Follow these instructions and you'll soon be able to teach your cat to recognise their name.
You may have spent hours or even days choosing the purrfect name for your moggy, drawing up a list of options and trying them all out to see which one suits them best. But to your cat, that name you have so lovingly chosen will simply be a sound they hear you make when they’ve wandered off to explore.
If your cat already comes running when you say their name, it’s likely that they have simply learnt to associate that sound with something good. For example, if you usually call them just before putting down a bowl of tasty cat food, they will associate the sound with dinnertime and be more likely to come bounding through the cat flap when they hear it again.
However, if you want your cat to respond to their name in all circumstances, such as to get them to come home when they’ve gone missing, or move away from something that is potentially hazardous, then there are a few steps you can follow. Before you start, make sure your cat is feeling relaxed – you should never try to train a nervous or scared cat!
1. In a calm, quiet area with no distractions, stand up with your cat freely in front of you and have a small pot of their food by your side – remember when using food for training, adjust their regular food intake accordingly to avoid overfeeding.
2. Say your cat’s name and, if they look at you, say ‘yes’ in a positive, happy voice and quickly give them a bit of food (ideally within two seconds of them looking at you).
3. If they break their gaze, repeat step two again to further reinforce that positive association with their name.
4. If your first training session has been successful, repeat steps one to three in a series of short sessions (ideally no more than three minutes long) over the next few days. Try not to use your cat’s name outside of these training sessions as it could confuse them.
5. Once your cat has got the hang of it, repeat the training sessions but stand further away from them or do it sitting down instead. This will help them to learn to respond to their name in other contexts too. Make sure these changes are gradual as they could get distracted by a sudden change.
6. When your cat is reliably responding to you in every training session, you can then start varying the reward you give them. Try offering a toy, access to the garden, or a stroke (if they enjoy this) instead to reduce the reliance on tasty treats.
7. Finally, you can start adjusting how often you give them a reward, reducing it to every other time and then every third time they successfully respond to their name. Just make sure you don’t suddenly stop the rewards altogether, as they will stop responding too!
This may sound simple, but not all cats will respond straight away, and some won’t get it at all. If your cat is struggling then remember it’s not their fault. It may be that they do not understand what you are trying to communicate or are not interested in the reward you’re offering, so try to make it easier and more exciting for them. It’s important to be patient and resist the urge to say their name louder, as this could scare them.
If you find that you or your cat are getting frustrated, simply take a break and try again another time.
Have you managed to successfully train your cat to respond to their name? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
If you have any problems training your cat, take a look at our advice on our website or contact a qualified behaviourist.