How can I use mealtime to my advantage when teaching my cat to come?

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Teaching your cat to come when he’s called is all part of getting him to both recognize his name and to respond to it in the desired fashion. The food you offer to the cat as part of the process at mealtime is a necessary and consistent reinforcement because cats do not learn commands by the same “logic” dogs apply.

A dog will learn a “trick” or response when rewarded with both a treat and his owner’s approval. Dogs are pack animals and have an instinctive need to please. Cats are solitary predators and are more interested in return on investment. A cat will learn a response associated with a treat, but if the treat is removed, so is the response. A cat will not continue delivering on any behavior unless he’s getting something out of the deal.

In truth, cats respond to visual cues more readily than spoken commands. If you pair calling the cat with the sound of opening the can, he’s sure to start responding immediately. Obviously you’re not going to feed the animal every time you call him, but if he’s pulled one of those feline disappearing acts in the house and you’re frantic to make sure he’s okay, opening a can of food in addition to calling the cat’s name will usually do the trick. Beware, however, cats are perfectly capable of “working” their owners.

Since cats are most active in the twilight hours of the day at dawn and dusk, those are prime feeding times and an additional reinforcement to getting the response you want. Also, be consistent with your language and try for easy words with hard syllables that can be emphasized. Honestly, a feline will likely learn the phrase “cat food” more quickly than its own abstract name and come running to that sound.

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