According to ScienceMag.org, Ebisu (named after the Japanese god of prosperity) was trained by her owner Fumi Higaki—a dog trainer in Ichinomiya, Japan—in the “do as I do” method. This method is typically used on dogs; a trainer will say “do as I do,” demonstrate the behavior, then say, “do it!” and the animal repeats the movement. The animal is then rewarded with a treat. The test is used to see if animals can truly imitate a human. This includes performing actions they have never done before.
Ebisu, an 11-year-old cat who lived in Higaki’s pet store, was “highly food motivated.” This made her easy to train. “She often snuck into my dog training classes because she knew the people there had good treats,” Higaki told ScienceMag.org.
Of course, Ebisu is still a cat, so she tends to perform the actions at a bit of a delay and not always at first try. But that’s cats for you. What she’s doing is more impressive than it may look at first glance. Ebisu accurately copied her owner 81% of the time, as reported in Animal Cognition. She also proved that she was able to “map” her owner’s behavior by using the same body parts to perform the actions.
Claudia Fugazza, an ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University who studied Ebisu, said only dolphins, parrots, apes, and killer whales have so far shown the ability to copy human behavior. Now that we know cats can do it, too, it means the behavior could be widespread through the animal kingdom. Fugazza also said that this proves most cats can probably mimic human behavior, adding that, “I don’t think Ebisu was a genius.”
Sadly, Ebisu passed away from kidney disease last year. But her legacy lives on. The research done with Ebisu revealed new ways to train and do cognition experiments with cats, who are famously quite hard to study due to their finicky nature.
Featured Image: Do as I Do The Dog Training Method