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Teaching a kitten to recognise her name and respond to it

'Dogs come when called. Cats take a message.'

Before you start training your kitten, the most important thing to remember is that cats only get motivated if they can see something in it for themselves. This makes training cats that much harder than training dogs. Dogs are pack animals and are used to being bossed by the top animal in the hierarchy of the pack. Cats are free spirits and insofar as they recognize a hierarchy, they tend to assume they are at the top of it. From a cat’s perspective, rules are for other species.

However, if you can convince your kitten that it is worth it for her to do something for you, the kitten will be prepared to go along. And the obvious motivator for a feline is food. Cats are hunters and unless they are full and sleepy they are always prepared to make an effort to procure their next meal. So a tasty treat will almost never be ignored.

There’s a saying that goes ‘Dogs come when called. Cats ask you to leave a message.’ Having a cat which obediently turns up when called is the dream of every human who shares a home with a feline. And in fact it is actually not that hard to teach a kitten to come trotting up when summoned. Of course even with the best training, there will be times when this won’t work, because in general cats only hear what they want to hear, and sometimes they don’t want to hear you calling. But kittens which have been taught to respond to their name will tend to come to see what’s up if you’ve given them the right incentive.

But before we can get our kitten to rush over when we call her, she needs to know her name. Cats respond better to pleasant-sounding short names, so don’t be too creative. If you live somewhere that the cat can range far, choose a name that finishes with a plosive. It’s easier to call ‘Pip-PA’ across a meadow than ‘Princess Furryboots III’ and you can still be imaginative - for example, how about Kohnsu (an Egyptian moon goddess)?

Once you have decided on the name for your kitten, it is time to make sure that she knows it too. One important rule is that the kitten should have pleasant associations with hearing her name. So when scolding the kitten - for example for clawing the curtains - don’t use her name. Instead, repeat the name frequently when feeding the kitten or playing with her. For example, say her name and then give her a treat or say her name and then roll a ball to her. Once you notice she responds positively to hearing her name you are a long way towards training your kitten. Now you can move on to teaching her to respond by coming to you when she is called.

For training we need a kitten who is a bit hungry. We want her to respond with more eagerness to your call. So feed the kitten a bit less than her normal portion. To start the training session, say the kitten’s name and then feed her a small treat. Repeat two or three times more and then move a small distance away from her. Next call her name adding the word ‘come’ . Chances are the kitten will come over in the hope that more food is on the way. So don’t disappoint her. In training cats, remember that they don’t take discouragement well. Once kitty has developed a ‘to hell with it’ attitude, it’s hard to re-establish co-operation.

So when the kitten has come over, make sure you give her a small treat and a gentle pat on the head. Move again and repeat the process. Always call her by name and add the word ‘come’. Keep this up for about a week. You may also start using a hand gesture like stretching out your hand or beckoning. Once the kitten comes regularly when called you do not need to give her a treat every time, but always stroke her or scratch her head to show that you are pleased to see her. And it does not harm to reinforce the process by offering a treat from time to time as a reward.


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