At any time of year, particularly summer, it’s not hard to find happy dogs on leashes sauntering along with their owners. Wishing your cat could accompany you too? With time, patience and the right equipment, leash training your cat is possible.
Walking your otherwise indoor cat on a leash can open a stimulating new world to your kitty, says Warren Eckstein, author of How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want. For free-roaming cats, the outdoors poses dangers, such as other cats, traffic, dogs, abuse from humans and poisons. A leashed cat can safely enjoy the rich smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors without the risks, Eckstein says.
Will Your Cat Walk on a Leash?
Personality is the biggest factor in determining whether or not you can successfully leash train your cat. “Breeds and ages do not matter as much as type,” explains cat behavior consultant Jennifer Michels. “A cat who is confident and curious will take to the outdoors better than a nervous cat.”
If your cat cooperates with tasks like clipping nails and brushing teeth, you’re more likely to be able to work together on leash training, says Michels. Older cats that are a bit cranky as well as cats with health problems probably aren’t good candidates for training. You should also consider where you live. If your neighborhood is busy and noisy with lots of traffic, shouting kids and barking dogs, walking on a leash might not be a positive experience for your cat.
However, cats in general are trainable, says Eckstein. Follow these steps, and you and your feline may soon be enjoying the great outdoors together:
- Exercise patience It can take a couple of weeks for your cat to grow accustomed to walking with a leash, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville, Tenn., cat behavior specialist. The most important thing is to go at the cat’s pace. Rushing the process will be stressful for everyone. Eckstein notes that he has seen a few cats take as long as five to six months to learn to walk on a leash.
- Buy a harness or a walking jacket Experts don’t recommend using a traditional kitty collar. Your cat could easily slip free from the collar or catch the collar on objects outside. Look for a figure-8 or H-shaped harness, or a walking jacket. Introduce your cat slowly to the harness or jacket. You can place the new equipment in a conspicuous place, letting your cat sniff away. Sit the harness next to a kitty’s favorite food or on your lap, where the cat is accustomed to receiving pats and affection. Rub a washcloth over your cat, then rub the cloth on the harness so the harness smells like your feline.
- Use positive reinforcement Treats, praise, petting and clicker training — when your kitty associates the sound of the clicker with a treat — are all useful tools. After your cat is used to the sight and smell of the harness, it’s time to try the harness on. “Keep your cat distracted with reinforcement to help it associate the harness with good experiences,” says Michels. “You might put the harness on before each meal. Soon, your cat will be dying to get that harness on!”
- Practice indoors Once your feline has adjusted to the harness, attach the leash for short periods. Let your cat roam briefly indoors, dragging the leash. Gradually begin picking up the leash but let your cat guide you.
- Introduce the outdoors Simply sitting on your front porch with your cat wearing its harness and leash is a good first step. Stay close to home at first. Johnson-Bennett always carries a towel in order to scoop the cat up in case it suddenly panics.
- Think like a cat Don’t demand the sort of point A to point B routes you see dog owners walking. Your cat might decide to lie down, bask in the sun, sniff around a bit and explore. If you want to teach your cat to walk a route, wait until your cat is hungry and have treats set along the route. At first, you’ll have to show your cat where the treats are, but eventually it should go from spot to spot as routine practice.
If you have the patience and time to leash train your cat, you’ll be rewarded with a unique kitty-owner experience. “It gives you and your cat something to really bond about,” says Eckstein. Once you start taking your cat for walks, don’t be surprised if your feline looks forward to your daily constitutionals. “I’ve actually seen cats bring their harnesses to their owners to say it’s time for a walk.”