A cat walking on a leash isn’t something you see every day; but if you have an indoor cat, you may want to let him out-of-doors to explore. Unless you have a “catio” or other such screened in space, letting your cat out on his own to roam the neighborhood could be a recipe for disaster. Training your cat to wear a harness or walk on a leash lets him embrace his cat-ness while keeping him safe.
If you want to train your cat to do a trick or walk on a leash, you need to practice patience and keep the training sessions short. (Personally, I have trained my cats to come when called, walk on a leash, and ride happily in a car.) Here are some tips.
Teaching Your Cat To Walk On A Leash
1. Find a harness specifically built for a cat’s body. Make sure it fits snugly so he cannot wriggle out when you take him outdoors. You may need to purchase a few harnesses, try them on and return the harnesses that don’t fit your cat. If your cat likes to travel you could take him to the local pet store to try on harnesses.
2. Get your cat accustomed to the harness before you put it on him. Put the harness by your cat’s bed. Pet your cat with the harness on your hand. Place the harness by your cat’s food bowl. Let your cat sniff it and play with it. Even if you have an easy-going cat, I urge you to not come home and automatically try to slip it on. The harness is a foreign object and your cat may become afraid of it and you’ll suffer a setback before you’ve even begun.
Note: Give your cat treats and praise when he’s interacting with the harness. You want him to associate the harness with love, affection and food.
3. When your cat is comfortable with the idea of the harness, slip it over his head. Don’t rush to fasten it, let him get accustomed to the feeling of something around his neck. If your cat wears a collar, this may be a smoother transition. Again, give your cat treats while putting on the harness.
4. Snap it up. Once your cat has tolerated the harness over his head and draped over his back, you can try to fasten it. The sound of the snapping or the Velcro may scare him initially, and he may struggle and try to back out of the harness. If your cat is scared of noises, you may want to snap and Velcro it before you put it on him, so he is accustomed to the harness noises. Let your cat wear the harness for a few minutes, but don’t force him to walk with it.
Note: When your cat starts walking while wearing the harness he may fall over, walk with long, odd strides and generally act as though he is wearing a heavy weight on his body. It’s normal—like dogs wearing boots for the first time!
5. With the harness on, let your cat walk around the house. Put it on him several times a day. Give him a few days or a week of wearing it around and walking “normal” before you put the leash on.
6. Use the leash and harness inside the house for a few days to get her accustomed to the feeling of the leash and harness combination. Keep in mind that most cats will never walk on a leash the way your dog does. Cats are more likely to want to wander and explore than to take a walk around the neighborhood, walking at “heel” like your dog will. Keep feeding your cat treats and praising her during every step of the leash/harness process.
7. Try taking him outdoors. Once your cat has mastered the harness and leash combo in the house and doesn’t struggle, you can head outdoors. I recommend taking your cat to a quiet, secluded area for his first outside adventure. Taking your cat to the front yard where cars are zipping by could frighten your cat so much that the work you’ve done leash and harness training him will be for naught.
8. Let your cat explore, as far as his leash takes him. Keep your first outside visits short. He may prance around because he’s not accustomed to the feeling of grass or dirt under his paws. Your kitty may jump at bugs, may sniff the air, might even dig and claw at a tree branch or your outside steps. At this point, you’re merely giving your cat a chance to get outdoors and get fresh air. Let her explore to her heart’s content while you have a firm grasp on the leash. The first few times you and your cat head outside, she will probably be on “high alert” with new noises, smelling scents, and feeling new sensations on her paws.
Note: Never leave your cat outside by herself. She could get tangled, a dog or other threat could harm her, she could get scared and get out of the harness.
You need to understand your cat’s unique personality and whether he will want to ever wear a harness; some cats simply won’t. To have the best chance at your cat wearing a harness or walking on a leash, it’s best to start when your cat is a kitten as they may be more open to wearing a harness.
Before your cats go outdoors, make certain you cat is up-to-date on his vaccinations so he’s protected from potential outdoor hazards (such as ticks). And consider investing in a cat health insurance policy to make caring for your cat easier and so you have peace of mind.
Exploring His Inner Wildcat
Your cat may love being out-of-doors and may pounce, jump, and stalk bugs in the grass. Other cats may never love the outdoors and may prefer a sturdy cat tree indoors. You will be able to tell whether being outside is an enriching experience for your cats or if it is stress-inducing and you can adjust the experience accordingly. When you enrich your cat’s environment—either indoors or outdoors—it will keep him from becoming bored and potentially being destructive.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.
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