STEP 37 – Recall Training

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Teach your cat to come to you when she hears a whistling sound. This technique is used to call her both when she’s inside the house and outside. This basic training gives your cat more reliability and more confidence in your relationship.

A recall is a term that originates from the zoo branch. Ideally, every animal should respond to a recall, i.e. a command that has been thoroughly learned through intensive training and is so powerful and deeply engrained that the animal drops everything it is doing and moves towards the trainer or the indoor pens.

In my opinion also cats should respond to a recall, especially when they display undesirable behaviour. It is the ultimate form of predictability around the home, a great form of communication and an important break you can give your cat in a stressful situation.

In zoos, this technique is used to interrupt dangerous situations and bring the animals inside if, for example, a child or tree falls into the enclosure, a storm is approaching, an animal is injured, a fight is taking place, etc.

So it is not about rattling the treat jar, even though the principle is the same. This is a training that is much more thorough and deeper, and therefore works better and is more effective than anything.

Train your cats to learn this so that you can distract them from dangerous situations and bring them in whenever you need to.

Practical step-by-step plan – Teaching your cat a recall

Teach your cats a recall in group and continue training them during the daily wet food moment. If your cats do not get wet food, give them wet food during this training moment. Not sure about wet food? Read STEP 4 of the Cat Matrix® to change your mind.

Step 1: Choose wet food your cats love. If they can take or leave their wet food, this particular exercise will not make much difference because your cats will not be all that motivated. You may even have to serve a different wet food to different cats.

Step 2: Choose a whistle sound you find easy to make either with your mouth or a (football) whistle. At home I make 2 short whistling sounds with my mouth in a row, the second one just a bit longer than the first one.

Step 3: Watch the process of feeding your cats wet food. This is what it looks like: go to the kitchen, open the cupboard door, take out the tin of food, empty the tin on a plate (or several plates), grab the plate(s), take it/them to the living room, put the plate(s) down and let your cats tuck in. In the next step, you will perform the exercise in reverse order. Go with your gut feeling at every step.

Step 4: This is the first step of your training. Go through the whole feeding process and as soon as your cats start eating, whistle and do so a couple of times with a small break in between. Your cats will now start making a (subconscious) classic association between the sounds and eating the wet food. You will need to do this for about five days.

Step 5: Go through the process and now whistle when you walk around with the plate(s) right before you put them down. Keep whistling while your cats are eating. Do this for at least 3-5 days.

Step 6: Go through the process and whistle one step earlier, i.e. when you put the food on the plates. Keep whistling until your cats are almost done eating. Do this for at least 3-5 days.

Step 7: Go through the process and whistle when you take out the tin and the plates. Repeat step 6. Do this for 3-5 days.

Step 8: Whistle as soon as you open the kitchen cupboard and keep whistling, with reasonable breaks in between, until your cats have almost finished eating. Do this again for 3 days.

Step 9: We are almost there. Now whistle before you have taken out or opened anything. Just make sure your cats are in close proximity. Wait for your cats’ reaction and, as soon as they react, start the process! They may react by looking at you, walking towards you, miaowing, giving head bumps and body rubs against your leg, etc. Please note that this moment can be extremely exciting and stressful for your cats. So put them at different heights where they can wait, or they might start fighting. You can also give them their wet food there. Nice and far apart. Repeat this step for about 5 days during their normal wet food moments.

Step 10: Your cats’ basic training is over! Your cats have now learned that the sound signal is a reliable predictor of a lovely plate of wet food. Now you can choose a few random moments during the day when your cats are around. Whistle, wait for a clear reaction (looking at you, coming towards you, anticipating that something will come) and, as soon as you see that reaction, walk to the kitchen and give them a reward or a little wet food. Expand this after a few times by whistling when your cats are a little further away, in another room, on another floor, but still in the house. Wait until you notice them responding and see them making their way towards you before rewarding them. Repeat this step for about five days.

Step 11: Now extend this exercise to the outside. Let your cats outside and let them do their thing. In other words, do not let them out and then whistle them back in again after 2 minutes because they won’t. But if, after a while, you notice that they are not too far from the back door, whistle and, normally, they should walk (or even run) in nicely. When your cats are inside, reward them with some tasty food or treats. When they are eating, shut the door. Repeat this for a few more days.

Do you notice the difference? Your cats have been trained to respond to your whistle and no longer react to the rattling of a treat container (= sight of the reward). Only take the reward in your hands when your cats have shown the behaviour you want to see: coming to you. There no longer is any need to lure them in as now they have been properly trained. That is the difference. Once you are done with this training, you can use the sound to bring your cats in. Give them a reward most of the time, even if it is just a moment of play or a cuddle.

It can always happen that you suddenly have to leave while your cats are still outside. These are the moments you have trained your cats for. All you need to do now is whistle, they’ll come in and you can leave. Is it bad that they do not get a reward every single time? If that is an occasional occurrence only, there is no problem. If you do this every time, the association made will go extinct and your cat will learn something new, i.e. that the whistling sound no longer automatically leads to a reward. So why bother? But boy, if there is chance that she might win the lottery, it would be stupid not to go and check, right?

Keep training and reconfirming this behaviour every morning when your cats are receiving their wet food. This is how you strengthen the association every day.

Good luck!
Love, Anneleen