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How to Train a Cat to Come

Treats can be used to train a cat to come.

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

  • If your kitty escapes outside, you can call her in.
  • If you've looked all over the house and can't find your cat, 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.
  • If there is an emergency in your home, such as a fire, you can get your cat to you quickly so you can help her escape.
  • Training your cat to come when you call her is imperative if you are going to teach her to walk with you outside on a leash. Learn more in the article, "How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash."

Most cats can learn to come fairly easily. Training a cat to come requires no special skills, and cats understand very quickly that they get a nice reward each time they do it. The key to this trick is using food as a motivator. Not just any food, but something scrumptious and irresistible like tuna, shredded chicken, or whatever the paws-on favorite is at your house.

Here's how to go about teaching your cat the very practical skill of coming when called.

Choose a Food Reward

First, decide on a treat to use as a reward for your training. It should be something that your cat finds delicious without fail, something for which she would even interrupt a good catnap. Don't use the everyday kibble in the bowl. Go for more decadent stuff such as tuna, cheese, perhaps even a store-bought kitty treat for which your cat goes.

Tuna, in particular, is famous for being powerfully alluring to cats and often works well for training. However, some care should be taken to limit your cat's tuna consumption to small treats so that she doesn't become addicted to the intense flavor. If she does become addicted and refuses to eat other food, she could develop problems such as steatitis. You can learn more in our article, "Ethoxyquin, Mercury, and PCBs: Is Feeding Fish Safe for Cats?"

There's 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, similar advantage: if your kitty knows that at 6 p.m. every day she gets a canned food meal, then no matter where in the world she may be when 6 p.m. rolls around, she's going to return to her food bowl. If your cat does not particularly care for canned food, then don't use that as the incentive for the training. The idea is to use a treat that your kitty can't 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 training exercise. About one in three cats don't care for catnip. For those cats that do like catnip, 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 Special Call

Once you've decided on an appropriate training reward, make up a unique way to call your cat to come get her tasty treat. Go for something short and simple. "Here, kitty, kitty!" or even "Treats!" should work just fine, as long as those aren't already everyday phrases that you use with your cat. It doesn't hurt to use a different tone of voice than normal, either. Consider using a high voice; cats are naturally attuned to high-pitched sounds because those are the sounds made by their prey.

Everyone in the household should use this same call when serving your kitty her special treat. It's OK that each person will sound a little different. Cats are superb at distinguishing specific sounds, and your cat will quickly recognize that each person's variation of "Treats!" in a high voice really does mean that treats will be forthcoming.

In some cases, the food that you give your cat as part of this training has its own associated sounds to which she already responds. For instance, your kitty 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 and 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 don't have time to look for the Pounce goodies or a can of tuna. In that instance, your cat will need to come to your call rather than to the sound of the treat bag or can.

Important: don't use this special call for any other purpose; reserve it for training your cat to come and for reinforcing the behavior once it is mastered.

Putting It All Together

At least once a week, run through the drill: just before putting something tasty in your kitty's food bowl, issue the special "Treats!" call, and in no time at all, you'll have your kitty responding with enthusiasm and delight. Reward her with her treat, and also give her and yourself a pat on the back. Your cat is now safer because of your efforts.

Summary

For most cats, learning to come when called 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 your kitty loves.
  • Each time you give your cat this treat, first call her in a unique way that you only use for this purpose.
  • Give your cat the treat as soon as she comes over.
  • Always issue this call when you give your cat the designated treat. Don't use this call for anything else.
  • In addition, when your cat 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.

You can also use clicker training to teach your cat to come to you. Visit the article "Clicker Training Your Cat: Come When Called" to learn more.

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How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

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