How do cats learn by imitating?

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Although there is some debate about the exact sequence of learning in cats, it’s clear that from kittenhood, cats employ a combination of observation, imitation, and trial and error to problem solve and to learn new skills. Kittens, for instance, learn hunting skills by watching and imitating their mothers.

Two cats living in the same household will “teach” each other how to perform various activities and skills. For instance, if one cat learns how to open a drawer or cabinet, it won’t be long before the other one knows how to do the same thing.

As predators, cats are very much “show me the money” kind of creatures. They do things that in their estimation delivers a return on their investment. This may simply be the nosy satisfaction of finding out what’s behind a closed cabinet door, or it may be specifically getting to the food they can smell behind that door.

Cat owners insist their clever companions also learn from observing them. Without question a cat’s individual personality and the degree of interaction with its human plays a role in this sequence. But the phrase “copycat” did develop for a reason.

It would appear that cats are also capable of extrapolation, so they imitate themselves as well. If one action worked for one problem, the cat is very likely to try the same tactic in a new situation and then, through trial and error, adapt its methods.

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