How to Teach a Cat to Fetch
by Jill Fanslau
Pet behaviorist Arden Moore’s one-year-old kitten, Casey, sits on command and walks on a leash. But his favorite thing to do is play fetch.
Moore just has to open a drawer and pull out a toy, and Casey comes running, excited to play.
“It’s important to enrich your cat physically and mentally,” says Moore, founder of the site Four Legged Life and the author of Fit Cat: Tips and Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.
“When you play with a purpose — like you do with fetch — you achieve both.”
Besides, why should dogs have all the fun? Here are Moore’s eight tips for teaching your cat how to fetch.
1. Find the Perfect Space
Pick a small, confined area. You want somewhere that has no interruptions and few obstacles to impede your toss. As your cat gets better at the game, you can move to a larger space.
2. Choose the Best "Fetch" Toy
No cat is the same as another. That means one cat may love chasing crunchy wadded up paper while another cat likes a lightweight stuffed animal that jingles. Figure out what your cat’s favorite object is and use it every time you play fetch, Moore says.
3. Pick the Right Time
Begin your play session when your cat is fully awake and alert. Moore recommends starting before a mealtime.
4. Reward the Behavior
And if you do play before a mealtime, you can use edible treats as a reward.
“It’s called operate conditioning,” says Moore. “When your cat does what you ask her to do, she get’s rewarded. You don’t punish the behavior if they don’t do it.”
5. Mark the Behavior
When Moore first taught Casey to fetch, she would call his name and have a small treat in one hand. Then she would toss Casey’s toy and say “fetch.” When Casey brought the toy back to her, Moore would say “good fetch” out loud and give her kitten the treat. “I’m reinforcing the desired behavior with words,” says Moore. “Cats are smart, and they recognize the word ‘fetch’ after awhile."
6. Outfox Your Cat
If your cat gets the toy but won’t drop it, show him the treat, says Moore. He’ll drop the toy to get the treat. When he does that, give him the treat, say “good fetch,” and grab the toy with your other hand.
7. Increase the Toy’s Value
It’s important not to leave the fetch object laying around the house. Otherwise the object will lose it’s value, says Moore. Find a special place for the toy — like a drawer or a cabinet — and always put it away there.
“You have to increase the real-estate value of the toy,” she explains. “Make it their grade-A favorite toy.” That makes it more enticing for the cat.
If your cat is within earshot when you open the drawer or the cabinet, she’ll know it’s fetch time and she’ll come running in.
8. Advance the Game
Once your cat gets the hang of fetch, you can progress the game. Grab a friend and sit at opposite ends of a hallway. Put your cat in the middle, and then toss the toy over her head like “Monkey in the Middle,” suggests Moore. It’s a fun way to teach your cat to play with your friends, she says. And when Moore takes Casey places with her, the kitten will play fetch anywhere and with anyone.
9. Have Fun
“Your cat doesn’t need to play fetch 14 hours a day,” says Moore. “Do it for 3 to 5 minutes at a time.”
Build on little steps of success. Your cat may only fetch once or twice before they don’t want to do it anymore. When that happens, end the session. Remember, this should be a fun experience for both you and your cat. Never force your cat to do something she doesn’t want to do.
Image: Tony Harrison / Flickr
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