When I got my first cat, Mia, I wanted to make sure that she knew her name but I did not even know if cats could learn their name and they could if they would come on command. I found the answer and it surprised me!
Cats can learn to know their name and come on command. Contrary to popular belief, cats are very smart. A recent study shows that cats don't only can learn their name and to call when called, but they also get to know the names of other people in the household. This process can take a while but I would like to share with you all I've learned about teaching your cat their name and to come to you when you call their name.
Do Cats Understand Their Name?
According to a recent study, cats have been shown to distinguish their name from another familiar cat’s name. The study also proved that they also distinguished those names from other nouns we speak daily.
Interestingly, cats living in multi-cat households habituated less to their companion cats’ names than to other nouns.
This study provides evidence that cats link a companion's name and corresponding face without explicit training. Without training a cat this process can take up to 6 months, while when using clicker training, you can achieve it in a few weeks or even days.
How Long Does it Take For a Cat to Learn Their Name?
Some cats learn their names within days when using clicker training, but it could take up to 6 months without training.
Kittens are more open to absorbing new information than senior cats. The key learning window for a kitten is the first 12 to 16 weeks of its life. During that period it's going to be particularly easy to teach a cat new things.
Socialization (habituating a cat to new things like people, other pets, or the outdoors) is very important during the first weeks of age, and it's the ideal period for teaching your cat their name.
What Names are Best for Cats
Cats will learn their names faster when they are short, ideally one syllable. Just think about the first words babies learn, "mom" "pa" and "dad". Shorter names are also easier to call out.
Another important consideration when naming your cat is that their name should not be similar to any of the following:
- Commands that you want to teach them later on (Sit, Up, Come, Down, Leave, Stop, No, Spin...)
- Other Pet on People Names in the house (If the dog is called Luna, don't call your cat Puma)
Try to make everyone at home participate in the naming of the newcomer, getting inspiration from books, movies, their personality or their looks usually help.
Note that this name will stick with your cat for the next 15 to 20 years, so make it count! :)
The most popular cat names are:
- Tiger / Tigger
How To Teach a Cat Their Name
The best method to teach a cat its name is using clicker training. Once your cat knows their name, the next step is to teach them to come when called.
The process of teaching their name is divided into 3 parts:
1. Charging their name using clicker training
The step #1 to teaching your cat their name is to charge their name. What this means exactly is that you need to help your cat link their name with a reward, a treat.
- Start by shaking a treats box and when your cat comes running, throw a treat away (Repeat 5 times)
- After a few times, start saying your cat name at the time you shake the box (Repeat 10 times)
- Let's make it more difficult, as your cat gets closer, click, then throw the treat away (Repeat 10 times)
2. Rewarding for looking at you
After a bit, your cat should start understanding that their name comes with treats.
Say their name and don't deliver a treat. They are going to be expecting the treat and when it doesn't happen, they will look at you to understand why.
When your cat looks at you, click then reward. This time, don't throw the treat away, leave it near them (Repeat 10 times)
3. Phasing out the treats
You are going to see how your cat starts internalizing looking at you when you say their name. When that happens, start phasing out the treats.
You don't need to reward your cat every time they look at you, but it's good to reward every now and then to keep the expectation of the treat strong, at least for a few months.
How To Teach a Cat to Come When Called
To teach your cat to come when you call them I like separating the "name" command (Look at You) from the "come here" command (Come to You).
You will call your cat's name to get their attention and once they look at you, you say "Come Here" and tap two times on the floor. Right after tapping, drop a treat in the area where you double tapped.
After a bit, after tapping two times, your cat will understand that after that noise-gesture, a treat magically falls in front of them. This knowledge will keep them coming to you when you double tap a surface.
As your cat gets comfortable with the command, you can phase out the treats.
Why Do Cats Choose to Not Come When Called
They Don't Know What You Are Asking For
Make sure that you take enough time to teach your cat their name and to come when called. If your cat doesn't fully understand what you are asking, it's going to be frustrating for you as well as for them.
It should not take longer than a few sessions to teach your cat to come when called.
If you are struggling to teach your cat their name, feel free to schedule a 1o1 coaching session with one of our cat trainers.
Free feeding is the enemy of clicker training. Because we are going to use food as a reinforcer, if your cat has free access to food, they will not be willing to work for a treat.
Consider scheduling your cat meals so that you can control the intake and when it happens. This will not only improve their health, it will increase your bond with them and their willingness to work for food.
Cats are both predators and prey. When a cat is in hunting/playing mode or scared/alert, their ability to learn stops and they will be focussed on what they are programmed to do best: Eat and not get eaten.
Teach your cat treats in a quiet environment, where there are no competing stimuli.
If you want to take your cat outdoors and you want to get your cat to listen to you when you are outside, practice indoors first and little by little add the competing stimuli to increase the difficulty.
How To Make Sure a Cat Comes On Command
There is no good way to ensure that your cat will come on command but there's something that will certainly make the command lose its value.
When you ask your cat to come to you, make sure you have the ability to enforce it if they don't listen. You can enforce it by using a treat as a lure or by using the leash if they are wearing it.
If you don't enforce the command, your cat will learn that nothing happens if they ignore you and they will start ignoring you more often, every time their other interests are stronger than what they would get by comming on command.
How to Encourage a Feral Cat to Come To You
Getting a feral cat to come to you is more complex than just teaching their name. It's about gaining their trust.
If you want to learn all about gaining a cat's trust, watch the video below:
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia