Teaching Your Cat to Come
Teaching your cat to come when called is one of the most important behaviors you can instill in him/her. Many a cat parent has spent time searching seemingly every nook and cranny in their homes for their cat only to have him/her suddenly appear with a “what’s-all-the-hullabaloo?” look on his/her face. Calling a kitten when it is contemplating climbing the drapes or jumping on the dog is a terrific way to prevent bad habits from forming. And teaching “Come” is so easy to do!
If your cat anticipates meal or play time or recognizes the sound of a can popping open, you have already taught your cat to come to you. Now you just need to introduce the cue “Come.” Simply call your cat’s name and say “Come” 1 or 2 seconds before you open the can, shake the bag of treats, or get out the toys. Praise your cat when he/she comes to you and feed or play with him/her. Most likely, he/she will respond to “Come” outside of those situations after just a couple of weeks of practice. If your cat already comes running when he/she hears a word like “treats” or “dinner,” you don’t need to teach your cat what “come” means if you don’t want; just remember to use the word your cat does know when you call him/her.
If your cat doesn’t have such associations, don’t fret. Grab a bag of treats or a can of food and a spoon (or a toy if your cat prefers play over treats). Stand near your cat, say his/her name and the cue “Come” and then immediately give him/her a treat or a few licks of canned food (or play for about 10 seconds). Repeat a few times and end the session. Next session (later that day or the next day) do this step once or twice, then repeat while you are standing a few feet away from your cat. If your cat won’t let you go a few feet away, that’s alright; tell him/her to “Come” and then back up a few steps so that your cat has to follow you. Again, do this a few times then end the session. Gradually increase the distance you are from your cat when you call him/her.
Regardless of the method you choose, you may begin to wean off of treat or play rewards once your cat responds quickly 85 – 90% of the time when called without any food or play prompts (you don’t need to be holding them or preparing a meal). However, you should praise your cat every single time and treat or play rewards should not be completely abandoned; these rewards should still be given every 5 – 10 times on a random pattern (e.g. after the sixth time, then after the tenth time, then after the fifth time, then after the fifth time, then after the ninth time, etc.).
Training is a wonderful way to reinforce the bond you have with your cat, or build one with a new cat. It provides exercise and fun for your cat. Responding to “Come” could one day save your cat’s life if he/she escapes the home or if there is a natural disaster. Very little work on your part has such enormous payoff!