Ever asked your kitty to get off the couch (or counter, or sink) and all you got back was half a stare? Maybe she flicked her tail in annoyance and pretended she hadn’t heard you? We’ve all been there.
While dogs are renowned for their biddable nature and enthusiasm to learn, most cats are independent, wilful and stubborn. Many understand that a cats’ indifference to our commands is just a reflection of their independent nature – but others interpret it as a lack of intelligence. Most people however, all agree on one thing: they consider cats to be completely untrainable.
That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. And we’ve got science to prove it.
Several studies have made clear that cats are among the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. Compared to dogs, who have ‘just’ 160-million neurons, cats have a stunning 300-million. Described by Fear Free Pets as ‘high-octane brain power’, these neurons are what allow felines to be so clever – their intelligence is believed to be comparable to that of a 2-year-old human!
Why you should train your cat
We introduced the concept of cat training in this article, where we dive deep into your cat psychology and how you can sue it to train him.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you understand the concept and strategies behind training your cat, you – and your cat – are in for a treat.
Even if you have no intention of taking your cat on an outdoor adventure, teaching him a few commands can always come in handy and make your life much, much easier.
Today, we’ll focus on ‘recall’: how to train your cat to come when called.
Why it’s important to train your cat to recall
If you’re traveling with your cat, training him to recall would be useful in day to day life, but also in dangerous situations. Being able to recall your kitty away from potential predators, roads or unpredictable hazards can be extremely important when you’re on the road or adventuring through unknown places.
Disclaimer: we don’t recommend you keep your cats loose or unleashed unless you are fully aware of your surroundings (i.e. they are safe, your cat is comfortable, etc.) and / or under supervision. Also read our latest article about leash training your cat for more insights.
Teaching your cat to come when called is an important skill for any traveling cat to master. If he manages to Houdiny out of his harness or darts out of the door without a leash or a tracking device, for example, the ability to recall your cat could be invaluable – and save you many, many hours of stress (as we know from experience).
How to train your cat to come back when called
Ever noticed how your cat comes running when you crack open a can of their favourite food? Or perk their ears at the crinkle of a treat bag? Then it’s very likely that your cat already understands the concept of recall. All you need to do is put a command to it!
1) Choose your reward
When teaching recall, the first step is finding your cat’s biggest motivator. Generally, this means a treat that they find it impossible to say no to.
Don’t use the food you give them every day, and always aim for something more exciting than kibble. Try giving your cat the chance to taste-test a variety of gourmet treats such as fish, cheese, tuna or cream. Once your cat has found his favourite treat, you’ll have a much easier time enticing him to come to you.
Tip: For an even stronger and more reliable command, only use this treat when you are recalling your cat. If the only time they ever get to eat their favourite snack is paired with your recall command, they’ll have even more reasons to come running.
Next, you need to pick a word that will be your recall command. Keep it short and simple – you want it to not only be easy to understand, but easy to call out in the event of an emergency.
2) Choose your command
Only choose one word, and make sure you stick to it. You want your cat to have a strong association between your chosen word and his favourite food reward, and having multiple commands only muddies the waters.
Tip: Using a high voice might make it easier to pique your cat’s interest. Because of the squeaky sounds that a cat's prey make, cats are naturally attracted to high-pitched noises.
3) Practice makes perfect
It’s essential when training your cat to take things slow. Perfecting the recall command will take a great deal of patience, and some cats may require more working than others. Never attempt to hurry the progress your cat is making – or you may risk undoing it.
If you’re familiar with dog training, you can also apply some of the same concepts when training your cat: The 3 D’s of training – Distraction, Distance and Duration – are all useful when perfecting your kitty’s recall. This means you should practice your recall:
- In a variety of distracting environments
- Across a variety of long and short distances
- In quick succession, or after your cat has been exploring for some time.
If you plan to or are traveling with your cat, practicing under distraction is particularly important. The world outdoors is bursting with sights and smells – and often, these distractions will seem more important to your cat than coming back when called.
Tip: Allow yourself at least a few weeks of practice and repetition before you consider your recall command to be perfect. You want your recall to be bombproof in the house before letting your cat roam!
Common mistakes to avoid when training your cat
Training a cat probably won’t feel natural – just like your cat won’t feel natural to be trained! If your cat seems disinterested in following your commands at first, don’t fret: always keep in mind that he’s an highly independent being (as we’re sure he often reminds you). You need more patience, but it can be done.
Avoiding a few common mistakes can help streamline the training process and get you closer to success.
National Geographic describes some of the most common mistakes made when training cats, with asking ‘too much, too soon’ being one of the biggest blunders. They also explain that many people make the mistake of expecting their cat to ‘just obey’, rather than tapping into what truly motivates them.
It’s essential when training your cat to always stay positive. Cats generally do not respond well to discipline, and punishment can lead to a variety of stress-induced health and behavioural problems. Avoid becoming frustrated with your cat, and if a training session isn’t going successfully, take a break and return to it later with a fresh mindset.
Training your cat to come when called is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you really want to dive deep and train your cat like you could train a dog, understand how they think and perceive us and the world, we highly recommend “The Trainable Cat” by Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw.
Other books that we recommend for cat training are “The Little Book of Cat Tricks: Easy tricks that will give your pet the spotlight they deserve” and “Trick Training for Cats: Smart fun with the clicker” (for which you’d obviously need a clicker, like this one).
Does your cat listen and reach when you call him, or couldn’t he care less? Let us know in the comments below. ?