“Mio, Melody. Oh, hi girls, that’s where you were.” I smile as my cats come running up to me, at the same time trying not to laugh at my neighbor. She’s standing there mouth wide, trying to figure out how I managed to get my cats to come to me. “Your cats come to you when called by name?” She asks. I grin at her and answer, “Yes, they do.”
Allow me to show you how to train your cat to come when called.
Will a cat come when called by name?
Cats don’t naturally come when called in the wild. Because of this, most people assume you can’t train your cat to come when called. They couldn’t be any more wrong.
Before I get into how to train your cat to come when called, let’s start with some dos and don’ts.
- Have treats or food on hand.
- Always reward your cat, even if it takes them a while to come to you.
- Use a short easy to understand name for your cat. Otherwise, use the word “Kitty.”
- Use an additional word added to their name as a cue to come.
- Use a clicker or word to confirm the correct action.
- Teach everyone in your household the exact way to call the cat, eliminating any confusion on your cat’s part.
- Practice often and consistently. When I trained my girls, mealtime was training time.
- Keep training sessions short at the beginning, about five minutes to start.
- Use a pleasant voice. A slightly higher pitch than your normal voice is more likely to get your cat’s attention.
- Punish your cat for not coming when called. Cats don’t respond well to reprimands and will likely avoid you later on.
- Call your cat to give them medicine or take them to the vet. You don’t want them to associate being called with stress.
Crinkle or shake those noms
Your cat, like most cats, is probably very familiar with a specific noise. You know the noise, the one that means treats are on the way, a crinkling bag, a container rattling, or an electric can opener. Use this familiarity to your advantage.
Start by standing close to your cat. Say your cat’s name with the cue you have chosen. Once they look at you, crinkle or shake the treat container. Use the clicker or your confirmation word and immediately give them a treat. Do this several times leaving several seconds between each time.
Vet Street suggests that you call your cat before crinkling or shaking the container:
“If your cat already comes running to the sound of the can opener or the shaking of the treat bag, you can let that aid in training. Call your cat immediately before making the sound she already comes to. Your call must come before the sound — not at the same time or after — because in that way, your call will quickly come to predict the other sound and food.”
At first, your cat will only respond to the sound of the treat container. After several tries, your cat will associate the treat with the name and cue. Their ears will perk up, and they will look directly at you. Once you have accomplished this, it’s time to move on to the next step; having them come to you.
An example of how to use their name plus a cue could look something like this:
“Here, Mio! *Shake treat container* Mio looks at me *Clicking noise* and I give her a treat.
Check out Melody’s Review on Greenies cat treats if you don’t already have a training treat.
Calling from a distance
Now that your cat knows that the name and cue equal treats, it’s time to get them to come to you.
Start from only a couple of feet away. Make sure your cat can see you. Call their name with the cue, then crinkle or shake the container. If your cat doesn’t come to you right away, don’t worry. Wait a moment, then repeat. When your cat finally does come to you, use your confirmation and give them a treat.
This part may take a couple of sessions. However, once your cat starts coming to you consistently, you can gradually move further away with each session.
Next, you will be calling your cat from somewhere where they can’t see you. Go around a corner, a piece of furniture, or from another room. As it becomes more natural for your cat to come to you when you call, it’s time for some final challenges.
- The first will be to team up with someone else. With both of you holding onto treat containers, you will alternate calling your cat back and forth between you.
- The second challenge will be to call your cat when they are distracted. Some examples are while they’re hunting, sleeping, or otherwise.
I took this as far as what I call stress training. I created a mildly stressful environment for my cat, such as playing the sound of a dog barking nearby, and I had them come when called. My purpose was to prepare my cats for outdoor adventures where I needed them to respond to my call while stressed.
As it gets more natural for your cat to come when called, you can take the training outside.
Making it a natural command
Over time you will not need the treats when calling your cat. As YourCat.com says:
“Once the recall is fully established, you do not need to reward the recall with a treat every single time your cat comes. This will keep him interested in the task as he’ll never quite know which recall will bring the treat. However, only go to this stage once you can reliably get your cat to come whenever you call him. If at any stage he stops coming when you call, go back to the initial training stages.”
Impressive to those who’ve never tried it
Going back to the story at the beginning of this post, I want you to imagine yourself in my shoes. It’s amusing to see how impressed people are by a cat who has been trained to come when called by name. The reality is that these people have never tried to train a cat to do anything. They assume cats can’t be taught, let alone trained to recognize their names. Once you try this training, you will see how the effort is worth every second you put into it.
If you have any questions about or experience training your cat to come when called, leave your comments below!