Cat Training 102: Walking on a Leash
This blog was co authored by Deva Content & Jennifer Sorensen
You may remember our last chapter, Cat Training 101: Basic Tips and Tricks, in which we taught our foster kitten Garbanzo to walk through a hoop. Now class is back in session! Today, we’re focusing on leash walking training.
Yes, that’s right: leash training. If you think leashes are “for the dogs,” think again. Cats can absolutely be trained to walk on a leash, and many cat owners already take advantage of leash training to provide their indoor cats with safe, supervised outdoor time. Any age of cat or kitten can be leash trained, and you will notice the advantages the very first time you have to take your cat anywhere. Our foster kittens Burt (tabby) and Darla (tuxedo) are here to show how it’s done.
The first step in leash training is actually harness training. Cats are not usually comfortable in harnesses right away – most take a few days to get used to the new feeling, and may stoop, swagger, or simply flop over the first time you put one on…many cat owners refer to this phenomenon as “the world’s heaviest harness.” To help your cat adjust to her new threads, choose a harness with wide straps that will fit your cat comfortably (for many styles, a good fit means that about two finger widths will fit under the straps when the harness is on). Premier makes nice harnesses for cats (as modeled by Burt), but any brand that fits your cat well will do. Fasten the straps around your kitty’s body first, and then around her neck; if you do it the other way, you might make the neck straps too tight and constricting once the body straps are done.
When you first try the harness out, don’t worry about attaching a leash. Just let your cat wear the harness around for a bit while she is doing her normal thing (eating/sleeping/torturing a spider). Do this for several days in a row, until she no longer squirms while you attach it, and doesn’t walk in that low “there’s-something-on-my-back” stance.
Once your cat has gotten used to the harness, attach a leash to it, and just follow her wherever she wants to go. You can do this inside or outside the house, for 10 minutes to a half hour. Let kitty explore her surroundings with you close by. Some cats will just lie down and look at you, and on the first day, that’s ok, too.
As the days progress, remember to take treats with you. Walk to the far end of the leash and call your cat toward you. Reward her with a treat and a pet when she comes. This may take several training sessions, as your cat may need to inspect the surroundings often. Eventually though, as you walk away, she’ll walk toward you without you calling. Stop every now and again to reward her. Soon, your cat will get the hang of it, and she’ll be going on walks with you, or even taking YOU on walks!
Jennifer’s cat Kona leads her around town like a pro:
Leash training is not only a cool way to impress your neighbors (your kitty will strut proudly outdoors as the Jones’ cat watches from a window), it can be extremely useful for travel, moving, and pet emergency preparedness.
Cats often become frightened or stressed in unfamiliar situations, and may react by hiding or lashing out – needless to say, this can make it difficult to get them out from under the bed/couch/fridge and safely into their carriers. If you know your cat will be entering uncharted territory, having a harness on and ready can make a huge difference when it’s time to go. Simply clip the leash to your cat’s harness and you’re ready to move. You can still carry your cat in your arms or in a carrier, but if she succeeds in squirming out of your grasp, you’ll still have her; she won’t be able to run away and hide. Even if you need to leave in a hurry, the harness and leash provide a safe, effective way to keep your pet close.
Once your cat has mastered the art of walking on a leash, another great trick is to come when called. Stay tuned for our next training blog to learn more.
Next course in this series: “CAT TRAINING 103: Here, Kitty Kitty”
Is your cat leash trained, or does the world’s heaviest harness take its toll on your feline companion? Share your story below.