Archive for the ‘Human behavoir’ Category

The ease with which you can place kittens with pet buyers is affected by many factors, including how many other breeders live near you, the economy, and the colors and gender of your kittens, to name just a few. Many of these factors you can’t do much about. But one thing you can fix is how the kittens are presented on your website. These are some of the tips, based on perceptual tendencies and how the data shows people use web sites, that have worked for me at one time or another.

Some of these perceptions are:

  • People tend to assume that the first kitten you show is your best kitten.
  • People don’t like buying the last kitten—I’ve heard it called “the left over” or the “reject” kitten by buyers.
  • People tend to believe things that cost more are worth more.

Some of the website preferences:

  • People don’t like to scroll down. (Think about how much emphasis there is on being the first few sites on a search engine!)
  • Pictures need to be large enough to be easily seen.
  • A picture showing just one thing is better than a picture that shows many things.


I’ve found that managing these perceptions on a website can result in better sales. My tips for selling pets on a website follow.

  1. First of all, if you have kitten that you think may be a breeder-quality kitten, think several times about putting it on your website and about trying other types of advertising instead, such as messages to breeders on Facebook, Yahoo lists, etc. If you must have him or her on your website, say on the website, “Being considered as a possible breeder.” You don’t want to let pet buyers get their expectations and hopes up, and you don’t want a breeder-quality kitten making your other kittens look bad!

  2. The order in which the kittens appear on your page is important. Place the kitten that you most want to sell (the oldest, the most expensive, the “ugliest!”), at the top of the page. The kitten you most want to sell should be the first kitten visitors see. When that kitten is sold, replace it with the next kitten that you really want to sell.

    Also, never have so much “boilerplate” stuff at the top of your page that the kittens start below the first full screen showing on your computer.

  3. Use one picture (or at least one) of each kitten by itself and make the picture fairly large. It is best to use a picture that is no more than two weeks old. (Yes, that means fairly regular updates.)

  4. Don’t leave the kittens that you’ve sold on your page. Keep the emphasis on what you have yet to sell, not on what’s been sold. As each kitten is sold, remove it. Visitors can’t help but compare kittens. They will tend to think that kittens that are already sold are better than kittens that have been left unsold, so it’s best not to give them any for comparison.

    The only possible exception is if you sell a breeder cat to another cattery. In that case you can have a picture of the cat with “Sold to XXXX Cattery” or “Now enjoying life at XXXX Cattery” or whatever. But still take all the other cats that you’ve sold off your page!

    Also, never keep pictures of kittens that you’ve sold with something like “Sold to Anna from Jersey” on them. Visitors will look at your site and think that all the best kittens have been taken!

  5. If you have sold all but one kitten, put him up by himself without saying that he’s the last one!

  6. One of the most common complaints visitors to our websites have is that they are frequently out of date. (In fact, some cattery websites are never up-to-date!) It is important to put “Pictures as of Aug. 20, 2012,” “Kittens will be ready for their new homes March 12, 2012,” or something similar at the top of the “what’s available”1 page, and remember to change it each time you change the page. Be sure to give the complete date, not just “In three weeks”—that could be any three weeks of any month or year!

    It is best to put something on the home page that tells what date your “pets for sale” information is, as on this page of mine. Be sure to include the year to make it easy for potential buyers.

    When you have no kittens available, put it on the available page (“No kittens available right now, but come back in October to see our new litter!”). You can put a picture of a previous cute kitten on the web with the announcement if you like

    If possible, change the design of the home page enough so that when you have kittens available on inside pages you can say on the home page “Kittens available 6/30/12!” or “Get your kitten for Christmas 2012 now!” so visitors will know it’s worth looking inside. Or, if none are available, announce that on the home page (“We’ll have babies in Fall 2012!”). When writing a few words on the home page, remember to put a date as in the examples.

  7. If you have more than four kittens available at once, only list four on your page. Replace each one that sells with another.

  8. Don’t bother putting a picture of the mother and/or father on the “what’s available” page, though you should list their names as parents of the kittens. In my experience, pet buyers really couldn’t care less about the parents—it is what THEIR kitten looks like that excites them. Also, having a picture of one or both parents encourages the “I want one exactly like that!” syndrome, in which a visitor sees one of your breeder cats and insists that he wants one just like it. (Many times I’ve had to bite my tongue to keep from saying that if I have a kitten just like a breeder, it won’t be available as a pet—I’ll either breed it myself or sell it to another breeder!)

  9. Try giving kittens that aren’t selling a name. (Always say on the website that these are just call names and can be replaced by the buyer.) Call a kitten Fireball (because she runs around), Cloud (because he’s a colored like a cloud), Pounce de Leon (because he’s an explorer), or Cuddles (because she likes to do that), and you’ve increased the likelihood that some people will find him or her enchanting. I’ve found if I use personal names (like William or Amy) the visitor may know someone of that name that they dislike, and therefore not like the kitten as much. Names of fictional persons are okay to use, such as Bart, Homer, and Marge!

  10. You may have several litters available at the same time. If that’s that case, put something about each litter on the main “what’s available” page with a link to a secondary page about each litter. This will keep viewers from scrolling on and on down the page.

    • Put the litters in order of which ones you most want to place first (probably the oldest) on the “what’s available” page.

    • For each litter on the “what’s available” page, have one decently large picture of a representative kitten (or of the kitten that you most want to sell from that litter). List that kitten first on the secondary page. As soon as that kitten sells, replace it (on both pages) with another kitten.
  11. Some breeders have the price of the kittens on their website; others don’t. But if you do, here’s my best tip for selling a kitten, especially one that is better than your average kitten: raise his price by a minimum of $200 or 25%, whichever is more. Leave him, at that price, on your website for a minimum of one month. You won’t have as many buyers asking about him, but probably he’ll be sold just the same because kittens that are priced higher are often perceived as being better.


1This is just a generic term for your main page of kitten sales, not advice on what to call it!


Copyright September 2012 by Nancy Prince. All rights reserved.

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Part I: A Combination of Heredity and Environment…with the Emphasis on Heredity

Nothing compares to having a loving, friendly, kitten to place. Imagine only having to worry about the people you are placing him with—you know the kitten will be alright if you do a halfway decent job on your part. Or think of it from the owner’s point of view; how many times have you heard, “My Bengal is friendly but he doesn’t like to be picked up?” How many times have you heard, “My Bengal runs and hides when people come into the house—even friends?”

Three years ago I started working on the problem, because the Bengal can be the friendliest of cats. The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior,a contains discussions and examinations of studies about nature and nurture, or as I prefer to think it, heredity and environment. My current thinking on friendliness was based largely, though not entirely, on the studies presented in the book.


The reason this post has “A Combination of Heredity and Environment…with the Emphasis on Heredity” as a subhead is that heredity is the bottom line. For instance, your genes give you a certain maximum height; a bad environment can make you shorter but never taller. Your genes give you a certain maximum intelligence; your environment can make you as smart as your genetics will let you go but never more. And so it seems to be with cats—the effect of “friendliness” is first of all genetic, and only modified by environment!b

Three friendly bengal breeders (two queens with a stud in the middle) who pass their genetic tendancy for friendliness on to their kittens. (Here they are having a "Group Groom.")

The Domestic Cat describes research and studies that have been done regarding genetics and friendliness. After describing the studies, conclusions or theories may or may not be made, based on the parameters of each individual study. These studies, as The Domestic Cat says, are “a first attempt to disentangle the interactive effects of genetic and environmental factors on [feline] behavioral characteristics.”

As expected, the studies show the friendliness of the mother has an effect on the friendliness of the kittens (though it is hard to say from the report given of the studies whether this is genetic, environmental, or a combination of both). However (and a total surprise to me!), the studies show that the father has an effect on the friendliness of his kittens—even when the kittens have never come in contact with him! (For example, if the queen had had stud service at another cattery and returned home before giving birth.) This shows a clear basis for the inheritance of friendliness based on inheritance, not environment—apparently something he is passing along in his genes makes his offspring friendlier (or, as The Domestic Cat says, “it is likely that genetic factors mediated this effect”).

If it is true of the father, it also seems that friendliness is likely to be (at least partly) genetic in the case of the mother as well; there just hasn’t been a way to study it clearly, as there has been in males. Certainly in my experience, breeding a friendly stud to an unfriendly queen, or a friendly queen to an unfriendly stud, produces the same spread among their kittens, ranging from moderately friendly to very unfriendly. If you think about it, you will probably realize from your own program that certain combinations of stud and queen have more friendly kittens than different combinations of stud and queen.

Based on these studies and experience, it seems apparent to me that the cats with the highest genetic level of friendliness are those that are the offspring of two friendly cats. This is the theory I am applying at the moment to my breeding program.


This kitten is the offspring of two genetically friendly cats. She has only been socialized a few minutes each day, but her heredity makes her perfectly at home with vets or anyone else.

The Domestic Cat also discusses environmental socialization (by “socialization” I mean friendliness to humans). A number of studies have shown that 2–7 weeks of age is the sensitive period for socialization to humans for cats. Socialization at a younger age has little effect and socialization at an older age has a limited effect, though of course this is somewhat dependant on the traits of the specific kitten (e.g., if it’s a slow developer or a fast developer).

In addition, each kitten needs to be handled 30–40 minutes per day. Again “there seems to be an upper limit of about an hour per day beyond which further handling no longer produces dramatic effects.” Also, if the mother is present and has been socialized to humans, her “calm presence may reduce the kitten’s anxiety (build up its confidence), allowing exploration of the environment…and through this, may actually facilitate establishment of a relationship between the kitten and human.” [Quotes are from The Domestic Cat.]

I started socializing my kittens in accordance with these principles in 2003 or thereabouts, and in doing so I began to produce an overall more friendly, but somewhat mixed, bunch of kittens. However, now that I have started breeding only genetically friendly cats, the kittens have been (almost) perfectly friendly. This method of socialization works very well as a second tier to heredity to produce friendly kittens.

An additional advantage of using heredity and environment together is that I don’t have to spend as much time socializing kittens. In fact, I can socialize up to six kittens at once (rather than spending 30–40 minutes per day per kitten). Some days I don’t do much more than say “hi” to the kittens and they still turn out great. The heredity takes care of a lot of socialization!

Results So Far

Having two friendly parents means that the socialiation period takes less time and effort (for instance, each kitten requires much less than 30-40 minutes of interaction per day). Here are three kittens playing with my legs (ouch!).

I said earlier that I have been working on this problem, and as anyone who has gotten a cat from me lately can attest, (I think!) I have it basically solved. I have done this by making it a requirement that any cat I add to my breeding program is friendly, and then doing supplemental socializing.

How do I know if a stud or queen I’m thinking of adding to my program is friendly? After all, “friendly” is a term that means different things to different people. For example, nearly all breeders say their cats are friendly, and perhaps they are friendly to them, but they may run and hide from someone else, they may have problems being held… I try to look for the cats that are demonstrably friendly.

For friends, I may know their cats and which are suitably friendly. If I don’t know a breeder’s cats personally, I ask for specific pictures. If a breeder can send me pictures of both the adult parents of a prospective breeder kitten being held calmly by a relative stranger(s)—a vet tech, for instance—I accept that it’s truly friendly and not just friendly with its breeder. (They have to be pictures of the adult parents, not of the prospective breeder kitten, because anyone can forcibly hold a kitten.)

This cat might possibily be one that is demonstrably friendly. Numerous show cats may have the potential, although the best way to tell is pictures of the parents.

Over time, I’ve become very hard line about this. Friendliness has become the first quality I look for in a cat, and if the cat doesn’t pass I look elsewhere. If a cat is not demonstrably friendly, it does not become part of my breeding program. Period. Remember, if the theory is (as I currently believe) that a cat can never be socialized past what its genetics allow, and if the genetics are bad for friendliness, you can never make up for that. The cat will continue to have kittens that are difficult to socialize—even if just occasionally. “Occasionally” is just too much—even one kitten is too much!

I have turned over all my breeders except one now, replacing those that were not demonstrably friendly with those that are, and that “old style” cat is ready to be spayed and petted out. I’ve made several mistakes along the way. For instance, two years ago I bought a queen who was just not friendly enough. I had to spay her and place her in a home before she ever had her first litter. Such mistakes are a little expensive, but I feel that in the long run they are a lot less expensive than producing kittens that are hard to place because of unfriendliness.

The selection of cats on the basis of “Friendliness First” may sound as though it narrows my choice of bloodlines disastrously, but not so! There are many cats, some from the most valued lines in existence, that meet this definition of demonstrably friendly. In fact, some of the cats that win the highest awards at shows meet this definition because to be a good show cat often means that the cat has a demonstrably friendly personality.

So I’m not losing a thing and I’m gaining cats that are wonderful in their sweetness as well as their looks. “Friendly animals are relatively easy to place permanently,” as The Domestic Cat says, but more importantly, superior friendliness is good for the breed in general. It will make a difference—maybe THE difference— in how our breed is viewed years from now. All it takes is a pair of demonstrably friendly parents and some socialization.


This kitten's father (shown) and mother have both passed on their friendliness to the kitten. If she becomes a breeder, she will pass on her half of the genetic tendancy to her offpring, and they will pass on what they inherit from her and their father, and so on through the generations.

If you have one (or none!) demonstrably friendly adults, the kittens will require the maximum socialization and still there will be unfriendly kittens. But sometimes, no matter how demonstrably friendly the parents and and even if you socialize to the limits, you’ll get an unfriendly Bengal. Watch this blog for “The Friendly Bengal, Part 2: Bengals, Throwbacks, Labradors, and Time!”

a The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior, second edition, Ed. Dennis Turner and Patrick Bateson, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

b Genetics and environment are interwoven in vastly subtle ways, making it difficult to say a trait is either hereditary or environmental. This post is my view of friendliness in cats; others may have different views.

Copyright March 2011 by Nancy Prince. All rights reserved.

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