Hi curious cats! Skye Blake here with a question you may be asking… Can I teach my cat to come when called? She always ignores me!
The answer is…
Yes! It can even be a lifesaver if you call when she’s headed for something dangerous like a road.
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian or trainer) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides and explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, linking you to experts on each page.
All sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
Your Cat Already Comes
What happens when you open a can of cat food or shake a bag or treats?
She comes like a streak of lightning!
Next time call her name as you open the can or shake the bag.
She’ll start to associate her name with something wonderful.
Follow this advice from experts and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!
Use a Simple Name
Use one simple name, one syllable is best and easiest to hear.
If your cat’s name is “Princess Ariel of Hawthorne Hill”, don’t expect her to come when you use that full name.
She’ll just be confused, so use something like “Prin” or “Jill”.
If you have lots of nicknames for her, pick one and teach her to recognize it.
We cats can’t be bothered with paying attention to five names.
So if you call her “Princess” or “Ariel”, “Fluffpuff” or “Lazy Bum”, she’ll just look at you and go back to sleep.
Always say the same word or sound with her name to signal for her to come.
“Smokey, come” is a good example.
If you say, “Smokey come here” one time, “Smokey here” another, and “Smokey, front and center” yet another time, she’ll get confused.
Name = Praise & Treats
Training starts with using her name with anything positive.
When you’re petting her, say her name over and over again in a calm voice.
Don’t use baby talk or a high nervous voice, just a soothing and friendly voice.
Always remember you want her to realize when you say her name, wonderful things happen.
When you get her meals ready, call her name and give her a little bit from your hand as a treat.
Keep repeating her name as you put her food in the bowl.
Say her name a few times before giving her the bowl and give her a bit from your hand each time.
Then give her the bowl of food. Keep it short and simple… and most importantly, positive.
Don’t push it longer than she wants to do it.
Next, call her and wait a few seconds to make the food sounds.
As she consistently answers to this, wait a bit longer until she comes without hearing it.
You can substitute praise, a massage, etc. for the food.
In between meals, keep working on getting her to learn her name.
Use small pieces of her favorite treat, call her name, and give her a piece when she comes.
You can work up to reduce and eliminating treats by continuing to praise her when she comes.
Make sure she gets positive reward every time she comes to her name.
You can also call her and when she comes, give her a massage and gentle touches, which she’ll love.
Anything she finds pleasurable is something you can use to get her to come to her name.
Clicker training is a great way to clearly communicate the behaviors you want to reinforce.
Don’t Be a Negative Nelly
Don’t EVER use your cat’s name when angry or call her to punish her (even if her name is Nelly).
If she scratches something or pees outside the litter box, deal with it calmly and figure out what the problem is.
And don’t call her by name when you’ll be doing something she doesn’t like (a bath, vet visit, etc.)!
If you yell or use her name negatively, you’ll break her trust, and she may not listen to her name again.
At the very least, you’ll have to work at regaining her trust.
Getting Her to Come When Called
Finally, during the learning process, be aware of what your cat is doing before calling him.
If he’s absorbed in something he likes (bird watching, playing, etc.), he might not pay attention to you and not come.
Take the opportunity to call him when you know he’ll come.
This is important until it’s engrained in him to automatically come when he hears you call his name.
If you call when he’s distracted and doesn’t come, he’ll learn he can come when he wants to and ignore you when he has something more interesting to do.
You want it to become a habit. Do it every day consistently and she’ll always come to you.
When your cat is consistently coming to her name, start calling from other rooms.
Praise her lavishly and give her things she likes (massage, chin scratches, treats, play).
You can use this process to help him learn to get in the carrier.
Find out more at “Cat Carrier Wars – How to Get Yours to Love It!“
A Word About Treats
Treats are yummy for pets and fun for you or your kids to give them, but they should only be used sparingly.
If you give them because you think it’s cute or feel guilty about leaving him alone all day, that’s all about you.
If you shower him with them constantly, you’ll make him fat, which leads to serious illness and a shorter life.
From a training perspective, treats have to be what Jackson Galaxy calls “The Jackpot! Effect”.
Cats are motivated by that one food where you see your buddy’s eyes open wide and his nose flare out, sniffing with great interest.
“What is this yummy smelling thing? Jackpot!”
It could be a special cat food, kibble, or human food such as turkey slices, hot dogs, salmon, chicken, tuna, or liver.
If your cat has more than one Jackpot! food that you can alternate using.
Break the food up into tiny bits (remember you’re not feeding him a meal, just using tiny bits as a reward.)
It’s Not Just Taste
Keep in mind it’s not just taste, but also smell and texture that a cat likes.
Chicken, for example, comes in many different textures, such as chunks, smooth paste, crunchy nuggets, shredded, etc.
You might hit on the jackpot food right away, but if not, try combining tastes and textures until you find it.
Avoid grains like in crackers, bread, and some kibbles. It quickly fills up your cat and he’ll stop being interested in learning.
It can also add on pounds, which, we all know, is a problem.
Jackson Galaxy recommends using freeze-dried meat treats, but work with whatever you find gets that “Jackpot!” reaction.
Use tiny pieces, not meal-sized chunks, and ONLY when training… never any other time!
You’ll only confuse him and make it harder for him to understand the training sessions.
Remember you’re not feeding him, just motivating him with a small treat.
Train him when he’s hungry and you’ll have his full attention.
This makes it important to control when he eats by feeding him only at certain times each day rather than free feeding.
Since training sessions are short, you won’t be giving him enough to fill him up.
More Than One Cat!
How do you teach all your cats their names and to come when called?
Experts recommend working with each cat individually (at their own pace, of course) to learn their own names.
Then teach them to come together with one group name… like when they all come running at the same time when you open a can!
Just add a name as you open the can… like “foood” or “kitties” or even “toodles”!
Videos – Training Your Cat to Come When You Call
Videos are very helpful for learning how to train your cat. Here are a few…
How to TEACH YOUR CAT THEIR NAME and to COME WHEN CALLED, Albert & Mia, the Adventure Bengal Cat, Nov 25, 2020
If you’re moving or taking your cat on an adventure, there are things you should know before you go.
Discover more at… “Traveling With a Cat“.
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat”, by Susan M. Ewing, Companion House Books, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018, pp. 153-6
“Cat Speak”, by Bash Dibra with Elizabeth Randolph, New American Library, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2001, pp. 155-7
“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016, pp. 283-293
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat”, by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D., Alpha Books, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., New York, NY, 2005, pp. 191-3
“Decoding Your Cat”, by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, editors: Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2020, pp. 269
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 84-5
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 251-253
Updated July 16, 2023