Why Does The Cat Raise Its Tail?

I’m looking forward to the possibility of a “blog-a-log” that might develop between Lee Kelley and Dr. John Bradshaw at Psychology Today. Especially since these questions of why animals do what they do I believe help illustrate the distinction between attraction and intention.


I also look forward to reading Bradshaw’s new book, in particular to see how my theory fares against what I’m sure will be a state-of-the-art synthesis of the latest evidence. (Perhaps this book might be the first grist for a “Book of the Month.”) But for now I’d like to put my two cents in on the question he raises in his blog as to why domestic cats raise their tails in an encounter whereas wild cats do not (a comparative distinction I was not aware of).
My theory is that the domestication process is a subset of evolution, it’s not something man does to animals, rather, man merely speeds up the underlying core processes. In other words, there isn’t natural versus artificial selection process because the domestication of any given species is predicated on a natural template. (For example a chemist might concoct a new and exotic compound never found in nature but it will still be predicated on the laws of nature that govern chemistry.) This is consistent with the fact that we just can’t domesticate any animal, and we’ll never be able to develop a domestic cat as multipurpose or morphologically diverse as the domestic dog. Because of this, the specific ancestral relationship between wolf and domestic dog isn’t the central question, the main point is what do dogs and wolves reveal about the core evolutionary process of natural selection.
First and foremost the domestication of any given species is to increase its emotional capacity,either by amplifying a species preyful aspect (fertility and meat production of herd animals) and/or predatory aspect (as in the aggressiveness and emotional persistence of dogs). When one aspect is increased through selective breeding, inadvertently so too is the other aspect so that the specie’s genome can remain in  balance. This is because in my view the body/mind is first and foremost an emotional battery so that if one polarity is amplified, so too is the other as an unintended consequence. (For example, as police service was selected for in German shepherds, so too was shyness and at a far higher proportion so that we get far more shyness than service when the opposite should be the case since only boldness is being selected for.) Thus domestic cows render more milk and meat , grow faster and are more fertile than their wild ancestors and will freely breed in captivity, with the domestic bull ending up far more aggressive as well. This phenomenon can be somewhat be encompassed with the notion of neotony (the retention of infantile traits into adulthood, note however that when an animal is selected to be cute, it’s really due to an amplification of its preyful aspect) but as I argue in “Your Dog Is Your Mirror;” neotony and sexuality are intimately intertwined as but elaborations of the underlying emotional battery. In other words if the physical/neurological circuitry related to hunger can find focus on the form of a thing, which is the essence of what a puppy is and why they are so social, this is a state of sexual attraction (hunger for form) as a higher level of elaboration upon that platform. (It’s not coincidental that the words carnivore and carnal are just as inextricably intertwined as the predator/prey modality is with sexuality.) And since the fundamental function of sexuality is to render the phenomenon of sensuality far more than it is about reproduction, this means that the greater the emotional capacity that’s selected for by amplifying the preyful or predatory aspect, the more attracted and less fearful of human beings that is also being selected for. Thus, the cattle rancher can safely tend his herd and the “Running of the Bulls” will never lose its adrenaline rush for the runners.
The capacity to perceive the predatory aspect in conjunction with the preyful aspect, allows emotion as a force of attraction to find coherent expression through adaptive behavior. So a domestic cat raises its tail as it approaches another cat or a human being for the same reason a white tail deer raises its tail when it sees the wolf, as a state of sexual attraction that is preliminary to a potential sensual, tactile pleasure. The cat feels good by being in the presence of another by way of the tacticle sensual pleasure the physical contact engenders. In the case of the deer, the emotional state of attraction is going to collapse, unless it is in rut, because the emotional capacity of the deer is far less than the cat. The deer looking at the wolf is going to have to get its ya-yas out by running.

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Published May 11, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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11 responses to “Why Does The Cat Raise Its Tail?”

  1. PowerRanger says:

    It’s a bit like a debate between an astrologist and an astronomer. The astrologer (Kelly) is not bound by reason, logic, evidence, science or anything else. He can blather on about “energy”, unseen forces and influences and will defend that position with rhetoric because they lack facts

    Bradshaw is a scientist and would never make the wild, irresponsible claims we see in Kelley’s blog. He is bound to follow the evidence, not just his own but the evidence and principles in all sciences. Unlike Kelly, he doesn’t have the luxury of making stuff up.

  2. kbehan says:

    Of course Dr. Bradshaw is a first rate intellect (as is LCK) and a highly trained scientist. Yet I can disagree with him without disparaging his analytical faculties. I look at animal behavior through a different lens and with a different set of assumptions, i.e. attraction versus intention. In my view, this will prove to be more a more reasonable and logical synthesis of the evidence. Toward that end, I suggest we excerpt certain passages from his book “Dog Sense” and see if the logic holds up. Lee and I can repeat the logic of those we disagree with, but you cannot repeat the logic of NDT.

  3. Adam Silverman says:

    I thought the hunger circuitry was geared towards essence, not form. Can you elaborate upon this? I need the play by play.

  4. kbehan says:

    Excellent question, thank you for paying such close attention. When a dog projects its e-cog into the form of the thing, and then the thing moves and the dog experiences this external movement as if its own physical center of gravity is moving, and furthermore this movement is being processed via its hunger rather than its balance circuitry, this sense of internal movement is sexual energy, in other words, hungering for the form of the thing because the essence within the form is being felt as pure movement and without any old memories of pain/collapse/stress being evoked by the resistance of the form. So now the form is like the texture containing the essence, and breaking down the form is arousing rather than triggering electrical-like sensations of stimulation that impinge on a sense of equilibrium. The balance circuitry has now elaborated into a tuning device rather than an overload circuit breaker. So I predict that if Panskeep were to train his research tools in this direction, he would find that the exact same circuitry and “cognitive module” that derives pleasure from biting into a crispy yet soft centered pastry, would be what is activated in the sexual arousal to the forms of things. There is but one core emotional program that piggybacks on the most basic systems of life, hunger and balance, and then goes on incessantly to elaborate into even the most complex and sublime expressions of behavior.

  5. PR: “(Kelly) is not bound by reason, logic, evidence, science or anything else. He can blather on about ‘energy’, unseen forces and influences and will defend that position with rhetoric because they lack facts.”

    I would just like to point out that my articles for Psychology Today are all heavily based on reason, logic, evidence and sound, 21st Century science. Whenever I take positions that aren’t, I freely admit it. Meanwhile, your post is lacking in facts, logic, and evidence of any kind. In order to make your positions stronger, you should trying pointing out the flaws in my reasoning, if there are any, and the lack of evidence and scientific basis for my positions that you claim is or isn’t there.

    Merely characterizing (or mischaracterizing) mine or Kevin’s positions is a non-substantive, ad hominem form of debate.

    Be specific.


  6. PowerRanger says:

    Here is a nice example of LCK not knowing what he’s talking about. An ad hominem attack is directed toward the person, my criticism was aimed at the poor argumentation.

    Behan’s view of evolution does not reflect the reality. There is such a thing as artificial selection, and we’ve applied artificial selection in bacteria, plants, yeast and animals. This definition of “natural” is so all-encompansing it is worthless and by this standard there can never be anything in this or any universe that can ever be artificial. It also means that the ‘natural’ in natural dog training is superflous, since under your scheme it is impossible for any training to be artificial. Now the various industries can point to your flawless argument when people complain about artificial chemicals in their food, water, environment, etc.

    First and foremost, your view of domestication is not shared by anyone with a modicum of science literacy. It is also false that the domesticated bull is more aggressive {that its wild progenitor, I assume} I’d love to hear about the emotional aspect of domesticated rice, silkworms are also considered domesticated. Even if the comparison is to the female it remains insignificant as gender based behavioral differences are common in wild and domesticated animals. It should also be pointed out that the idea of a genome in balance doesn’t make any sense.

  7. kbehan says:

    If there is such a thing as artificial selection in the sense in which it is generally used, as in man creating a species, then there is no such thing as artificial selection in regards to the domestication of the dog. It is impossible for selective breeding to create a domesticated version of the dog, as for example by selectively breeding a cat, when in fact it should be possible given the prevailing view of domestication and in light of the Russian silver fox experiment since that produced “friendly” specimens in a remarkably short time. I predict there will never be domesticated silver foxes integrating into mans’ world as is the dog.
    And if wild bulls are more aggressive than domesticated bulls, why don’t the matadors take them on (which indeed they would if they were more aggressive)? I predict they would end up having to chase them around the ring. Whereas the domesticated bull doesn’t need young to protect or female in heat to be aggressive on sight toward matador.
    If you want to explore the implications of emotion and domesticated plants, you can read Pollan.

  8. kbehan says:

    If you make the charge, where is the example of LCK making ad hominem attack?

  9. kbehan says:

    BTW, nature and consciousness is a mirror and so for example, charging someone with making ad hominem attacks without providing evidence, is making an ad hominen attack.

  10. PowerRanger says:

    Kevin, It was Kelly that falsely claimed I was making an ad hominem attack. I pointed out that the criticism was directed at his reasoning.

  11. PowerRanger says:

    Pollan’s silly book doesn’t support your thesis.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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