Cats have a reputation for being stubborn homebodies. They prefer to spend their days catnapping in the sun and snuggling on the couch. Most of us see cats as indoor-only animals, but this isn’t true for all cats. Every cat has a unique personality. While you won’t get some cats to put a single paw outside, others crave a more adventurous life.
Leash training your pet cat is a fantastic way to give your cat the physical activity and mental stimulation that they’re looking for while minimizing any risks. If you want to get your cat outdoors in a safe fashion, you need to learn how to leash train them.
About Cat Leash Training
Why train your cat to walk on a leash instead of just letting them explore outside on their own? While some pet owners certainly do this without any problems, we don’t recommend it. Indoor cats live longer and safer lives. When you keep them on a leash on your outdoor adventures, you know that they won’t run off when they get scared, get lost, or become ill or hurt. So, it’s a much safer option to leash train your cat instead of letting them free roam.
Leash training cats is not as straightforward as training a dog, as it does require a bit more patience. Still, cats are intelligent creatures that can pick up on training quite quickly, especially if based on positive reinforcement. With a bit of effort, your cat could be joining you on your daily walks.
Required Items for Cat Leash Training
Unlike with pet dogs, we don’t recommend attaching a leash to a standard collar that wraps around your cat’s neck. Pulling the leash and the neck collar could potentially hurt their head and neck. Plus, regular collars come off way too easily, and a few tugs could allow them to escape. Consider a body harness if you plan to leash train your cat.
The harness should feel snug without being too tight. A good fit test is if you can place two fingers between their body and the harness.
Before bringing your cat outside, please make sure they are up to date on all vaccines, on top of flea-and-tick medication, since they could be encountering lots of critters while outside.
We also recommend getting your cat microchipped so if they do escape, it is much easier to reunite in case someone finds them.
How to Train Your Feline to Walk With a Leash
Training a cat to walk on a leash does take patience. However, it isn’t impossible when you work slowly and go step by step.
1. Allow Your Cat to Adjust to the Harness
Cats are not a fan of new objects or changes. Make sure you allow plenty of time to introduce your cat to their new harness. Do things like snap the harness together or undo the Velcro to get them accustomed to the sounds. Set the leash and harness by their favorite spot, and let them approach it on their own. Try giving them a couple of treats whenever they interact with the new items. They’ll soon associate the new items with good feelings and be less spooked when you try to put it on them.
2. Touch the Harness to Different Body Parts
Once your kitty has been passively desensitized to the presence of the harness and to the noises it makes, it is time to start active training. For the first step, start by touching the harness to different parts of your cat’s body, face, paws, sides, and back. Offer your cat a high-value treat for allowing this without backing up. With cats, it is sometimes better to wait for them to approach things first. If your cat approaches your hand holding the harness, you are at a great starting point; reinforce them with a high-value treat.
If your cat backs up, it is very important not to push them. Ignore the cat for 5 seconds, wait for them to return, and then start over again. Likewise, each time your cat makes a small step, such as allowing more areas or longer contact time, offer a cuddle, a word of praise, or a high-value treat. Do not rush; this part is crucial for your cat to be 100% comfortable with the feeling of the harness on their body before you attempt to fasten it. This will make a big difference in the overall experience and next steps.
3. Put the Harness On
The hardest part of the training is now over. Once the cat is comfortable wearing the harness, then you can start to practice inside the house. Keep training sessions short, about 5 minutes long, and encourage them with a treat. If they walk a short distance, give them a treat or pat to encourage them to go even further. Slowly increase the time periods until you feel comfortable enough to move outdoors.
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4. Fasten the Harness
Before you get to the point of fastening the harness on your cat, you should be sure that they are completely desensitized to and have a positive association with any noise this will produce. Fasten the harness on and give them a treat if the cat is calm. It is normal for cats to freeze up or refuse to move when you put a harness on them. It could take quite a few sessions before they adjust to it. Only offer a treat for calmness. Then take the harness off straight away.
At this point, the cat learns that the harness will come off and is not there forever. Your cat will learn to trust this process. This is the magic of positive reinforcement.
5. Practice Inside
The hardest part of the training is now over. Once the cat is comfortable wearing the harness, you can start to practice inside the house. Keep training sessions short, about 2–5 minutes long, and encourage them with healthy treats. If they walk a short distance, give them a treat or pat to encourage them to go even further. Slowly increase the time periods until you feel comfortable enough to move outdoors.
6. Attach the Leash to the Harness
At this point, your cat will learn that the harness is attached to a leash and that this will limit certain movements. It is better to have the cat learn this while in their familiar territory rather than outside, where all sorts of novel stimuli can scare them or get their attention.
7. Always Put the Cat Harness On Before Going Outside
Do not allow your fur baby to go outside without their harness. Your goal is to have them associate the harness with something fun, like going for a walk. It also keeps them safe because most indoor cats are skittish their first time outside. You may even have to carry them the first few times until they are a bit more comfortable.
8. Slowly Start Exploring
Allow your cat to take the lead once you’ve advanced to outdoor walking sessions. They might enjoy rolling in the grass or simply soaking up the sun. Don’t try to force anything during these first sessions. Encourage their curiosity in a safe way. Keep these beginning adventures short, and slowly work your way up to longer sessions.
9. Never Force Them
Cats aren’t going to do anything they don’t want to do. If you force them to walk outside, you’re undoing all the hard work you put into training them. Leash training is a slow and sometimes tedious process. You must understand that their comfort is the most important aspect, and forcing them to do things isn’t going to get you very far.
It’s exciting to envision all the fun times that you can have outside with your cat. Some cats adjust better than others, though, so don’t get too flustered if they aren’t learning as quickly as you’d like. Still, do not ever leave your cat outside unattended. They could become tangled in the leash, injured, or escape without you knowing. Keep their safety in mind above all else, and do what makes them comfortable. If you have a courageous cat that longs to be in the outdoors, it won’t take them long to figure out leash training.
Featured Image Credit: Abi’s Photos, Shutterstock