Pavlov’s Cat


Some twenty years or more ago, my brother came to visit us for a long weekend and he brought with him a few presents and his own agenda. When he presented us with a gift for our first wedding anninversary, I ought to have been suspicious but being the polite soul I am, when I opened it I thanked him as graciously as I could, given that he’d decided a desk bell was the perfect gift for an almost-newly-wed couple. That was where his agenda began.

In some ways it wasn’t so much a present for us as a device to torment our cat, Watson.

   “I’m going to train him,” my brother said confidently.

  “Good luck with that,” I said. Dubious is my middle name some times

“Like Pavlov’s dogs, only with your cat,” he continued. “I reckon cats aren’t much different from dogs…”

He’d also bought a bag of expensive cats treats that one friend described as being like cocaine for cats. His grand idea was to ring the bell and give Watson a treat and that over a short period of time the cat would come when the bell was rung. He hadn’t planned on measuring salivation but the cat appearing at the sound of the bell was his main goal and over the weekend, it worked beautifully. If Watson was in earshot of the bell, he’d be in and waiting for his cocaine  treat.

My brother left on Monday deeply satisfied that he’d trained my cat. I admit I had been surprised that Watson had fallen so readily into his plan but I guessed that was the power of those rather delicious treats. Not so.

Shortly after I had come back from saying goodbye to my brother at the station, the true events of the weekend came to light. I didn’t work on Mondays so I was upstairs sorting out laundry when I heard something downstairs. Now, I was alone in the house and no one had access to the house except me and my husband, himself at work by that point.

The bell was ringing.

A few minutes previously, I had heard the cat flap open and Watson had come in from whatever hunting expedition he’d been on. Now we used to keep Watson inside at night because at the time catskinners roamed the area catching cats to skin for the fur trade, but the cat flap had been one with a lock. The lock had taken Watson ten minutes to figure out and he’d let himself straight out so we had been forced to manually block it at night to stop him getting out. The flap remained open until about ten or eleven at night and opened around 6.30am. Normally, he was off out all day hunting and only came home for meals or if it rained. This was around ten o’clock, so he’d come home for other reasons and when I came downstairs, I saw why.

Watson was perched on the shelf where we’d left the bell and the bag of treats. He’d carefully opened the bag and had one paw resting on the bell and as I watched, he raised the paw carefully and struck the button to make the bell ring, then he put his head into the treats and ate one.

Ding-munch, Ding-munch.

I watched in growing understanding for about thirty seconds before Watson raised his head and still chewing, gave me a look of such unmistakeable contempt that had he been human, he would have made a gesture with either one finger or two depending on nationality. He hit the bell one last time and walked off, still chewing.

That was the last time anyone tried to train that cat.

(For more tales of the ginger fury, please read: )

24 thoughts on “Pavlov’s Cat

  1. Watson’s a true cat. I always believed that cats were smarter than dogs – but then I met Ms. Oorvi and she proved me wrong.

    I wonder whether Watson was trying to “train” you to COME whenever he rang the bell?

    About Watson being Pavlov’s cat – I believe he’d have run Pavlov up the wall and out of the skylight:)

    Warm Regards,


    • I think he probably was trying to bend us to his will and my brother was a perfect sap!
      Overall cat and dog intelligence is impossible to compare because dogs have an inbuilt willingness to cooperate with us and cats don’t. Google Moscow cat circus and see what comes up; very interesting..


      • I found some video clips (Moscow Cat Circus) – Those cats are fantastic – and the best trick was the one in which they polish off the man’s lunch!



      • One of my cats can walk on his hind legs, but its only if he wants you to stroke his head. Watson was very good at manipulating things, including turning on taps, opening doors by the handle, raiding the fridge….but his best trick was eating an entire rat, from the nose…crunch crunch crunch, right down to the tail and then with a noise that sounded very like Pttoooey! spitting out the intact gall bladder and leaving it for one of us to tread on in bare feet the next morning…


      • Quantum Mechanics…that’s interesting:)

        Michael Crichton’s Novel Timeline ( explores the (so far) fictional use of the Quantum Foam to travel through parallel worlds.

        Schrodinger’s cat?!

        From Wikipedia:
        “The quantum-mechanical “Schrödinger’s cat” paradox according to the many-worlds interpretation. In this interpretation every event is a branch point; the cat is both alive and dead, irrespective of whether the box is opened, but the “alive” and “dead” cats are in different branches of the universe, both of which are equally real, but which cannot interact with each other.”

        Thus, we all are Schrodinger’s cat…aren’t we?

        (Dear Readers of Viv’s blog – If I sound like I’ve gone crazy – don’t blame me – blame Quantum Foam. “Quantum Foam makes me Roam…”)

        Warm Regards,


      • I love playing with mad ideas…the idea of parallel worlds fascinates me. I wrote one novel(and it wasn’t a sci fi novel or fantasy) where the events of one universe spill over into another to the distress and eventual healing of the heroine.
        Personally, i am Schrodinger’s guinea pig but I take the point!


    • That should’ve been “whether Watson was trying to “train” you to COME looking whenever he rang the bell?”

      What was I thinking?!

      Will you please make the correction, Viv or my dog will make fun of me:-(

      Before I spam your blog…
      Good Bye!


    • he was a philosophical cat and just shrugged and went out, caught a big rat, dragged it in alive through the cat flap and had a big game hunt through the whole house….N killed it in the end because Watson lost interest!


  2. Watson is one cool cat.

    But, I have trained my cats to come running to the sound of the bell for feeding. It helps if you start when they are young.

    simply ring the bell right after a cat starts to much his or her food. Works great with wet food. I’d ring it about 3 times at each meal for a day or two.

    Next time they are outside and you open a can, just ring and if they are nearby, they will come running.

    michael j


    • He was a fabulous cat; gone now almost ten years.
      I have two cats now, who are brothers, and are 11 years old. Neither has ever been an outdoor cat; where we lived when we got them, the road was a killer, so we decided they were to be indoor cats. They have been happy with this and it has meant that the heartbreak I suffered when some evil bastard deliberately ran over my beloved William has not been repeated. I would have shot the evil son of a bitch in the face if I had ever found him; I had my suspicions but no proof.
      as J would say, *and breathe *.
      Funny how some memories still bring back such powerful feelings of hatred; William died in 1998!


      • We are their protectors, are we not?

        I understand how much love one feels for another being not human. They give so much of themselves to us unconditionally. The least we can do is honor their efforts and kill any son of a bitch that dares to cause harm to any one of ’em.

        michael j


      • I am relieved. I am a peaceful, non-violent sort of gal but I was horrified how much anger I still have against whoever killed William. He once defended me physically by attacking someone who was attacking me verbally.


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