Cats are famously independent creatures, but that doesn't mean you can't teach them basic obedience commands. Teaching your cat to come when called is a smart behavior because it can keep them out of danger and help strengthen your bond. All you have to do for this trick is figure out what your cat finds irresistible and follow a simple training plan.
Training Your Cat to Come to You
Basically, the best technique to use is conditioning. Just like you would with a dog, you offer rewards to reinforce the behavior you want your cat to display. It's usually best to begin training when a cat is still young and impressionable, but you can absolutely train an adult cat. You just need to be a little more persistent and patient.
Step 1: Find What Motivates Your Cat
For most cats, food is a big motivator. However, the food you use to entice your cat to come to you should be tastier than the typical piece of dry cat food or a bit of canned cat food.
Tasty treats like bits of tuna, chicken, cheese, or commercial treats your cat loves are the best foods to use, but you could even make your own if you feel inclined. Keep in mind that you can use more than one kind of treat to keep things interesting for your pet, but it's best to reserve these treats strictly for when you call your cat.
Step 2: Choose Your Call or Signal
Select the words you will only use when you call your cat to come. Although you can include their name when you call them, it may be best not to since you're bound to use it at other times in other contexts. Consider using "Come here," "Treat time" or another simple phrase that comes naturally to you.
You might also consider using a clicker or a whistle as your signal to call your pet.
Step 3: Commence With Training
When using food rewards for training, it's best to train your cat when they are hungry. If you normally feed them in the morning, plan to hold a five-minute training session before you give a full meal.
- Give your recall command. With your cat just a short distance from you, ask them to "Come here" or use your chosen signal, and then hold out a tasty little morsel. If they don't want to eat from your hand, drop the treat on the ground and let her them it there.
- Do it again. Take a step back, repeat your call to come, and offer them another nibble. Do this a few times to condition them to the fact that coming to your call or signal results in a reward.
- Next, increase the distance. Take two steps back from them, call them again using whichever phrase or signal you chose, and offer another small treat.
- Use repetition to build the response. Repeat this process three or four more times during the first training session. Ideally, they will quickly associate being called with being fed something delicious. Stick with calling them from a couple of steps away until they respond reliably.
- Make sure to praise them! After the training session is over, go ahead and give the rest of the meal.
Stay consistent with the term or phrase you use to avoid confusing your cat. This includes the voice and tone you use.
Step 4: Train at Greater Distances
- Space it out. Once your cat comes to you from close range, it's time to expand the distance between the two of you. Try calling them from about four steps away, and work in an extra step away each time they respond reliably at the previous distance. You should eventually get them to come to from the other side of the room whenever you call them.
- Try calling them out of their line of sight. Once your cat comes to you from across the room, try calling them from the next room and always reward them for each successful response.
- Keep increasing the difficulty. Finally, try calling them from anywhere in the house and reward them when they come.
Cat Training Tips
Keep these tips in mind as you train your pet. They can help you troubleshoot problems as they come up.
- Begin training indoors at first. You can expand to training outdoors only if you already allow your cat to spend time outdoors, and only after they learn to come when called reliably indoors. You want at least some assurance they'll come to you rather than dart off into the neighborhood.
- Watch out for treat boredom. If your cat stops responding to your call, substitute another tasty treat to see if that helps, and plan to rotate the treats you offer.
- Limit training sessions to no more than five to 10 minutes tops. That way, you can keep training sessions fresh.
- Keep it pleasant and positive. Don't use recall for any tasks or trips your cat finds unpleasant. Go find your cat without calling them if you intend to take them to the vet, trim their nails, or perform some other task they don't care for.
- Don't be afraid to repeat steps. If they suddenly fail to come when called, go back to the previous distance they reliably came from and work from there to reinforce the training. You can then try progressing to greater distances again.
- Always end on a positive note. Make sure you stop the training session with a successful response from your pet.
- Keep rewards consistent. Always try to offer your cat some kind of treat when called. It's a rare cat that will respond automatically just to your call. They may go back to ignoring you completely if you don't make it worth their effort.
- Stay upbeat! Don't get frustrated with your cat, or they'll probably ignore you and walk away. Keep your mood light and encouraging, and you're bound to get a better response from them.
Training Is More Than a Convenience
Training your cat to come when called is more than a convenience; it's an important part of keeping them safe. If there's ever some kind of emergency or they become lost, responding to your call might save their life. Think of the time you spend training as an investment in their care that's well worth the effort.