearm, he flops over and waves hi paws in the air, waiting for the Monster Hand.

  2. Fabulous posting!
    I really appreciate you sharing all of your "hands on" know how!
    This was great.
    ✿•*¨`*•. ♥Abby♥Boo♥Ping♥Jinx♥Grace♥✿•*¨`*•.

  3. Another one here who loves this post. because I don’t like being attacked with the paw of doom, I now make it clear that my hand is only going to bring good things, like food, brush, scritches … Well that’s the plan! Except when I have to apply nasty gunk to back of neck and then I blame it on the latex gloves, which of course are nothing to do with me!!!

  4. What a great information. Using hand monster to build confidence and teach is a great idea. My boys are usually gentle with my hands, except for when they get very excited...

  5. I think you are doing a great job! I am very gentle with my human's hand and arm because the breeder did the same thing with me. Binga, OTOH, was a tough little ACC rescue when the humans got her... she is a different story!

  6. Wow, that's so informative! I've been trying to train Leo that biting my hand is a no no, I'm gonna try the high pitched ow! I learned from love and hisses to blow in his face when he bites, but he's not a baby any more, so I'm not sure it will work with him as well. Not that he's a big biter, but I'd prefer this giant cat not think my hand is a chew toy..
    Thank you for this post!!

  7. Great post! Scarlett is pretty gentle, but I did not do a good job establishing boundaries with Melly and she is really rough with her claws and teeth. I think it's too late now, unfortunately.

  8. This is very informative. We have had no problems with any of our cats with regards to biting and scratching us...except with Tutu. She has a tendency to play rough and we aren't sure if being orphaned from birth and raised as a single kitten has anything to do with it. I had hoped that the older cats could teach her appropriate cat manners, though it seem they tend to "give in" to her instead of reprimanding her.

  9. Jackson Galaxy just addressed this issue on his show recently. We always "hand played" with our first cat but never took it to the point that things would become dangerous.
    Good points!

  10. Thank you for taking your seriously (and not a little too ;-), kittens can be thankful you're there for them.

  11. Thank you for your comments to my question on Robyn's blog. I kind of chuckled when you said to say "ow." I do say "ow" because it really does hurt, but that's probably lost in the string of other words that follow. I have been using "no bite," and he knows what it means. He'll back off, then strike quick like a snake and run. That's when I say "ow" and the other short, expressive words. It's frustrating because he learned quite early to watch his claws, but I've not gotten anywhere with stopping the biting yet. I know I've avoided anything that might lead to a biting incident. You've inspired me to try to deal with this at a lower level and be consistent, and hopefully be able to stay away from angry confrontations.


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