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How to Teach a Cat its Name

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: December 4, 2019
How to Teach a Cat its Name

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You've adopted a new cat or kitten and chosen the perfect name. But will your new friend learn to respond to it? Teaching a cat to recognize its name is one of the most basic steps in training your kitten. You may have heard that cats are impossible to train, and may already be asking yourself whether it is even possible to teach a cat their name. We're here to tell you that it is possible and not as difficult a task as you may have believed.

Cats are very intelligent animals and, with the right positive stimuli, your cat they will soon learn to respond to their name. So if you are wondering how to teach a cat its name, AnimalWised is here with 7 simple steps and top tips on training your kitty to recognize its name.

You may also be interested in: How to Teach a Dog its Name

Choose an appropriate name

The first step to teaching your cat to respond when called is choosing a good cat name. This mean the name should be easy for the cat to learn and recognize. Here are some basic rules for choosing a good name for a cat or kitten:

  • Choose a simple name composed of one word will be easier for your cat to learn and for you to remember. Unlike dogs, cats can learn both long and short names. However, choose a name that is easy to pronounce, so that you won't confuse your cat by saying the name a different way each time you call them.
  • Don't choose a name similar to another pet's or member of your family. This can make it harder for the cat to learn to associate the name with itself, leading to confusion. Also remember not to pick a name that sounds like a command word, as this can cause problems when training your kitten.
  • Choose an appropriate name. Cat names are often based on appearance or personality, or inspired by characters or objects you like. The name will last your cat its lifetime, so choose a name that you won't grow out of.
  • It is important to pick a name that everyone in the family is happy to use. Be consistent with the name and don't use nicknames or aliases for your cat. If everyone uses the same name, it will be easier for the cat to learn and internalize.

If you have not yet decided on a name for your cat, or are still looking for a good name, here are some of our articles that you may find useful:

Tips for teaching a cat its name

Although people often assume cats cannot be trained, this is a myth. Cats are very intelligent animals and learn with great ease if given the right stimuli. They are as clever as dogs, though their independent and detached character sometimes makes it more difficult to get their attention. In reality, as recent studies have shown, domestic cats are perfectly able to distinguish their names from other names or words, and their ability to learn their names has also been linked to rewards[1].

Apart from choosing a good name, here are some important tips for training a cat to recognize its name:

Start early

as with all animal training, the earlier you begin the easier it will be to teach your cat its name. The first 6 months of its life, is when a kitten has the highest capacity for learning. Remember, however that kittens should not be removed from their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old, as the maternal bond is a key part of proper socialization. If you have adopted an adult cat, you can still teach it a new name, but know that the process will be slower than with a kitten.

If your cat has not been properly socialized or suffers behavioral problems, it may be more difficult to train. However, using positive stimuli and motivation you will be able teach the cat to recognize and respond to its name. If you are worried about your cat having psychological issues, it is a good idea to consult an ethologist, or specialist in cat behavior.

Use positive reinforcement

the most pleasant stimuli for cats are food and affection. These are the two pillars of a positive reinforcement strategy that we will use to teach the cat their name. The food - in the form of special treats - acts as a “reward”. It is important to use a food that the cat loves and knows to be something special, not its daily fare. This way the learning will be much more effective. Showing affecting by petting and playing with your cat is another way to motivate desired behavior.

Choose the right time

The best time to teach your cat its name is when it is receptive to learning. Don't try name training when the cat is distracted playing by itself, eating, or taking a nap. In addition, make sure the cat is not nervous or stressed. If you try to teach the cat its name at times like this, you won't capture its interest. You may also cause it stress, which can hinder further training. A good time to teach your cat its name is when they are near you or playing with you and you have their attention.

How to Teach a Cat its Name - Tips for teaching a cat its name

Teach your cat its name - step by step training

As we've explained, the key to teaching a cat its name is positive reinforcement. Here is a step by step guide to training your cat to respond to its name:

  1. The first thing you have to do before you begin training is to choose an appetizing treat that you will use as a reward. Pick something you know your cat will respond to, such as a snack made with tuna or chicken, or some other food you know your kitty can't resist.

  2. Next, call the cat by its name, from a distance of less than 50 cm. Pronounce the name clearly, using a warm and affectionate tone so that your cat understands the word is something pleasant. It is very important that the kitten learns to relate positively to the sound of its name. This will make it more likely to respond when called.

  3. If you have managed to capture the attention of your kitty, and and it looks at you, give it a treat as a reward for responding to the name. If the cat has not looked at you, do not give them anything. Repeat the name and hold out the treat so that the cat knows you are ready to reward it if it responds.

  4. If, apart from having looked at you, the cat approaches when you call its name, increase the reward by petting the catas you give them the treat. Affection is the most positive stimulus, and this will help your kitty understands that you are happy with their behavior. This way, little by little, the cat will learn to associate the sound of its name with pleasant experiences.

  5. If, on the other hand, the cat looks at you but does move any closer, you can encourage them to come closer by holding out the treat to motivate them.

  6. Repeat the cat's name as often as you can, but don't let training overwhelm or stress the cat. You can also incorporate teaching its name into everyday activities and other pleasant moments. For example, call your cat by its name as you put food in its bowl, or when you bring it a toy. This will reinforce positive associations and learning.

  7. Once the cat begins to regularly respond to its name, you can advance the training by moving further away when you call them. You can also add a command such as ‘come here’. If the cat comes to you when you are far away - or even out of sight - reward them appropriately with treats, scratches behind the ears and other signs of affection you know they enjoy. If the cat doesn't respond to its name, be patient and repeat the training for a few days until they learn to respond correctly.
How to Teach a Cat its Name - Teach your cat its name - step by step training

Teaching a cat its name - precautions

Teaching your cat its name is important for several reasons. If your cat learns to recognize when it is being called, you can call it out of hiding or call it back if it runs away, warn it of any danger, or simply communicate that you have put out food or a fun new toy. Teaching a cat to respond to its name will help strengthen the bond between you.

However, there are certain things keep in mind when you set out to train a kitten or adult cat to recognize its name:

  • For cats, negative stimuli are much stronger teachers than positive stimuli. This means that a single negative association can undo all the learning through positive reinforcement. While you are still in the process of teaching your cat its name, don't use the name when you have to scold them for something, or at any time they may associate the name with a stressful situation like a bath or going to the vet. Even if they still learn their name, such an experience will likely provoke a negative response to the name such as hiding when called.

  • Remember that all members of the family should use the same name to call your cat, and also reward the kitty with food and lots of love if it responds correctly. Don't worry about everyone's tone of voice being different. Cats, clever animals as they are, know how to distinguish between different voices and to differentiate their guardian's voices from a stranger's[2].

  • Finally, don't overdo the food treats. While these are a useful tool of positive reinforcement, make sure you use small quantities that stay within the limits of a balanced and nutritious diet for your kitty. Obesity in cats is a genuine concern, and you should sure your cat remains healthy by following an appropriate diet.

If you want to be more effective at training your cat, check out this AnimalWised video on how to gain the trust of a cat.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Teach a Cat its Name, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

References
  1. Saito, A., et al. (2019). Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words. Scientific Reports, 9, 5394.
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40616-4
  2. Saito, A., and Shinozuka, K. (2013). Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Animal Cognition, 16(4), 685-690.
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10071-013-0620-4

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