Fetch is a game most people associate with dogs, but there are lots of cats who thoroughly enjoy playing fetch with their owners. Siamese cats are famous for their love of fetch, but any cat has the capacity to learn to retrieve, as long as the owner is committed to teaching the game.
When to Teach Your Cat to Fetch
While dogs may rise from a deep sleep the instant they hear you say the word “play,” cats won’t rise from their normal nap time for any old reason, including playtime. It is important to choose a time when your cat is alert and feeling naturally energetic.
Choose the Right Toy
In order to keep a cat’s interest in the game of fetch, owners should choose a toy that their cat enjoys playing with, but is not always available. Using a restricted toy will help catch the cat’s interest in the game. Be sure to test out how easy it is to slide the toy across the floor or toss it down a hallway before you begin. Some cat toys are extremely lightweight and don’t lend themselves to fetching.
Model the Behavior
Once you’ve chosen a beloved toy and you’re sure the cat is in the mood to play, grab a handful of treats and put yourself in a position where you can toss the toy and the cat will have plenty of room to run after it. Show the cat the toy and give it a toss. The cat may chase the toy, but probably won’t bring it back to you on the first try. Try calling the cat back using a treat to entice the action. If the cat will not return, or drops the toy and then comes running, you will need to show him what you want him to do. Walk to the toy and pick it up, or gently remove it from the cat’s possession and return to your starting position.
Show the cat that you have the toy, and call him to come to you. If he or she does not respond, you can pick up the cat and bring it back to the starting point. Once you, the cat, and the toy are all in the same place, toss the toy again. Repeat these steps several times.
Reward the Fetching Action
It can take several sessions of fetch before the cat puts the entire game together. Be sure to use the same starting point and throw the toy in the same direction each time. Repetition and consistency are the keys to teaching an animal a new action or behavior. The first time the cat successfully fetches the toy, reward the action with affection, praise, and a treat or some kibble. The idea is to have the cat associate the action with a reward that he finds highly satisfying.
Cats are extremely smart animals, but they are also very independent. Some cats may learn to fetch in one session, others may take a few days, while still others may decide that you should pick up the toy yourself and simply won’t participate. Take training one step at a time, one day at a time, and if the cat shows genuine disinterest in fetching, simply choose another game that brings both you and the cat great joy.