May 2009 Issue

Here, Kitty, Kitty!

Training your cat to come to you is easier than you think. And it could make a major difference in an emergency.

There’s a lighthearted saying that goes something like this: "Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you." For anyone who has ever shared their home with both canine and feline friends, you know this statement is true! But it doesn’t have to be that way. "Your cat is perfectly capable of learning to come when called," says Julia D. Albright, MA, DVM, Resident in Animal Behavior at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The key, Dr. Albright says, is to use a training method like "clicker training" or "target training" to reward your cat when she performs a certain task. "The clicker [an inexpensive, hand-held device that makes a distinct "clicking" sound] tells a cat what she just did is something her person liked and a treat is coming," says Dr. Albright. "For instance, if you want your cat to touch her nose with her paw, wait until she does it, then immediately "click" and give her a treat." Target training involves using your cat’s natural curiosity to investigate a "target" such as your finger, a pen or a spoon. When your cat engages in a desired behavior (such as touching her nose or coming up to you), "click" and give a food reward. After several trials, she will begin to associate the act with a reward. You can then begin pairing the action with a command such as "touch" or "come."

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