Once again you spent 20 minutes chasing your cat back inside from the muddy garden. And you missed your last train to work.
Surely, keeping your cat safe while you are gone is a perfectly reasonable wish, but at what cost?
You have heard of people whose cats respond to them ‘like dogs’. But that’s just pure luck, you think. Your crazy morning proves cats are untrainable. You feel defeated. Your neighbour is probably still laughing now. And you need to take another shower.
Cats have their own mind
That’s the undeniable truth – they can be as stubborn as pigs. When they don’t want to do something, there’s no way around it.
Or is there? How do these other people do it? Do they just stuff the cats with treats all the time?
To an extend, yes. But you can learn a few other tricks. The cat-training toolbox is rather small, but it isn’t empty. The key is to make the cat want to come to you. How? You use their attitude and moods to work in your favour.
But there has to be something in it for them too. They simply won’t give up stalking the fluffy squirrel’s tail just for the sake of responding to you.
When you are just starting out with your training, they need to expect something better to happen instead, or to get something in return. That’s it.
Always remember, cats aren’t dogs. Their love for humans is strong, but it isn’t always unconditional. Their deep-rooted instincts still have enormous power over them, and sometimes they conflict with our requirements.
But the good news is – learn more about these instincts and you’re one step closer. Try and grasp their point of view. Then, make the cats look forward to each interaction with you, and half the job is done.
Here’s how you can have your cats come flying upon hearing your voice:
(Or if not flying, they’ll at least get up, do a few yoga stretches, have a long drink of water and then take a stroll in your general direction.)
1. Choose a cat-name you love
This sounds so simple!
And yet you’d be surprised how many people underestimate the power of a good name. If the cat is to respond to it, you need to love it first. You will be saying it A LOT over the upcoming years, and if it makes you cringe, it will show. When you eventually go back to calling them ‘the cat’, you lose the most powerful tool from the cat-training toolbox.
If the shelter has given them a name you’re not keen on, change it. If the new kitten in your life is yet nameless, don’t name them the first thing that comes to your head, just for the sake of it. Rather, wait a few days to allow for things to happen, and let their personality show first.
When your kitten ends up being called Splash because his nosiness made him fall into your relaxing bath, the story makes the name unique and special (better always close the bathroom door when running a bath!).
Next, say their new name all the time — when they walk into a room, when you notice them watching you cook, or when they join you on the couch to watch football. Most cats learn to love their name in just a few days. This step is a necessary primer for your successful future training efforts.
2. Forget punishments
Ditch any thoughts you might have about ‘teaching the cat a lesson’, right now. Enforcement methods based on fear don’t work for cats at all.
Any attempt to discipline the cat, such as spraying in their face or using sticky tape to stop them scratching, will only result in major confusion. And worse, the fragile build-up of your mutual trust will crumble down like a piece of old dry cake.
If the cat thinks you’re unpredictable and likely to freak out, you’ll have achieved the exact opposite of what you want. They’ll keep well away from you. And you will find yourself back to square one, chasing around an animal who doesn’t want to be caught.
Instead, do what cats want you to do (and use it to your advantage). Cats adore being loved, encouraged and praised. They cannot resist a nice celebration of their existence.
Therefore, stress-free and positive training methods of praise and reassurance are far more encouraging and heartwarming. And they work wonders. Cats are ingenious creatures and they love to learn, but it has to happen at their own pace. Yes, you certainly are the one setting the terms in your own home. But a healthy dose of respect for their needs and moods goes a long way.
So, especially when your bond is still fragile, cats need to know they’ll always get an enjoyable reaction from you. They need to feel safe with you. Trust you.
So, simply be the fun, friendly, and affectionate best buddy they want you to be. Don’t put any of your love and kindness aside for later.
Make their experience insanely positive, and you’ll get insanely positive results in return.
But, what does this actually mean in practice?
3. Start small
First of all, no hard feelings!
If you’re still quite new to each other, the cat likely doesn’t yet have the faintest idea what you’re asking. Or they know but aren’t sure why they should do it. So, don’t take anything too personally.
Just take your sweet time. Indeed there is no point stressing out when Their Highness doesn’t fancy giving up the coziness of their favorite royal cushion. Just wait until the cat is in a playful mood or use the next mealtime as a prompt.
When you first start using their name as a call to action, appreciate every tiny sign of acknowledgement. Cats are masters of communicating through subtle body language.
When they respond by twisting their ears towards you, turn their head or let out a little chirp, it all means ‘I’m listening!’ in cat language.
And this is progress. It also means they’re getting curious.
What about shy cats?
Simply meet them where they are at.
If your cat is still unsure and hides when you come home, find her hiding spot, and talk to her gently using her name a lot. Ever seen how cats greet each other by touching their noses? Try to replicate that — make a ‘nose’ out of your thumb and index finger, and reach out to the cat. Eventually, the natural curiosity will take over, and she’ll say hi back with a little touch or a sniff.
Such an encounter is a win with any new cat, let alone a shy one! Be sure to offer a nice crunchy treat.
Soon the cat will feel encouraged to trust you more, and tempted to venture out of hiding. But when you see her sneak out from under the bed eventually, don’t try to move towards her.
Shy cats get scared by sudden moves and thumping feet. So just slowly kneel down to the floor level, to become somewhat less of a giant.
And talk. For once it won’t matter if you talk utter bollocks! Just use a gentle voice. Show her you’re actually not that scary. You can slowly reach out your hand and if she comes closer, or even touches your hand, it’s a huge step forward!
Whenever she does come out, make a big deal out of it! Because, to a shy cat, leaving the safe space behind is a monstrous deal.
Every little bit of new understanding between you two, no matter how small, builds momentum. And if you have to tiptoe around for a while, so be it! It’s worth the results.
4. Bribe the cat’s appetite
Most cats leap at the opportunity to snatch a tasty bite. And you can easily work this to your advantage. Just use treats that aren’t the feline version of a junk takeaway!
Your best bet is to find something they go crazy for, but also light on the stomach. While it’s certainly convenient to have cats run to you when called, they need to stay healthy at the same time.
Now we’ve cleared that up, how do you actually use treats effectively?
It’s not as straightforward as it seems. I used to just shake the treat tin loudly until they came flying in. This sure is effective, but it’s not a proper training method. When you do this, the cat comes for the treats and not for you.
Instead, you want them to associate your voice, their name, and the action of coming over to you, with the irresistible reward.
So again, patience is key here. First, call their name once or twice, and when they take some kind of action that indicates moving in your direction, then offer them the treat.
Do this when they’re just across the room from you. Start in close proximity and it will be easier for the cat to understand what you’re wanting to initiate. Then, experiment with changing the distances and call them from another room, or from upstairs.
Once your requests become crystal clear and the cat knows they always get something nice in return, coming over to you will become a pleasant habit. Next, try calling them in from places where they have the most fun, like the garden.
If you have a garden the size of a small field, and can’t always see where the cat is, be loud and clear. By now, they already know to pay attention to you. When they show up, always appreciate the effort.
If however the cat is too preoccupied stalking pigeons and you still have to go out to get her, don’t make it a big deal.
Instead offer her a bite when you find her, for not running away. With that little bribe, she will be a lot more willing to be scooped up.
Cats are also incredibly nosy. And when their curiosity doesn’t kill both of you, it makes your bond stronger.
If your cats love cardboard boxes, start opening one in the kitchen while calling their names. Before you know it, they’ll be through the door and eager to take the box off your hands.
If your cats love shredding your old newspapers to pieces, loudly scrunch a few pages and watch them rushing in. To be allowed to chew or shred also counts as a treat!
So they’ll get their reward, AND they will associate you calling their name with something fun.
5. Make your encounters irresistible fun
Use playtime to initiate many fun interactions to come.
Throw their favorite mouse to the other side of the room and see if they start bringing it back to you. Many cats love to play fetch! In our case, 2 out of 4 to be exact.
Especially Isaac the acrobat. He is obsessed with fetch. We always have such a laugh together when he brings his most precious toy — a plastic bottle lid, and meows until I go to the bathroom and throw his lid into the bathtub. He could spend all day jumping in and out of the tub bringing the lid back to me.
So, once you know which toys are irresistible, use them as props to get the cat come to you.
This works especially well if the toy makes some kind of noise. Rascal’s favorite is Mr. Mouse, a soft cotton mini mouse, which has a tiny jingle bell inside. Rascal recognizes the jingle from miles away. No matter how comfy or preoccupied he might be, he always comes running when he hears it.
Seriously, some cats make it so easy for us! It’s just a question of finding out what tickles their fancy.
Make sure things stay fun for both parties though.
This might surprise you! But if you want a surefire way to spoil a cat’s good time, use a red laser pointer.
Even though it seems entertaining to us because the cats goes crazy for it, in my experience it quickly becomes extremely frustrating. No matter how frantic they get, they cannot ever physically catch the red dot, like they would catch prey. This just leaves them utterly puzzled. And of course, it can seriously damage their eyes if accidentally pointed directly in their face.
We’ve only ever tried using it once. The cats went psycho. Ages after we stopped, they were still in the same place, obsessively looking for the dot. They seemed hypnotized. Never again.
6. Work your voice
Once cats get to know you a bit better, they start noticing the various tones of voice you use to communicate different messages.
And you can emphasize your cheerful, calming, or warning tone to send them signals. Think of it as sending out various frequencies their little ears can tune into. This will enable them to better react to each scenario.
When I first tried doing this, I felt like an idiot, and sounded like a chipmunk inhaled a gas balloon. But once I started to work with my natural voice and just put emphasis on the different emotions, suddenly the cats looked like they knew what I was talking about.
Just as they get to know who you are by sharing your space and routines, they’ll also read better what you need from them — through recognizing your voice patterns. They’ll learn exactly what you’re trying to say.
This is priceless when you need to give the cat a sharp warning.
The famous cat curiosity can lead to tricky or dangerous situations. Make your warning voice immediately catch their attention, and at the very least, they’ll pause.
All my cats usually stop in caution and look at me, which gives me more time to get to them. They often even quit the situation and run towards me all on their own.
Be their guide, not their boss
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