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Training pets to come to us when called is something that we generally associate with the training of dogs. However, training your cat to recall is equally important and can provide numerous benefits to both the indoor and outdoor cat.
Most cat owners could tell you about a time when they’ve spent an evening looking for their cat, either calling at the back door or ransacking the entire house, only to find the cat tucked up asleep somewhere blissfully unaware of their efforts. Or they’ve needed to find their cat to take it to a
veterinary appointment, but right on cue the cat is nowhere to be seen.
The ability to recall helps avoid anxious moments like these and provides peace of mind knowing that you can ‘check-in’ with your cat when needed and ensure it is indoors at times when you feel you would rather it was outdoors, a common example being at night time. It is also a great behaviour to train as it teaches your cat that coming to you is a really rewarding experience and helps to strengthen your relationship.
The first step in training is to choose the signal you will use as the cue to come. It is advisable to avoid choosing your cat’s name – we voice our cat’s name so often that it may not consider hearing its name as an invitation to approach. Therefore, choosing a special word that you don’t regularly use at any other time with the cat would be most effective – common cues tend to be ‘here’ or ‘come’.
Each cat is different so you have to find something that every individual really likes. In general, a food reward is the most effective at encouraging cats to perform a desired behaviour. The type of food is dependent on the cat – some find a little bit of its normal food very satisfying while others may be harder to please and require something more tempting.
Pieces of chicken, prawn or tuna are often appealing and are good to use as they can be broken down easily into small pieces.
Only the smallest amount of food needs to be given at a time as the cat will be receiving many rewards from just one training session. If you are using commercial cat treats, use the freeze dried or semi moist ones because you can pull these apart into much smaller pieces.
Do not overfeed the cat during training. Take into account the additional intake of food when providing the cat’s regular meals as the portion size may need to be reduced. If the cat is not food orientated, or excited by the prospect of a food treat, there are other rewards you can use (eg, playing with a toy). Some cats may enjoy a quick play with its favourite toy or a satisfying scratch under the chin. It may even prefer a combination of different rewards. Variety in reward can often keep a cat engaged in training.
Once you have mastered the recall indoors, if the cat has outdoor access, start practising it in your garden. This will be significantly more challenging to maintain the cat’s attention due to the array of distractions so make sure the reward you are using is especially enticing. In similarity to training the recall indoors, the distance of the recall should gradually be built up as the cat’s confidence builds.
It is important to remember that after you’ve rewarded the cat for the recall, you give it the opportunity to leave again if desired. This way the cat will not start to think that coming to you means it’ll always be restrained or restricted. This is especially important if you plan to use the recall outdoors – when the cat comes to you, reward it and then let it explore freely again to maintain training as a positive experience.
Training to recall is beneficial for both the indoor and outdoor cat. Although the process may take some patience, it is an extremely rewarding experience knowing that you and your cat have acquired these new set of skills while spending some fun and quality time together doing so. Furthermore, it’s a great way to keep your cat fit and active, especially for those indoor cats.
See also: cat surgery, sterilization of dogs.