Why Won’T My Cat Come When I Call Him?

Cats Have Different Priorities Than Dogs

Unlike dogs, cats are more independent and less eager to please their owners. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be cooperative companions for people, whereas cats have not undergone similar selective breeding. As a result, dogs are highly motivated by praise, treats, and attention from their owners. Cats, on the other hand, are less likely to respond to their name or come when called because pleasing their owner is simply not a top priority for them.

Cats express affection and bonding in different, more subtle ways. While dogs crave attention and interaction with their owner, a cat showing affection may come over for a quick petting session and then carry on with their business. This independence and self-sufficiency evolved as cats lived solitarily in the wild, in contrast to dogs living in packs. So the next time your cat doesn’t come when called, remember it’s not personal – it’s just in their nature as a more autonomous species.

Cats Recognize Their Names But May Not Care

Research shows that cats can distinguish their names from other words. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that cats’ ears and heads moved more when they heard their names versus random nouns, indicating recognition (Scientific American, 2019). However, while cats are able to recognize their names, they often choose not to respond.

Unlike dogs who are pack animals and conditioned to obey commands, cats are independent and may simply not see a reason to come when called. As solitary hunters, cats are used to calling the shots for themselves. They may recognize their name but are less compelled to act on it compared to dogs.

Cats form attachments with their owners on their own terms. So even if they distinguish their name, they may be comfortable where they are and choose not to respond. Cats tend to come on their own time, when they want attention or food. Calling them often goes unanswered because they have different motivations than dogs.

Cats Bond Differently Than Dogs

Cats form attachments and show affection differently than dogs. While dogs tend to bond strongly with their human caretakers, cats are more territorial and form attachments to places and routines rather than people (https://www.sciencealert.com/cats-bond-securely-to-their-humans-maybe-even-more-than-dogs-do).

Cats mark areas with their scent and return to preferred sleeping, eating, and elimination spots. Their attachment is to the home environment, not necessarily the human. Cats that are comfortable in their space often don’t feel a need to come when called because they have what they want already (https://www.diamondpet.com/blog/culture/myths/do-cats-bond-with-humans-like-dogs-do/).

Dogs, on the other hand, view their human caretakers as the center of their world and the leader of their pack. They follow their humans around and aim to please them. Cats are more independent and aloof by nature.

Cats May Be Distracted or Comfortable

Cats can seem aloof or indifferent at times simply because they are distracted or comfortable where they are. According to PetMD, cats may choose to ignore humans or other stimuli that could interrupt their state of relaxation or enjoyment (1).

For example, if your cat is napping, playing with a toy, or intently watching something outside, they may not want to be disturbed. Cats tend to live in the moment and fully devote themselves to whatever has their attention (2). So if they’re happily occupied, they likely won’t break their focus to come when called.

It’s normal for cats to prioritize their current comfort or entertainment over responding right away to their owner’s requests. Allow your cat some uninterrupted play and relaxation time. With patience, you can usually get their attention once they’ve completed the activity they were focused on.

(1) https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/why-your-cat-ignoring-you
(2) https://www.burgesspetcare.com/blog/cat/my-cat-ignores-me-why/

Your Cat May Be Anxious

According to PetMD (https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/behavioral/c_ct_fear_phobia_anxiety), anxious cats may struggle with social situations and avoid contact even with their trusted human companions. The anxiety causes them to want to avoid contact as a defense mechanism. Their body reacts with an increased heart rate, panting, trembling, and salivation. This is not natural for cats, as they are typically social creatures that want to engage with people. Excessive anxiety can cause your cat to hide or run away when you call them because they associate your voice with a stressful social interaction.

Your Cat May Want Something First

One of the main reasons why your cat may appear to ignore you when you call them is that they have learned to expect a treat, petting, or some other reward first before coming to you. Cats, being independent creatures, may prioritize getting something out of the interaction before responding to their owner’s bidding. As experts explain, “Use treats only for training. If you give your cat a treat every time she paws you, she’ll quickly learn that pawing = treat, and she’ll never leave you alone.” (https://www.hshv.org/training-cats-with-positive-reinforcement/)

Cats are intelligent and crafty – they know how to train their owners as much as the owners try to train them! If your cat has learned that coming when called equals a tasty treat or loving strokes, they will hold out until they get what they expect. Be aware of patterns you may have set up through habitual rewarding of certain behaviors.

Try Engaging Your Cat’s Senses

Cats have a strong sense of smell, so using enticing food odors can be an effective way to get your cat’s attention. Open a can or bag of their favorite wet food and let them get a good whiff. You can even place a small portion on a spoon and hold it under their nose. Chances are, the alluring smell will be too tempting to ignore.

Catnip is another scent that can instantly attract your cat. Sprinkle a pinch on the floor or rub it into a toy. Most cats love the smell of catnip and will come pawing at it. Just be aware that catnip’s effects only last for around 5-10 minutes before wearing off.

In addition to smells, cats are highly stimulated by movement and will lock their eyes on any toys that catch their interest. Drag string toys, feather wands, laser pointers, and balls across the floor to trigger their prey drive. As soon as your cat starts stalking and pouncing, reward them with praise, pets, and treats.

According to Chewy, playing with interactive toys is a great way to focus your cat’s attention on you. Engage their senses and feed their inner hunter to get them to start paying attention.

Build a Positive History

One of the best ways to encourage your cat to come when called is to build up a long history of positive associations through reward-based training. Every time your cat chooses to approach you or responds to their name, offer an enticing reward like a treat, brushing, or playtime. You want to heavily reinforce the behavior you want to see more of. According to the ASPCA, “Offering rewards for coming when called is the best way to teach your cat this important behavior.”

Be patient, as changing behavior takes time. Initially, reward your cat every single time he comes over after you call his name, even if he takes a while. With repeated rewards over many training sessions, your cat will start to associate coming when called with good things happening. Eventually, you can shift to intermittent rewards to maintain the behavior. But especially in the beginning, rewarding your cat frequently and generously when he does respond will help him learn faster.

While your cat may not come running like a dog, with consistency and positive reinforcement, you can teach him to respond more reliably over time. Always use a happy, friendly tone when calling your cat’s name, and make it a positive experience for him. With a history of rewards for approaching you, your cat will be more likely to respond when you call in the future.




Consider Clicker Training

Clicker training is an increasingly popular method for training cats using positive reinforcement. The clicker provides instant feedback to mark and reward desired behaviors. As explained on DailyPaws, clicker training works by first teaching the cat to associate the click sound with receiving a treat. Once the cat understands that click = treat, the click can be used to precisely mark when the cat performs a wanted behavior.

For calling a cat, clicker training can be very effective. Start by clicking and treating any time the cat looks at you or turns its head towards you. Gradually build up to only clicking when the cat approaches you or comes when called. Always reward with a treat after each click. Be patient and keep training sessions short. With regular practice, the cat will learn that coming when called leads to rewards.

Clickers provide much more rapid feedback than verbal praise. The instant the cat does the right thing, you can click and treat. This strengthens the association faster than saying “good kitty!” after the fact. Clicker training taps into a cat’s natural food drive and prey instincts to get their attention and motivate learning. It is a great way to positively reinforce wanted behaviors like coming when called.

Be Patient and Consistent

Training a cat takes time, consistency, and patience. Unlike dogs, cats are not as motivated by praise or food rewards. According to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, “Cats learn best through repetition and consistency” (source). Keep training sessions short, around 10-15 minutes, and repeat them frequently. Stay calm and use the same cues each time. If your cat loses interest, take a break and try again later.

It’s important not to get frustrated or give up too quickly. Some sources estimate it can take 15-20 repetitions before a cat reliably learns a new behavior (source). Cats learn through observation and repetition, so be consistent with rewards and cues. With regular short sessions, most cats can learn simple commands like “sit” or “come” within 2-4 weeks.

The key is patience. Let your cat set the pace and don’t force things too quickly. Keep sessions positive and low-stress. Over time, consistency and repetition will help shape your cat’s behavior. Celebrate small successes along the way. With the right techniques and attitude, you can train your cat successfully.

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