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Norwich Bulletin - 8/10/2008

Protecting Your Cat

During one of the summer storms last month, unknown to us, a very heavy tree limb fell on our cat fence and broke part of it. When I came home from work, I was very surprised to see my deaf white cat Polar, calmly sitting on the front steps, waiting for someone to let him in! My husband and I started counting our cats to see who might have gotten out. When everyone was accounted for, we were missing our little Kurilian Bobtail, Taiga.

My husband had to leave for work and I was put in charge of finding Taiga. One of the things that we do with each of our cats is pick a name that we can easily teach the cat and choose a tone of voice that that name is always said with. And, so I was able to go outside and call Taiga in the voice he has always come to in the past.

About a half hour into my search, with my voice growing a bit hoarse, I heard Taigaís answering cry to hearing his name being called. I kept calling him, he kept answering me, and I eventually found him huddled under one of our large trees in our field. I was able to pick him up and bring him into the house. Given that our area has a lot of coyotes and fox, if I had not been able to find Taiga before nightfall, chances are I would never have seen him again. So this is why it is important to not only teach your cat his name, but find a way to make him want to either answer you or come to you when he hears your voice calling.

Pick a name that is musical and try to make it two syllables. Then decide how you and your partner want to intonate that voice. High at the end Ė long drawn out first syllable, whatever you both want to do that is similar and natural for you. Then it is time to have some fun and teach your pet to not only recognize, but respond to that name. It is a wonderful experience to watch your cat (yes, I said, cat) come running to you when he hears you call. It is also important because it just might save his life one day.

We taught Taiga to respond to his name, the way we teach all of our cats. From the moment they walk into our home, or when a kitten is old enough to recognize us, we always say his name whenever we see him. We would walk into a room and say Taigaís name. As soon as he looked at us, we told him what a good boy he was and either gave him a food treat or some special pets.

Whatever it is that works for your cat and you, as long as it makes the cat feel special and allows him to associate good things with his name, is what you should use, We will say our cats name exactly the same way time and time again. And each time the cat looks our way, he is rewarded. Itís best to do this three or four times a session and several sessions a day. Eventually your cat will respond to his name whenever you call him. If you have solely been giving food rewards, start making them random so that he will be interested enough to wonder what he will get when he calls, pets or treats.

The next step is to start calling out the name when you donít see the cat, and keep calling until you see him. Sometimes there is instant success and other times you will need to be sneaky and go and look for him. Then stand where he can see you, call his name and the moment he picks up his head, tell him how smart he is. Calling your cat at dinner (this does not work with a deaf cat, by the way), will eventually get him running to you for his food.

After about two weeks, your cat should be coming when you call at mealtime so the next step, of course is getting him to come when there is no dinner at the end of the line. Different rooms, different places he likes to go, just randomly start getting him to seek you out when he hears his name.

Our big test is when we move to the kitty courtyard and go to the steps and call the name of the kitty we are trying to teach. I remember Taiga the first time he came running across the fenced in yard to us, answering our call. We always rewarded the outside call with either teaser or laser play, something every one of our cats loves to get singled out for.

Remember, patience is the name of this game. It is not an overnight achievement but a work in process. Oh, and remember not to give medication or put your cat in a carrier to go to the vet after he comes when you call his name. Thatís the best way to insure that he wonít come the next time you call and there may come a time when his life depends upon his coming to you. You will want the same happy ending we had with Taiga, I am sure!

For more tips on training pick up Cassandra Mandelloís book of Cat Training Secrets!

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