Teaching your cat to come is a very nifty behavior to instill in him. 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; it also saves you time from searching every nook and cranny of the house for your hiding cat. Not to mention, 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!
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.