Walking Your Cat

"What're you lookin' at?"

“What’re you lookin’ at?”

Cats aren’t known for their obedience skills, and many cat owners wonder if they’ll ever teach their kitty a trick. Contrary to this popularly-held belief, it is entirely possible to teach your cat tricks, and even teach them how to walk on a leash with you. If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, you likely won’t need to worry about leashing your cat, but you might want to give it a shot simply as a bonding experience between you two. For those of you longing to bring your kitty outside but have less than favorable surroundings, teaching your cat to walk on a leash might just be the trick.

The first thing you’ll need to do is purchase the necessary supplies in order to get your cat comfortable, excited to learn, and safe. You’ll need:
A cat harness. Most pet stores will carry cat harnesses and they will be located near the cat collars and accessories. You should only train your cat to walk while leashed up to a harness rather than a collar. Most cat collars are breakaway, meaning that if your cat pulls hard enough, they’ll be able to run off. If the collar isn’t breakaway, it could hurt your cat’s neck. Make sure that the harness you purchase has the leash attachment on the back of the harness and not near the neck.
A leash. You can probably just start out with a normal cloth leash rather than a retractable leash, although either option is acceptable.
Treats. Using treats to encourage your cat to go along with the leash and harness process will make the whole process go by smoother. You’ll be using your cat’s favorite snack or treat to reward him/her throughout the process.

The next step involves familiarizing your cat with the harness and leash. You can start this process by setting the supplies next to your cat’s feeding area or a favored sleeping spot. This will allow your cat to get used to the supplies on their own time without any pushing. After a few days, you can begin introducing the supplies to your cat by hand. Hold the harness and leash and offer your cat treats for exploring the items.

If your cat is used to being held, you’ll have an easier time putting a harness on them. If your cat isn’t as comfortable with being picked up and touched, you may need to do some training in this area in order to get the harness on. The way to help your cat allow you to hold them is with treat reinforcement. Gently hold and touch your cat, always rewarding them with treats. This could take days or even weeks for your cat to allow you to hold them, but with patience and practice, you’ll be able to handle your cat in no time.

This guy is getting used to wearing a harness.

This guy is getting used to wearing a harness.

Once you’re able to hold your cat successfully, you can begin introducing the harness. You’ll do so by draping the harness over your cat’s shoulders as they are doing something comforting, like having a meal or laying in a favorite napping spot. Take your time to begin to familiarize your cat with the harness, rewarding with treats each time that you try. Once you’re able to quickly snap on the harness with no issues, you can adjust the fit of the harness. Make sure that you continue to reward with treats while you’re doing this. Two fingers should be able to slip underneath the harness, so that your cat is comfortable, but still strapped in.

Practice allowing your cat to wear their harness for a few minutes each day. This may stress your cat out, but if you keep rewarding with treats and gradually increase the amount of time that they’re in the harness, you’ll be fine. Once your cat can wear the harness without too much whining, you can introduce the leash. Simply attach the leash, and let your cat wander around in a room with not too much clutter. This way, your cat won’t be startled if the leash gets caught on something.

Once your cat is walking around comfortably with the leash attached to their harness, you can start to pick up the handle. Don’t pull at your cat’s harness at all; simply trail them around the house with a loose leash. Let your cat go wherever they please, and routinely praise them with goodies and treats. Take your time to train your cat to walk on the leash with you. Never jerk the leash, as this could ruin the whole experience. You want your cat to have positive associations with the leash rather than stressful ones. You can apply gentle pressure on the leash to teach your cat to stay close, and reward with treats when they return to you.

Exploring the great outdoors.

Exploring the great outdoors.

Once you’ve had lots of practice, you can bring your cat outside on their leash. If they get stressed out or frazzled, go back inside. Take your time. You might not be walking around the block for months, so be patient. Remember that you are walking your cat, but they are really walking you. It isn’t like walking a dog. Your cat will go where they want to go, and you’ll be following. You can always pick your cat up if an issue comes up, and definitely pick your cat up and bring them to a safe place if you see another animal coming your way.

We suggest setting a specific time to take your cat outside. Perhaps you’ll enjoy outside time early in the morning, or at sunset. Your cat will become used to the schedule, and you can avoid annoying meowing and pestering by sticking to it. Don’t take your cat out if they are incessantly bugging you to take them out. Only reward good behavior, as this can turn into another thing that your cat is constantly pestering you about. Don’t ever tie up your cat outside, even for a moment. This could end with an injury, as your cat could become startled and fearful and end up hurting his/herself.

Cats aren’t known to be great at walking on a leash, but the feat is entirely possible. With patience and kindness, your cat will be strolling around the neighborhood with you in no time. Just remember to be gentle, be continuously rewarding with treats, and allow the experience to be full of positive associations.