Explore the Outdoors: Leash Training Your Cat
How many times has your cat tried to slip out the door? Cats instinctively like to explore, hunt, and hide; and the call of the wild can be all too tempting for your feline friend. So many of us keep our cats strictly indoors, but taking your cat outside to enjoy the sights and smells of nature can help to provide them with much-needed exercise, helping to decrease their risk of becoming overweight.
Leash training your cat is a fantastic way to keep your furry family member safe and secure while they’re outside with you, wherever you may go exploring together.
Oh, but your cat won’t walk on a leash, you say? Well, hang on a minute – let’s take a look at how you can get your feline to not only accept a harness and leash, but learn to enjoy wearing them, too.
Prep Work Before the Leash
First, let’s start with a bit of preparation. Before you head out for a stroll around the block with your cat, you have some work to do inside at home.
- Any cat that goes outdoors risks picking up contagious viruses. Protect your pet and have them vaccinated against major feline diseases.
- Buy a harness and leash specifically made for cats. Make sure it’s comfortable and easily adjustable for a good fit – this is especially important, as these furry Houdinis can easily slip out of a too-loose harness! (it’s also why collars don’t work for cats, either)
- Let your cat check out and sniff the leash and harness – try leaving it lying on the couch or near their food or sleeping area, for a few minutes, several times each day. Each time he shows interest, offer a really tasty, tiny treat, like a bit of tuna, chicken or canned cat food. Soon your kitty will know that the appearance of the leash means good things are going to happen!
- Before you even try to put the harness on, it’s a good idea to get your cat used to being touched and held – some of our feline friends can be pretty picky about letting us into their personal space! Take a few minutes each day to gently handle your cat from ear tips to tail, picking him up and holding him for a few seconds longer each day. Reward him with praise, petting, and lots of tasty tidbits or a fun play session each time you do this.
Wearing the Harness and Leash
Now that your cat is used to your touch, it’s time to teach him to tolerate wearing the harness and leash.
- Unclip the harness straps and drape the harness over your cat’s back, distracting him with something like food, treats or catnip. When your cat is comfortable with this, snap the harness closed while he’s focused on something else. Let your feline walk around and get used to the sensation of wearing the harness, continuing to offer really tasty treats to build a positive association with the new gear in your cat’s mind.
- Make sure that you adjust the fit of the harness, then take it off after a minute or two. The harness should be quite snug around your cat’s body – you should only be able to slip a finger or two underneath the straps. Practice putting the harness on your cat several times every day, keeping it on your cat for a bit longer each time, and always rewarding him with treats or one-on-one playtime while he’s wearing it.
- To teach your cat to follow you, snap the leash onto the harness, but leave it dragging on the floor at first. Take a few steps away from your cat and call him to follow you. When kitty catches up to your side, make sure they get lots of praise and their favorite treat (at this point, the tastier, the better). Repeat this until your cat is following you willingly around the house. Now you can pick up the leash!
- When you do head outside with your cat, remember that he might easily be scared or overwhelmed by new sights and sounds. Choose a quiet spot to sit, and let your cat look around – he’ll start to explore on his own when he’s ready to see the sights!
- Finally, it’s important to always, always stay with your cat when they’re on a leash. Tying your cat outside can be dangerous for them – they can get tangled up, and if a predator happens to come around, it’s going to be very hard for them to escape. Walking with your cat should be an activity that’s fun and exciting for both of you, and done together with your favorite feline friend!