Because cats are perceived as independent or aloof, many people don't try to teach their cat to come when called. I'm sure from the cat's point of view, she justifies her refusal to come on command with “Does the Queen come to your beckoned call? I don't think so! Now, where's my supper?” However, teaching your cat to come on command is easier than you think, and doesn't require an electric can opener. Think about it this way: if the can opener can train your cat to come, then you should be able to as well!
Like most cat owners, I've experienced the frustration of searching for a wayward cat hiding somewhere in the house. As far as the cat is concerned, if she isn't hungry, there's absolutely no reason to leave a perfectly good hiding place just because someone is calling her name. However, it's just as important to teach a cat to come as it is for dogs. Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye. Knowing your cat will come when you call her makes life easier and safer when you don't have to hunt for her in or around the home. Not only can it save your cat’s life, it's nice knowing she'll come running just because you called her.
Cats are quite capable of learning commands, but teaching a feline can be frustrating and it can take some time. So stay calm, committed, patient and consistent. The first thing you need to do is decide what word you’ll use when you call your cat. The next thing is to stock up on your cat’s absolute favorite treat – the one she just can't resist. For my cats, that’s FELIDAE TidNips™ treats. Whatever you use as a reward, it has to be something she enjoys eating more than anything else – the one treat that gets her attention no matter what she’s doing. That's your cat’s motivation to learn.
Call your cat's name followed by the word you picked as your “come” command. Make sure everyone in the home uses the same command each time and rewards your cat with the preferred treat. Begin training in the room you usually feed your cat. If it's in the kitchen and she comes running when you use the electric can opener, run it to get her attention or shake her treat bag, if that's a sound she responds to.
Call your cat’s name first, then give the “come” command as you get her attention with the can opener or treat bag. Reward her as soon as she comes. The important thing to remember is to call her name first, then give the “come” command. When she comes, make it worth her time. After the treat, you can scratch her ears, give praise, and play with her for a few minutes. As your cat starts to get the idea of coming when she hears you call, practice calling her in different parts of the home, sometimes without the aid of the treat bag or can opener.
Never call your cat to come and then punish her for something she did. That will only teach her to not come when called. Practice every day, and make sure to reward her every time she comes. You want your cat to associate your voice with something good and positive if she comes running when you call her.
Training always works best if you time your sessions when your cat is hungry, especially in the beginning, Food is a great motivator for hungry kitties. Always make coming a fun, positive and rewarding experience for your cat. If you need to get her ready for a trip to the vet, go find her instead of calling her to come to you. When you need to give medication, put on flea control, trim her nails or do things she's not really fond of, try not to call her to come if you can avoid it. This way you aren't giving her the wrong impression of what “come” means.
The best time to begin training a cat is when she's still a kitten, but older cats can still learn, too. I've had cats that learned to come in a short period of time and others that took their own sweet time to learn. As long as you keep the training positive, fun and consistent, any cat can learn, especially if she sees something in it for her, like food, play or attention. Give it a try. You might be surprised to discover how easy it is to teach a cat how to come on command. Then you can move on to teaching your cat how to do tricks!
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar
Read more articles by Linda Cole