Some very clever cats are able to recognise and imitate human actions on command — even better than some dogs — a study has reported.
Hungarian researchers worked with an 11-year-old kitty named Ebisu, who had been taught by her dog-trainer owner to copy her using the so-called 'do-as-I-do' method.
This is a training regime long-applied to canines, in which the trainer says a command (i.e. "Do as I do!") before undertaking a particular actions.
The trainer then follows up with a second command (such as, say, "Do it!") to prompt the animal to mimic the displayed action in order to get a reward — such as a treat.
Very few animals are able to perform the copy-cat trick — although, alongside dogs, it has also been observed in apes, dolphins and killer whales.
However, this is the first time that such behaviour has been formally observed in a cat and written up in the scientific literature, the team claimed.
Nevertheless, the researchers believe this ability in cats is likely not limited to Ebisu.
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Some very clever cats are able to recognise and imitate human actions on command — even better than some dogs — a study has reported. Pictured, Ebisu the cat watches her owner, Fumi Higaki, in preparation to repeat the latter's action
Hungarian researchers worked with an 11-year-old kitty named Ebisu, who had been taught by her dog-trainer owner to copy her using the so-called 'do-as-I-do' method. Pictured: after owner Fumi Higaki rubbed her face against a cardboard box (left) Ebisu does the same (right)
'Our experiment provides the first evidence that the Do as I Do paradigm can be applied to cats,' wrote animal behaviour expert Claudia Fugazza of the Eötvös Loránd University and colleagues in their paper.
'Based on the cat’s performance, we argue that she has the ability to map the different body parts and movements of the human demonstrator into her own body parts and movements, at least to some extent,' the team added.
'The ability of reproducing the actions of a [human] in well-socialized cats may pave the way for future studies addressing cats’ imitative skills.'
Dr Fugazza first met Ebisu's owner — Ichinomiya, Japan, resident and dog trainer Fumi Higaki — as a result of her work into canine cognition.
When Ms Higaki told the researcher that she had also trained Ebisu — who she added had always been 'exceptionally motivated for food', making her ideal for instruction — Dr Fugazza was keen to see the behaviour, Gizmodo reported.
In fact, Ebisu only took five months to master imitation, Ms Higaki told the team.
Following 18 tests — which the researchers recorded a slight distance away from Ebisu, who is wary of strangers — they found that the cat successfully imitated Ms Higaki behaviour when prompted 81 per cent of the time.
The actions Ebisu emulated included spinning around, touching a toy or cardboard box, opening a small drawer or laying down.
The team noted that when Ms Higaki did actions that were not particularly cat-like — such as raising both hands up in the air — Ebisu was able to figure out how to perform a similar manoeuvre