Moscow Cats Theater
November 27, 2009 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I was always taught that cats aren't possible to train; they do whatever they want. But everybody in Russia is used to it. It's just natural to see cats perform tricks.

The Yuri Kuklachev Cat Theatre was founded in 1990 and now has a company of over 120 cats.

Kuklachev: "The authorities thought 'What can a cat possibly say about Soviet power? The only thing a cat can say is MEOW!' It's an international language"

Moscow Cats Theater--meet the actors with and without a tail.
YouTube channel
posted by Stewriffic (62 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was attempting to train a cat this vey morning.

The cat won.
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on November 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I loved the blooper reel with the cats and elephants the best!
posted by cjorgensen at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2009


Shoulder cat. Amazing.
posted by Damienmce at 4:47 PM on November 27, 2009


In capitalist America, cats train you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:50 PM on November 27, 2009 [23 favorites]


Crap, I always mess something up. The first link doesn't go with the others. Sorry! Still, the cats are cool. I guess that's the real point.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:51 PM on November 27, 2009


Previously.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:52 PM on November 27, 2009


A few thoughts:
  1. This man's ideas intrigue me, and I would like to subscribe to his newsletter.
  2. If I tried to do half of these tricks with my cat, I'd be a dead man.
  3. Squeeee! Kitties!
  4. > In capitalist America, cats train you. If you ask me, it's the cats who have the theatre troupe trained. Then again, when dealing with felis domesticus, is there any way to really tell?

posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 4:54 PM on November 27, 2009


I have one cat ... but she has litters constantly. So there are a lot of cats to train

So you're telling me that those crazy cat ladies are just failed circus masters? Or simply hopeful for the return of the glory of Cat Circuses everywhere?
posted by filthy light thief at 5:02 PM on November 27, 2009


Cool tricks. A friend of mine has trained his cat to shake a paw, roll over, fetch a piece of crumpled paper, pull his dish out when he wants to eat, etc. Funny thing is, he won't do these right away, as a dog would. He pretends to ignore the request for thirty seconds to a minute, just to let you know that he's calling the shot.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:04 PM on November 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ninja Cat's got nothin' on this.
posted by tybeet at 5:09 PM on November 27, 2009


I always thought that cats couldn't be trained because, um, they're relatively unintelligent animals compared to dogs. Maybe I've just befriended the wrong cats in the past, but I swear mine hardly remembered their own name when I called for them.
posted by Sova at 5:11 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


ha! Unintelligent!

*pauses mid-post to feed cat who is glaring stonily from across room.* He has me so well-trained that I don't even need the verbal "MEOW" command anymore!!
posted by annathea at 5:17 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know if dogs are so much more intelligent, as much as they have a far stronger desire to please their owner.
posted by stavrogin at 5:20 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


You know the first time you watch the exorcist, and the little girl crabwalks down the stairs? That chill that runs down your spine, because of how terribly unnatural the act is?

That's how I feel watching a dozen house-cats obeying orders for the sake of entertaining humans.
posted by codacorolla at 5:21 PM on November 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine trained his cat to jump through a hoop, from one stool to another, in the manner of circus lions, using food rewards in the classical manner. The best thing was, she then taught her kittens.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:25 PM on November 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


Think those cats are talented, check out this one just days old.
posted by netbros at 5:43 PM on November 27, 2009 [20 favorites]


I had the privilege seeing the Moscow Cats Theatre -- the show was a blend of broad, slapstick clowning with truly amazing feats of "catness" -- whether climbing a 30 foot pole, repeatedly stealing a handkerchief from a pocket, jumping through hoops, riding skateboards...it was delightful.

My only fear was that the very Russian sort of comedy/clowning would be a bit lost on some of the audience, but during the show, the universal language of "meow" won the day. (Along with some very attractive assistants.)
posted by ltracey at 5:45 PM on November 27, 2009


The poor cats! Such abuse! Look at them!

They're performing tricks! And being fed! The Horrors!
Quick...call PETA!

SRSLY.
posted by cleancut at 5:56 PM on November 27, 2009


Tomorrow, PETA, led by Adolf something or other, will invade USSR. Mark my words.
posted by rainy at 6:12 PM on November 27, 2009


Cats are a lot more intelligent than dogs. They just do what they please. I always have to out-think my cats. If they want to get something, they'll always find a way to open drawers & cabinets or move small objects.

If a cat likes you, they can be as loyal as any dog. One of mine follows me around & won't let me out of his sight. As soon as I sit down, he's on my lap. He also loves to bring me "gifts" when he catches anything. This one was a former stray that I started feeding and eventually took in.
posted by mike3k at 6:13 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thank you for providing me with the denouement to an inside joke. This is totally priceless!
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:37 PM on November 27, 2009


I still don't believe it, these must be dogs in cat costumes, or something. You know, little well-trained chihuahuas that meow on commend and lap milk. I've never seen a cat do anything smarter than stare plainingly, so I remain skeptic as to their circus skills.
posted by Sova at 6:43 PM on November 27, 2009


I don't know if dogs are so much more intelligent, as much as they have a far stronger desire to please their owner.

Yep. It's like the saying: Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

I have three dogs and three cats, and I can attest to the fact that cats are as intelligent as dogs, just in different ways. Most dogs are people-pleasers and they devote their brain power to fulfilling their owners' wishes, whereas cats are busy plotting to take over the world.
posted by amyms at 7:16 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


This recently came up in AskMe, but you can also see some amazing and adorable trained cats in Las Vegas, at Gregory Popovich's Comedy Pet Theater. (YouTube)
posted by KatlaDragon at 7:37 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everyone in South Florida has heard of Dominique and his Flying Housecats. He's an eccentric French street performer in Key West who forces his cats to perform tricks and jump through flaming hoops, much to the general confusion and entertainment of onlookers. The whole thing is just surreal enough to be entertaining. Highly recommended.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:41 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know if dogs are so much more intelligent, as much as they have a far stronger desire to please their owner.

I call bollocks. Dogs are just like any other creature: they do the least required in their mind to get what they want.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:51 PM on November 27, 2009


Balanchine was famous for training his cat, Mourka. Well, he was famous for other things, but he definitely trained his cat.
posted by sixswitch at 8:02 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


My cat has a trick.
posted by neuron at 8:17 PM on November 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


Anyone had any experience in cat training? C'mon, is this just Skinner methods? Cause I know a place where I can experiment on several cats....
posted by filmgeek at 8:22 PM on November 27, 2009


So Woland and Behemoth aren't really fictional characters at all? Who knew?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


My dog could do all that shit.
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:42 PM on November 27, 2009


Anyone had any experience in cat training?

Cats will literally do all kinds of surprisingly uncatlike things for these.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:43 PM on November 27, 2009


I don't know if this counts as a trick, but both my cats have the psychic power to know what small object you will be needing in half an hour or so, and will lie down on it. So when I need the remote control or my reading glasses, the first place I look is under the nearest cat.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:01 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


neuron, that is the first time I've seen a cat-and-printer video at this early stage in its arc, with fewer than 100 views. Some time around Christmas I expect to see your cat cross into six digits.
posted by longsleeves at 9:08 PM on November 27, 2009


I currently have a kitty that comes when we clap, gets on my shoulder with a hand signal (well, most of the time), gives high fives, can push open swing doors and is working on doorknobs (though she hasn't been successful in turning one with her paws, she clearly understands the concept), and can wriggle out of a harness. Most intelligent, eager-to-please cat I've ever had.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:15 PM on November 27, 2009


We had a calico cat named Gingham when I was growing up (technically it was my older sister's cat) that would walk me to school every morning and be waiting for me on the path home every day when school let out. It liked to be picked up and ride on my shoulders for the walk home.

She was a very cool cat.
posted by vronsky at 9:24 PM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I want to teach the shoulder cat trick, if only to watch my friends freak the hell out when a ball of feline catapults itself at their face.

(I may be a bad friend.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:49 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


What kind of cat is the one on the guy's shoulder around 00:50? It looks like the original "I can haz cheezburger" cat.
posted by pravit at 10:15 PM on November 27, 2009


I want to teach the shoulder cat trick, if only to watch my friends freak the hell out when a ball of feline catapults itself at their face.

I want to do it too, but I don't need the back problems from having ten pounds of snuggle pie on my shoulders for the next decade.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:25 PM on November 27, 2009


What kind of cat is the one on the guy's shoulder around 00:50? It looks like the original "I can haz cheezburger" cat.

British blue, I think.
posted by fleacircus at 10:45 PM on November 27, 2009


I have no idea how they got those cats wedged into those amazing situations, or why.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:56 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cats will literally do all kinds of surprisingly uncatlike things for these.

I was using sardines, which regular normal cats will go crazy for.

My cat, who will only eat friskies AND NOTHING ELSE, turns out to be fairly indifferent to them after the initial crazy sniffing.

(No I'm not trying to train my cat to do anything weird. I just want him to know that he can climb up a certain way to get up onto the deck and have kitty food. Cat is remarkably resistant to this idea, and chooses to meow until we let him through the house instead)
posted by Artw at 11:32 PM on November 27, 2009


Friend of mine lived above a ramen noodle factory. One day she went into the storefront to buy some noodles, and her cat followed her in. She apologized and went to chase him out, but the clerk said, "Oh, don't worry, that's our cat." She then told my friend that the cat would line up dead rodents at the back door of the factory every morning, and be given a dried shrimp for each one. The cat would be very put out and complain if the payment didn't match the number of mice and rats she had collected.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:38 PM on November 27, 2009 [15 favorites]


Now that I think about it, my fiancee's parents have a cat who is both strong and smart enough to prise open the refrigerator door and abscond with any contents that take her fance. So now the fridge has a wedge under the door.

Her name is Xena.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:57 PM on November 27, 2009


What kind of cat is the one on the guy's shoulder around 00:50? It looks like the original "I can haz cheezburger" cat.

Definitely a blue. I have one. She's very cute, especially with her fluffy winter coat. But she's also pretty stupid. That said, when we had a child, her stupidity was a real plus: other people I knew with far cleverer cats had real problems. But my cat with her low-wattage brain just got on with it. She is living proof that the stupid tend not to worry about the bigger picture.

I won't be teaching her any tricks.
posted by rhymer at 12:05 AM on November 28, 2009


If you have a very stupid cat a fun trick is to put a little piece of ham on its head between its ears and watch for 15 seconds as it trys to find it.
posted by Damienmce at 1:48 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


my boyfriend has two cats - one can shake a paw, and do a "reach for the sky" when he pretends to point a gun at her. It's pretty damn cute. The other cat? he just sits there watching with a look of disdain.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 AM on November 28, 2009


Pavlov's Cats.
posted by ZsigE at 5:35 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


My cat, which I've guessed is a Maine Coon - ?? mix (he had been abandoned), has trained me to play a sort of fetch with him, let him hop on my shoulders, and snuggle every evening. Whenever he wants to play fetch, he'll bring me his ball or champagne cork (he loves champagne corks!) and push it under my hand. I'll toss it for him, he'll bat it around for a while, then he'll bring it back to me and push it under my hand again. As for shoulder-hopping, this started when he was a kitten, because he liked to nibble my hair... I quickly learned that when he put his two front paws on my shoulders, I should lean back, then he would hop up and drape himself around my neck. The hair-nibbling has stopped, but he still loves to act like a feline scarf.

Bedtime snuggles are done precisely between 9:15 and 9:45pm. I must lay on my back and wait for kitty to hop onto me, then he splays himself out on my chest, nuzzles my face and grabs my hands with his paws to put them where he wants to be rubbed.

He's just over a year old now, and his latest learning attempts are focusing on the bathroom door, which has a lever handle. He knows that it opens when I pull down on it, and has figured out how to pull it down himself, but hasn't yet realized he needs to push at the same time. I have no doubt he'll figure it out soon.

When he was younger he would drink from the kitchen faucet.
posted by fraula at 5:45 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, I used to teach my cat to do tricks- shake hands, stand on his hind legs, jump from box to box... But having done that, and having had numerous cats since, I find that video hard to believe.

Cats didn't become domesticated the way other animals did; they took to living near humans so they could catch the mice that had also taken to living near humans. Cats have changed since ancient times, not so much in appearance as in behavior. Dogs started out as social animals, so becoming domesticated wasn't much of a stretch, but wild cats [the ancestor of the domesticated cat is the Libyan wildcat] are solitary, asocial animals. The only bond they have with other cats is with their kittens (or as kittens, with their mother). So the cats who wanted to live in proximity with humans had to learn to tolerate humans, and the only tools they had were behaviors for parents or offspring. So they bring us mice (parental behavior) and use their paws to knead us (kitten behavior). But deep down, ultimately, it's not simply love; your cat wants your real estate.

So I have no idea how you could get a cat to go to a strange place surrounded by a loud crowd of strangers and get him to balance on a ball.
posted by acrasis at 6:04 AM on November 28, 2009


Noted internet cat Maru has a solo magic act.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


“Impossible!” barked the old lady, “The kittens are all sleeping now!"

'Potemkin' (whose blog I enjoy for its rather grimly entertaining reminiscences of 90s Russia) provides on-the-ground testimony from her visit to the Moscow Cat Circus; my impression is of a cross between Buster Keaton and babushkas, plus bored cats.

Added bonus: the thrilling Theater of Performing Mice, which apparently — and sadly — lacks actual mice.
posted by Haruspex at 11:09 AM on November 28, 2009


So, basically ... in Soviet Russia ... you train cats?

And I thought getting my cat to stand on his back legs for treats was impressive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:17 AM on November 28, 2009


I've trained my cat to wake me up at five in the morning with a series of quick swats to my face coupled with incessant howling.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:25 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


And in case your're wondering further, here is the kitty on his ladder.

The ladder doesn;t quite join on to the deck (which is to the left of the photo) so as to provide an njumpable barrier for raccoons which he should be able to pass over easily. He is unconvinced by this so far, despite jumping much greater distances onto the other deck when he will maow at the closed door.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on November 28, 2009


My 13-pound cat has trained us to feed him and let him out of the screened porch. My husband thinks that he is the alpha in this house. He is wrong.
posted by jeoc at 7:58 PM on November 28, 2009


I think you're all missing what is really going on here. Those cats have trained their humans to be part of their show. Look at the way the humans assist them in doing amazing feats like tight rope walking and walking on their front feet only.

I'm not exactly sure why the cats have put on a show for humans, but perhaps they get tuna thrown at their feet every night in the same way that opera singers get roses. Perhaps mama cat figured out this was the best way to provide for her children. Or perhaps they've just got that bit of showmanship in their blood and they can't help it. But whatever the reason, there is no doubt in my mind that those are performing people we're seeing up there, not performing cats.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:31 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I taught my cats to sit on command and play dead. I have no idea how you'd teach them to do anything more complex.

The secret to what I did manage was Pounce. Cats will kill for Pounce.
posted by winna at 5:39 AM on November 29, 2009


Cats are a lot more intelligent than dogs. They just do what they please. I always have to out-think my cats. If they want to get something, they'll always find a way to open drawers & cabinets or move small objects.

To a large degree this is a question of kind of intelligence vs amount. On the limited tests we can devise to measure cross-species intelligence (similar to human pattern-recognition IQ tests), dogs test slightly higher than cats and dogs almost definitely have superior short term memory. But these "IQ" tests are so inconclusive as to be meaningless.

Cats can seem more intelligent because they behave in ways that seem to humans to indicate fastidiousness, aloofness, independence, etc. In humans, we associate those things with intelligence.

Dogs of course are easier to train, but this says precisely nothing about relative intelligence. Dogs are just social animals, their ancestors already have ample brain wiring for obeying commands and interacting with social hierarchies and this machinery was repurposed during domestication so that they could live in human groups.
posted by atrazine at 6:04 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


My cat has provided me with an excellent starting point - he's so desperate to be held when we're in the bathroom together that he's started jumping up onto my shoulder from the sink. The first time it scared the shit out of me. Now we're working on walking around with him on my shoulder.

Another cat of mine comes running and jumps on my lap whenever I whistle. I never trained her intentionally, it just happened one day and we realized she was responding to whistling.

Also, the comment stack in the youtube video is absolutely hilarious, example:
"I wouldn't comment if I couldn't comment coherently. This is just evidence that you lack quality judgment and therefore still not a ringing endorsement for the intelligence of Siamese cats."

Arguing about cats! in a youtube video! The internet has outdone itself.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:36 AM on November 29, 2009


My cat sits on my shoulder quite happily, and rides along as I walk around the house. Only when I'm wearing a fleece, though - otherwise, ouch, those claws are sharp when he hangs on!

My parents cat will jump onto your back if you bend down so that your back is flat. We learned this when my stepfather was leaning over looking for a book on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. The cat jumped onto his back from the sofa, then looked around at the rest of us just as if he were waiting for his round of applause.
posted by hazyjane at 12:18 PM on November 29, 2009


From the nytimes article:
The idea of performing cats came to Mr. Kuklachev in 1971, he said, when he found a stray begging for food by performing on its hind legs and doing somersaults for onlookers. Mr. Kuklachev, the son of a truck driver and a factory worker, had attended clown school. He realized he and the cat might be able to do something together. He named her Strelka, and soon she was performing with him at the Moscow State Circus.

Mr. Kuklachev is technically the manager.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:15 PM on December 5, 2009


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