What is the best way to teach my cat the game of fetch?

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It’s a myth that cats can’t be trained in obedience commands or tricks. With some understanding of the cat brain and a little patience, your cat will be fetching and dancing in no time.

• First, really understand what motivates the cat, because they are notorious for ignoring their owners until it suits their purposes to behave otherwise. Dogs, on the other hand, are very motivated by pleasing their owners. For this reason, it’s useless to sit your cat down and attempt to teach it simple tricks with loud commands and arm gestures; they just won’t care about that.

• What you do want to do is figure out what the cat values; observe what your cat likes to play with. That can be a toy (like a mouse or bird—they love to hunt, and that’s instinct), piece of paper, or whatever else she seems to like. She’ll take it and bat it around for the better part of an afternoon, stalking and “capturing” it and then intentionally letting it go so she can stalk or capture it again.

This is your opening!

Every pet owner knows both cats and dogs are most attentive before their meal, so put your plan into action right before dinnertime. Just before you serve your cat her evening meal, take the crumpled paper or toy—whatever you’ve already seen her play with–and toss it over her head. They’ll indulge their owners in a little play if that’ll speed up the food arrival.

One word of caution: Be careful throwing it if it’s a rubber toy—you don’t want to hit her head!

• Keep trying until your cat understands and brings the ball back to you. This isn’t entirely unnatural behavior for a cat; the wild mother cat used to catch her prey and then bring it back to the litter to teach her babies to hunt. After the first few throws, your cat will know that she’s supposed to pick up the ball with her teeth and bring it back to you.

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