How to Teach a Cat to Fetch

April 7, 2017

Lots of cat owners like to play a rousing game of fetch with their best feline friend. It goes something like this: you throw the toy, your cat dashes after it, pounces on it, plays with it for a nanosecond and then walks away. Game over! That is, unless you walk over to wherever the toy is and throw it for them again. LOL.

Yeah…it seems that all cats enjoy chasing after that toy when you throw it, but most haven’t quite mastered the concept of bringing it back so you can throw it again. Never fear! You can teach your cat how to fetch and they will actually bring it back to you. Some cats are naturals and catch on to the game right away. With other cats it may take some time, but it can be done. Here are some pointers:

The Fetch Toy

Every cat is an individual, and they all have specific toys they love as well as those that don’t really float their boat. Spend some time playing with your cat with various toys to see which one sparks their interest. It might be a small catnip mouse, a soft sparkle ball, a wadded up ball of paper, or even a milk jug ring. Decide which toy will become the designated fetch object, and use it every time you play. Just make sure the fetch object is something your cat can easily carry in her mouth

The Training Area  

For your fetch training to have the best chance for success, you’ll want to choose a quiet place where there aren’t a lot of distractions. It’s also important that the cat have an unobstructed path to the toy and back.

Timing is Everything

If you try to entice your cat to play fetch when they’re in the middle of a nap, they’ll probably respond by opening one eye, yawning and going back to sleep. The best time to begin your fetch session is when your cat is fully awake, alert and active. For most cats, this corresponds to just before their scheduled meal time.

Rewards

Unlike dogs, cats are not particularly motivated by praise. Their reward of choice is something yummy to eat, such as CANIDAE cat treats. Timing your training sessions before a meal will ensure that they are motivated by the treat reward. So stock up on cat treats and always have them on hand during your training sessions to reward your cat when she does what you ask her to do.

Let’s Play Fetch!

Get your cat’s attention by calling her name or showing her a treat. Then toss the toy a short distance (about five feet) and say “fetch.” If your cat miraculously brings the toy back to you, say “good fetch” and give your cat the treat.

If she chases the fetch toy and takes it in her mouth, call her back to you and lure her with a treat if necessary. If she brings the toy back and drops it, give her the treat, take the toy, and praise her. Gradually increase the distance of your toss as your training progresses.

If your cat brings back the toy but won’t drop it, show her the treat. Most likely she will drop the toy to take the treat. When this happens, give her the treat as you simultaneously say “good fetch” and take the toy with your other hand.

Cats are smart cookies, and they will recognize the word fetch after awhile. With continued training, she will eventually associate both the word fetch and the fetching action with getting a treat.

Reinforce the Behavior

Positive reinforcement is giving something pleasant after a behavior. This increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue. Always keep your training positive. Never punish the cat for not doing the required behavior, in this case bringing the fetch toy back to you.

If They Don’t Bring Back the Toy…

I’m going to be honest here. Unless your cat is a Mensa genius, it’s highly unlikely she will bring the toy back the first few times, even when you try to lure her with the treat. That’s OK! Remember the last time you tried some new thing? Did you catch on immediately? I’m pretty sure you didn’t. Learning anything takes time and practice for us, and it’s the same for cats. Just be patient and keep trying.

If you throw the toy and your cat rolls around on the floor with it instead of bringing it back, go over to her and hold a treat by her nose to distract her. Give her the treat and praise, then take the toy back to your original spot.

Keep the Fetch Toy “Fresh”

Don’t leave the designated fetch toy lying around the house where your cat can play with it at times other than during training. Otherwise, they may lose interest in the fetch toy because if they have access to it all the time, it loses its value. Keep the toy stored in a drawer or a cabinet, and always put it away when you’re done with your training.

Try Clicker Training

If the above method proves too challenging and your kitty just doesn’t seem to be getting with the fetch program, there is another method that utilizes clicker training which you can try. Rather than go through all of the steps here, I’ll let this site explain the process.

Another option for teaching your cat to play fetch is to watch a few YouTube videos that walk you through the “how to” process. But the bottom line is that you may need to just practice, practice, and then practice some more.

Remember though – the object of this whole fetching thing is for both you and your kitty to have fun. If it’s not enjoyable, that’s not good. Take your cues from your cat. If they get bored with the training or the game after a few minutes, then end the session and try again tomorrow!

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