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Answer by Diane Meriwether, “Wow, my cat really likes you!”:
One of the ironies of cat behavior is how cats are attracted to people who don’t like them. By deconstructing the behavior of cat haters, we cat lovers can learn a thing or two.
When humans don’t care for cats, they try to avoid looking at them and at the same time keep an eye on them. They want to make sure that the cat isn’t coming … Oh damn, here it comes, rubbing on my leg, jumping in my lap, purring.
Let’s look at this from the cat’s point of view. All aggression in the feline world starts with staring. Polite cats are demure; they look briefly and then look away. So when you meet a cat you want to be friends with, note its location in the room and avert your eyes.
When humans don’t like cats, they try not to pet them. If the cat comes over, the person might instinctively pet it once, then he withdraws his hand and hopes the cat will go away. Of course, playing hard-to-get with a cat is one of the best ways to make friends. So if you want to be friends with a new cat, let it approach, offer your knuckle, and let the cat get your smell and pet itself against you (she will push into your knuckle and run her cheek along it). Then ignore her for a couple minutes while she sniffs your legs.
Once the cat has decided you are worthy, you can move to the next step: the full-stop pet. To do this, stroke the cat from the top of its head all the way off the tail. As you reach the end, gently cup your hand around the tail and continue the stroke as if the tail was 3 or 4 inches longer than it is. Do this just once. The cat will expect you to start another stroke at its head—but you don’t. This unmet anticipation gets into the cat, like a repeating song lyric, and it will all but demand you pet it again. After a few minutes, you can do so, maybe even two or three times. The goal is to interrupt the petting when the cat expects more. Dirty pool—but very effective.
Finally, when you see a cat the second time, nod your head subtly at it when you enter the room. The cat will probably move its head in a similar way. Go through the demure look, the presentation of the knuckle, and the full-stop pet. At this point you are acquaintances with promise. You are ready to take it to the next level: the long blink.
In this movement, wait until the cat is across the room from you. Look at the cat with soft eyes until it looks at you, and the second it does, begin a long, slow blink. You want to keep your eyes closed long enough that it’s clear you are not normal blinking, but not so long that you seem to be falling asleep. If the cat believes you are a friend, it will long-blink back at you (cats do this properly so use her timing the next time you long-blink). You can do this back and forth a couple times.
From the cat’s point of view you are saying, “I trust you enough to close my eyes in your presence.” For a prey animal that fancies itself a significant danger, this is the equivalent of saying, “I love you.”
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