First of all, let it be said that it is not possible to convert every single cat into a “cuddly lap kitty,” though there is no harm in trying. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for example, to take a formerly feral cat and convert her into a feline lap-lover that was fawning on anyone’s lap. Experiments in England have shown that if cats are raised without human company for the first 7 weeks of their lives, they will never be fully accepting of people. The best you could expect from a cat with this kind of background is occasional fleeting visits during which the cat might tolerate a modicum of petting. This level of trust on the part of a cat like this represents something of a psychological breakthrough.
Another reason why some cats do not take well to the job of being lap cats is to do with inherited disposition. Some cats, by nature, are more independent and aloof than others; whereas some are just plain fearful. Such traits manifest as an anti-social nature with respect to would-be human companions. Some of these reclusive cats may be coaxed out of their shell by kind and patient treatment, but even the best results that can be achieved in terms of friendliness to people may be a far cry from relaxed lap sitting.
You should recognize these “exceptions to the rule” before trying to convert all comers to the noble art of lap sitting and the acceptance of liberal petting and cuddling. Nevertheless, the majority of cats are trainable this way as long as the owner goes about the process in the right way. There are some general rules that owners may want to consider when trying to forge such a close relationship with a cat.
The Way Forward
If an appropriate combination of such measures is engaged in by a well-meaning cat owner, there is no reason that, over time, a relatively reclusive cat shouldn’t be encouraged to come forward and interact affectionately. In many cases, lap sitting will then occur spontaneously, with its implicit permission to pet and cuddle. One caveat, however, is that if the cat wants to escape from the situation, or has had enough for any reason, she should not be restrained but should be allowed to hop off your lap at her pleasure. Cats are at their best when they are allowed to come and go as they please.
In many cases, all it takes to produce the ideal, easily pet-able lap cat is to arrange for all the good things in life to come only and obviously from you. As Konrad Lorenz so aptly put it with respect to training, “art and science aren’t enough, patience is the basic stuff.” And, you may have to be patient for quite some time. I have one cat that was skittish from the time that I rescued her and she only became a completely cuddly lap cat at the age of 12, after years of catering to her and two geographical moves. Actually, I think it was one of these moves into a small temporary lodging that confined her close enough to my family that she had no alternative but to interact with us.
The moral here may be that although you don’t want to force your presence on a cat, you also don’t want to provide the cat an opportunity to always be so far away from you that she never has to interact with you. And, for those few cats who never come round to becoming fully conversant with, or accepting of, lap sitting or cuddling, remember that this apparent shortfall does not necessarily mean that they have no affection for you, the owner. It may simply be that they show their affection in other ways.