One thing I truly love about cats is their attitude. Sure, dogs will jump up and tackle you when you get home because they are so excited to see you, but cats just aren’t that needy. The major downside to this: it’s kind of hard to teach a cat its name, or at least to get it to respond to its name.
Generally, even now, when we call our cats names, they just look over at us wondering what we could possibly want. It sort of feels like we’re annoying them with our existence. But we have one things that’s positive from all of this - they know their names. And that’s not an easy task, and it’s made harder by living in a household with four cats.
How To Get Started With Teaching A Cat Its Name
So this may come as a surprise to you, but positive reinforcement and consistency go a long way in training cats. Cats are creatures of habit, so playing your game on their schedule will go a long way for them. Here’s how I would recommend you get started teaching a cat its name:
1. Determine A Time For Training
Make sure this isn’t right after eating - they will have very limited motivation. Also, the middle of the day is generally not good either as they will be fast asleep. Look for a time that works for both of you. And more importantly, don’t overthink this. We just need 10 minutes a day for a few weeks to teach them their name.
2. Get Some Treats Ready
Yes, we’re going to reward our cats with treats when they respond to their name, so make sure you stock up on something good for them. The treats should be small, you’re going to give them 5 or 10 a day, so they can’t alter their diet. Just some positive reinforcement.
3. Start Training Them
So here’s the thing, once you have treats in your hand, your cat will become interested in you. They’re built to find food. Once they realize you have food, your game gets harder as it’s harder to understand if they are responding to their name or to the food. That’s okay. Just get started and refine later.
To start training them, we’re going to look (listen) for a vocal “meow” when you say their name. Just repeat their name until they meow at you, and don’t worry they will probably do this anyway to get food. Don’t look for them to acknowledge their name right away, just look for the meow after their name and reward them.
Repeat this 5 to 10 times a day until it feels like they “get it”
4. Refine Your Training
A cat meowing to their name is nice, but now you need to take it to the next level. During training time, enter a different room and say their name (don’t “call” it, cats listen to inflection as well as the words). When they enter, reward them with a treat. Again, they will probably follow you to the room, so make sure you only reward them when they “come to you” after you say their name. Otherwise, you just have a cat chasing you around all day.
5. Keep Refining
You and your cat should have the basics covered at this point. Try reducing or removing the treats from the equation and adjust as needed. By now, your cat at least correlates their name to food, and that’s enough to work with. If you’re not training for anything else, now all you need to do is stick to positive reinforcement.
Keeping Them Engaged With Their Name
After you’ve trained your cat to understand and respond to their name comes the daunting task of keeping that level of interest. You can’t just walk around with treats all day. Some soft rules for you:
- Don’t call your cats name for no reason
- Don’t constantly call your cat
- Don’t get discouraged if they don’t come
Cats are moody. Sometimes they are just not interested in your games. Don’t take it too personally.
Continue Engagement With Smaller Rewards
The best way to keep their level of interest in responding to their name is to call them and reward them with something other than food. This means you really need to learn what your cats like.
For Yaki, he loves killing bugs, so you can bet when I’m in a different room and call his name, he comes running with the expectation he gets to kill a bug. For Naz, she loves getting pet, so if you call her over and pet her she usually sticks around. Yavapai, on the other hand, responds to just about anything when he’s hungry, and he’s always hungry.
So find what motivates your cats and continue that reward system with something more natural and organic than cat treats. In no time you will have cats that actually know their names and respond to them. They might even end up a little obsessed with you.