Train Your Cat to Come to You

Email this article to a friendThere is one trick that every cat should know: to come when called. There could be times when this skill can get kitty out of a real jam. For example:

  • If kitty escapes outside, you can call her in.

  • If youve looked all over the house and cant find kitty, you can call her, and unless she is truly stuck somewhere she will come running to you.

  • You can call your cats to do a "roll call" or "kitty check" before you leave the house.

Most cats can learn this trick fairly easily. The cats that will have the most trouble are ones who have suffered some kind of emotional turmoil or abuse in the past, or who were not fully socialized with humans at a young age. But even these cats in time will probably learn the behavior. It requires no special skills, and the cats understand very quickly that they get a nice reward each time they do it. And that is the key to this trick using food as a motivator. Not just any food, but something scrumptious and irresistable like tuna, shredded chicken, or whatever the paws-on favorite is at your house.

Heres how to go about teaching your cat this very practical skill.

Choose a Food

First, decide on a treat to use as a reward. It should be something that your cat finds delicious without fail, something that she would even interrupt a good catnap for! So dont use the everyday kibble in the bowl. Go for the more decadent stuff tuna, sardines, perhaps even a store-bought kitty treat that your cat goes wild over. Tuna in particular is famous for being powerfully alluring to cats (so much so that its recommended that you limit your cats tuna consumption to small treats so that she doesnt become addicted to the intense flavor).

Theres one other rather healthy option that may work just as well as the more sinful snacks. If you feed your cat a canned food meal at a prescribed time every day, you can use this as the reward. In fact, a scheduled feeding also has another, related advantage: if kitty knows that at 6 pm every day she gets a canned food meal, then no matter where in the world she may be, when 6 pm rolls around shes going to return to her food bowl. Now, if your cat does not particularly care for canned food, then dont use that as the incentive for the trick. The idea is to use a treat that kitty cant resist. You can choose more than one treat for this training as long as each treat meets the qualifications previously mentioned.

Catnip may or may not be a good choice for this trick. About one in three cats dont care for catnip. For those cats that do like catnip, or for that matter go crazy over it, keep in mind that their desire for the herb usually starts to diminish if they have it more than about once a week.

Develop a Call

Next, make up a unique way to call your cat to come get her tasty treat reward. Prefer something short and simple. The first stanza from "Hiawatha" is probably not a very good choice, but "here, kitty, kitty" or even "treats" should work just fine, as long as those arent already everyday phrases that you use with your cat. It doesnt hurt to use a different tone of voice than normal, either. Consider using a high voice; cats are naturally attuned to high-pitched sounds, since those are the sounds made by their prey.

Everybody in the household should use this same call when serving kitty her special treat. Its okay that each person will sound a little different. Cats are superb at distinguishing specific sounds; your cat will quickly recognize that each persons variation of "treats" in a high voice really does mean "treats! "

In some cases, the food that you give kitty as part of this training has its own associated sounds to which kitty already responds. For instance, she may come rushing into the kitchen when she hears the can opener or the shaking of a bag of crunchies. Not to worry; cats have no problem cataloging multiple treat signals. Just be consistent; use the call each time you serve up the treat. You want your cat specifically to associate your voice command with the reward. There may come a time when you urgently need to call your cat and dont have time to look for the Pounce goodies or a can of tuna.

Important: dont use this call for any other purpose; reserve it for the "come to me" training exercise, and for reinforcing the behavior once mastered.

Putting it All Together

At least once a week, run through the drill: just prior to putting something tasty in kittys food bowl, issue the special "treats" call, and in no time at all youll have kitty responding with enthusiasm and delight. Reward her with her treat, and also give her and yourself a pat a back your cat is now safer because of your efforts.

Summary

For most cats, learning to come when summoned is fairly simple. The potential benefits of this skill are huge, and the costs of acquiring it are tiny. It may very well be the essential trick for all cats.

To review the steps:

  • Pick a food treat that kitty loves.

  • Each time you give her this treat, first call her in a unique way that you only use for this purpose, then give her the treat as soon as she comes over. Always issue this call when you give her the designated treat. Dont use this call for anything else

  • In addition, when she comes to you in response to being called, give her praise and some petting, if she likes being petted.

  • Practice this once a week, or more often.