First, we have to create some atmosphere. Since cats hunt by hiding and then stalking, look around the room and make sure there are places for a cat to hide. If you're going to play in a big open room, put a couple of boxes or open paper bags in the middle of the floor for the cat to use as cover.
If you want to play with just one cat, do it in a separate room so you don't drive the other cats crazy. Perhaps do the session when the others are napping, or pop in a cat entertainment video for them.
Okay, now let's get down to the nitty-gritty of the technique. The secret is to move the toy like prey. The biggest mistake owners make is to dangle the toy in the cat's face. Although the cat may paw at the toy, it's not the way he would naturally hunt, so you won't be triggering that important mental part of the hunt. If you're doing playtime to boost kitty's confidence or relieve his stress, the mental aspect is as important as the physical.
The other big mistake I see owners make is that they wave the toy frantically around and make the cat go on a marathon run. This is just physically exhausting for the cat and also very frustrating. Even if you have an overweight kitty who needs to shed a few pounds, exhausting him to the point of heart failure isn't the way to do it.
If you're going to move the toy effectively, keep a couple of things in mind. First, you want this to be a positive, confidence-boosting experience, so make sure the cat has several successful captures throughout the game. Second, vary your movements so you really are simulating prey movement.
In order to move like prey you'll have to think like prey. What would a mouse do if he found himself in your house? He'd scurry around and dart from one hiding place to another. He might hide behind the leg of a table and peer out to see if the coast is clear. Our "mouse" might also dash under the couch and quiver. For a cat, it's just as exciting when the prey stops moving for a moment, hides or quivers. It's at those times that the cat can plan his next move or prepare to pounce. Just try it and you'll see for yourself.
If you're using the Dragonfly, one of the most enticing moves is just to have it hover a few inches off the ground the way a real dragonfly might.
Another very important technique is to move the toy away from the cat. Remember, no prey in its right mind would head toward the cat. Wiggle the toy away from the cat or have it lazily curl around a doorway out of sight, and watch how it sparks a cat's interest. As your cat's prey drive is stimulated and he goes into action, take a moment to observe what a beautiful, intelligent, graceful athlete he is.
If you're using Da Bird or a similar flying-type toy, you should alternate between in-the-air movements and on-the-ground movements. It's while the bird is on the ground that the cat will pounce.
You may find that some of your cats don't enjoy air hunting, while others go absolutely bonkers for it. If you realize that you have cats who prefer strictly to ground hunt, then adapt your technique accordingly, or use a different toy. It won't take long before you'll be very familiar with the types of toys or movements that are irresistible to each cat.
• Don't forget the sound effects
Reprinted from Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett © 2004. Permission granted by Penguin Putnam.