Teach your cat to come when called

attentive cat listening
Your kitty will come when he hears you call — if you make it worthwhile. (Photo: Jason Wendt/flickr)

Coming when called is an important skill for an adventure cat to master. If your kitty slips out of a harness or pulls the leash right out of your hand when darting after an insect, you’ll be grateful that you’ve practiced this simple command.

If your cat is a bit fearful and has never done any training before, the ASPCA recommends that you first teach your kitty some simple behaviors through clicker training.

“For example, try using a clicker to teach him to touch his nose to your finger, sit or lie down,” the ASPCA recommends. “After your cat has mastered a few simple skills, you can move on to more difficult ones like coming when called.”

Your cat already knows how

It’s likely you’ve already trained your cat to come when called; however, instead of coming when you call her name, your feline friend probably comes to the sound of a crinkling treat bag or the sound of a lid popping off her canned food.

“Since your cat knows the sound of a treat bag or treat canister, you can build on an already strong association,” veterinary behaviorist E’Lise Christensen said.

The way to do this is to pair the way you’ll call your cat with something your cat already responds to, like the crinkling of a treat bag.

First, decide how you plan to call your cat, whether that will be a specific way you say the animal’s name, your pet’s name plus the word “come” or simply a call of “Here kitty, kitty.” If you’ll often be adventuring with a friend, spouse or anyone else, be sure they always call the cat in the same way to avoid confusing your pet.

Giving your cat a treat is a great way to train him!

Never underestimate the power of a treat. (Photo: Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)

Next, help your cat make the association between your call and the treat. Stand right next to your cat when you call her. Immediately follow this with the crinkling of the treat bag, and then provide a treat.

When your cat recognizes that your call results in a yummy reward, it’s time to start working on coming when called from a greater distance.

Start by moving a few feet away from your cat. Say the animal’s name and then crinkle the bag. As soon as your cat comes, reward her with a treat. If you’ve been clicker training your cat, you can also use a click to reinforce the desired behavior when your cat comes to you.

When your cat is coming consistently, gradually increase the distance your pet must cover in order to be rewarded.

Once your kitty has mastered this, you can practice calling her from different rooms and during times when she’s distracted. If there’s another person in your household, grab another bag of treats and practice calling your cat back and forth between the two of you.

If your cat is already leash trained, take her outside and practice calling her and rewarding her when she’s busy sniffing the air and munching on grass. It’s important to master this skill in an environment that closely mimics one where your cat’s quick response will be imperative.

Tips for training

  • Keep training sessions short — no more than five minutes.
  • Practice often so your kitty will maintain this new skill.
  • Never punishing your cat for not coming when you call. Cats don’t respond to discipline — they respond to being rewarded for desirable behavior. Punishing a cat can backfire, causing a cat to become stressed or frightened and leading to behavioral problems.
  • Always reward your cat. Even if you’ve been calling her what seems like a long time, and she finally, reluctantly wanders down from the bookshelf, give her a treat. “Remember that it’s not normal for cats to come when called in the wild, so it’s definitely a behavior that’s worth paying for,” Christensen said.
  • Don’t call your cat when you want her to come so you can give her medicine or whisk her away to the vet. In these situations, it’s better to go find your cat. If she starts to associate hearing her name with something negative, she may not come in a situation when it’s imperative that she does.

Can you teach a deaf cat to come when called?

Deafness can be caused by a variety of factors, and some cats — especially all-white, blue-eyed cats like Gandalf — are born deaf. But just because your kitty can’t hear you, doesn’t mean he can’t learn to come when you call. It simply means that instead of using a verbal cue, you’ll have to use a visual cue.

For a visual cue, you can use a penlight or flashlight or even flicker the lights of a room. You can also use the wave of your hand or the stomping of your foot on the floor to cause vibrations your cat can feel.

Pick the cue that works best and use it in place of the crinkling treat bag, still being sure to reward your kitty every time she comes.