+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
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Haabersti Loomakliinik
+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
Mon-Fri: 9-20 | Sat, Sun: Closed

Why and how to train your at to recall

+372 50 80 660 Õismäe tee 115A, Tallinn
Mon-Fri: 9-20 | Sat, Sun: Closed

Why is training your cat to recall useful?

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.

Principles of training

  • Training should begin in an environment where the cat feels safe, secure and relaxed so that it can focus its full attention on you.
  • The best time to start training is when you cat is keen to interact – for instance when it is awake, alert, hungry or playful.
  • Short bursts of training are the most productive and maximise learning (try brief 5-minute training sessions once or twice a day). If you are training a kitten or elderly cat, they are more likely to tire quickly so may require shorter sessions.
  • Do not punish the cat if it does not perform the desired behaviour. The cat may not necessarily connect the punishment to the undesired behaviour meaning you could be punishing a very different behaviour than intended. In addition, this can be really damaging to the cat-owner relationship.
  • Training is about ‘wanting to learn’ and never about ‘forcing to learn’. If the cat is showing signs of stress or discomfort training should be stopped.

Training steps to recall

Step 1: pick your signal

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’.

Step 2: pick your reward

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.

Two examples of the type of reward you could use to engage a cat during training
(cat food: ©freeimages.com/Alessandro Pavia; toy mice: ©freeimages.com/ Krys Squires)

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.

Step 3: start training

  • Get yourself on the cat’s level (eg, by sitting on the floor) and distance yourself 1-2 metres away (the closer you are to the cat, the less distance it has to travel to you and therefore the greater chance of a successful recall in these early stages).
  • Call the cat’s name to get its attention and show it the food reward. This alone should be enough of an incentive for the cat to come over and investigate further – especially if you have started training when the cat is slightly hungry.
  • Give the reward once it has moved towards you. If the cat is reluctant to come to you, despite seeing the offered reward, it may need further encouragement via the luring technique (see ‘Useful links & info’).
  • When the cat is reliably coming to you introduce the recall cue. Say this straight after you call the cat’s name, just as it is beginning to move towards you. After several practice sessions the cat should be coming to you whenever it hears the cue word. Still struggling to recall? It is okay if you still need the added enticement of a lure at this stage – after several repetitions the cat should start to associate the recall cue with the reward so the lure can be phased out.
  • Progress training by increasing the distance of the recall and try recalling from different areas in the house where the cat can hear but not see you. If at any stage the cat regresses and stops coming to you when called, revert back to the initial training stages.

Step 4: going outdoors

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.