Cats don’t take naturally to walking with a leash and harness or collar. They are not pack animals as dogs are. It is natural for dogs to move in a group. They are happy to follow a leader. Leash training a dog is fairly simple and quick. This is not the case with a cat. Adult cats are essentially solitary creatures and do not take walks, explore, or hunt together with other cats. When they are on the move, they are usually alone. They do not understand why you would want to take a walk with them. It is a new concept. It will take time and a lot of patience to leash train your cat, but it can be done and can be very rewarding if you do not expect your cat to lead and act like a dog.
When it comes to leash training, some cats never seem to go along with it. They simply do not like it, so don’t force them. If your cat is outgoing and eager for new adventures and trusts you, it is well worth the attempt to teach her to walk with you on a leash. Again, just don’t expect her to follow you at your heels as a dog would.
We’ve leash trained several of our cats. Cats, like people, need to get out occasionally. Looking at the same four walls day in and day out makes for a very dull and boring existence and can lead to not so nice behavioral problems.
A cat’s neck and spinal column differs from a dog’s. It is very unwise to use a collar when walking a cat–there is too much of a chance for escape and/or injury. With just a collar, far too much pressure is put on the cat’s trachea which can cause pain and injury. A harness distributes any pressure from the leash over a much larger area of the cat’s body. If your cat should panic at a situation, she won’t strangle herself or slip loose and run away if you have a good harness on her when taking her for a walk.
Use either an H-shaped or figure-eight harness. An H-shaped harness is more secure and more comfortable for most cats. (We recommend you use this type of harness). Simply measure your cat’s girth (around the larger part of the rib cage) to get an accurate fit. Most pet stores will carry this type of harness.
The harness should be light-weight but sturdy (made of nylon cord is good). You also want to find a step-in type harness since a cat is more apt to accept it and will cause less stress in putting it on, particularly for you.
Look for metal fasteners or closures rather than plastic which can break. Adjustable closures ensure a good fit. Elastic can be too for tight many cats. Be sure these closures are on top or the side of the harness. Most cats won’t stand still while you fumble with a closure or fastener located on her belly. Also be sure that any metal fasteners are covered or padded where they touch the cat’s body so that no hair will be caught or pulled.
Next you need a good leash. A good cat leash needs to be made of an extremely light material. Strength is not as important as it would be for a dog. Leashes made for very small dogs work just fine. For walking your cat outdoors, use a relatively short leash of six feet or less. It is necessary to be able to pick up your cat quickly to remove her from any danger that might pop up.
NOTE: The key word in training a cat to a leash and harness is PATIENCE. It will take time. It is important that the cat views the leash and harness as something enjoyable. Cats have long memories for bad experiences, so if you rush the process and frighten her or hurt her, she most likely will never cooperate with you. A cat is more willing to do something if she can see a reward or benefit to her in the action requested. Take your time in training her and use tons of patience. Let her move at her own rate in getting familiar with this new experience. Take each step of the training process slowly and don’t move on to the next step until you are sure your cat is comfortable and accepting of the step you are in.
Now it’s time for your cat to enter the picture. Work with her indoors for now until she responds well to the harness and leash. This step of her training should be introduced VERY gradually. Place the collar and leash in one of her favorite areas and leave them there for a day or so. This will allow her to become familiar with them on her own terms so that she will see that the harness and leash are no threat to her well-being. Always keep the experience positive and fun for her. A few treats placed next to the harness and leash certainly won’t do any harm!
Once this has been accomplished, you can gently lay the harness and leash on her back or neck (don’t actually put the harness on her yet). Do this several times a day until she tolerates them well. Next, place the harness on her and adjust it to fit snugly, but not tight–just snug enough to prevent the cat from slipping it off. Cats are escape artists and can be quite creative in removing something they don’t want or like. You don’t want your cat to learn that she can get out of the harness on her own. The cat has an excellent memory and will be more difficult to work with if she learns to do this.
Leave the harness on your cat for a few minutes each day, no longer than 30 minutes. Allow her to walk around the house a bit before removing the harness. Most cats will act a bit strange at first and perhaps even try to back out of the harness. Soon she will begin to get used to the feel of the harness and accept it. Each time you put it on your cat do something special like scratching her in her favorite spot or feeding her a favorite treat. Teach her to expect that something good will happen each time the harness is put on. Cats learn through association and by making something positive happen each time the harness is put on, she will begin to enjoy the experience. Gradually increase the time the cat has the harness on. Just be sure to supervise her the entire time to prevent her from getting caught or hung-up on something.
NOTE: For leash training, do not use any collar (if you insist on using one) that is designed to break-away if the cat gets caught on anything. This one is obvious–your cat could get away from you outside just by resisting the leash. She could then be injured seriously if she should happen to make a mad dash into the path of an oncoming car. She could also just run off and hide somewhere where you will be unable to find and catch her. Your enjoyable walk with your cat could prove a disaster.
The elasticized, break-away collar is fine for your cat to wear at other times, particularly if you have identification information attached to it. Just don’t use it for taking your cat for a walk.
It is now time to attach the leash for a short period of time. Continue to use the same type of positive reinforcement you used when you introduced the cat to the harness. Don’t try to walk your cat at this point. Just attach the leash and let your cat do what she wants. Increase the time each day until the cat is moving about your house with the leash attached and is now accepting it. Of course you will be following her the entire time so she will get used to you moving around with her and being sure the leash doesn’t get caught on anything.
It is now time to teach her to go where you want to go. Pick up the leash, giving the cat a lot of verbal encouragement to follow you, begin walking in the direction of your choice. The cat will probably take a few steps in your direction the first time you exert a little pressure on the leash; give her a treat at this time. Do this each time she responds correctly for now; we want her to enjoy a reward. Then her mental alarm will go off. She’ll realize this is where you want her to go–and that’s not quite what she had in mind. The brakes will immediately go on with her placing all four paws firmly on the ground. She’ll then dig in for the battle of the wills. Some cats (those with more aggressive types of personalities) will try to fight it and jump and twist all over the place whenever any pressure is applied to the leash. If this happens, simply let go of the leash so the cat won’t get hurt. When the cat simply refuses to move, don’t give in to her will. DON’T DRAG OR PULL HER. There is a little technique you can use when the cat becomes” glued” to the floor. With the least amount of effort, give the leash the lightest tug and then quickly and immediately release the tug so that the leash hangs loosely. If she doesn’t move, repeat the procedure several times in a row, taking a 4 to 5 second pause between each tug. While you are doing this, continue with verbal encouragement. To speed the process up and to reduce her reluctance to go where you want her to go, simply pick a spot within a short distance that she would want to go to, like her food dish. Be sure to have some of her favorite food or a favorite treat waiting there for her. The distance can be increased gradually until she understands and knows that the leash will not hurt her but can take her to good things. Once she responds well in moving toward the food dish, you can begin to guide her in other directions. Give her an occasional treat as a reward–just don’t do it every time, once she understands.
We have had some success in encouraging a cat to move forward on the leash by having a second person (whom the cat knows and likes) to gently push her in the direction of the tug. This seems to help her see that going forward releases any pressure exerted from the leash. Cats are very smart and can catch on quickly, especially if there is something good in the action for them. Always give your cat a positive reason why to do something you want her to do. Cooperation will be forth coming.
Sometimes it helps to get down on your hands and knees to encourage your cat at eye level. The cat will probably only move 6 inches or so. Be patient and continue the lesson each day for a few minutes each day. Keep at it and you’ll begin to notice little breakthroughs. Then one day your cat will just get up and walk around the house with you. Don’t celebrate too soon. Tomorrow you could find resistance again. This is normal. She is very intelligent and will test the limits to see what she can get away with. Just keep patiently working with her using the tug and release technique. Remember, the tug needs to be very gentle and must be followed be an immediate release. There should be no tension on the harness. Always wait a few seconds between each little tug and release. You are just attempting to give the cat the slightest nudge in the right direction. Practice every day for a few minutes only. Keep up the praise. The more reluctant cats need all the praise and confidence building they can get. Be patient and persistent. This training process takes time. Don’t give up too soon.
If you get frustrated, please don’t take it out on your cat. Take a break and try it again. Also, KEEP YOUR TRAINING SESSIONS SHORT. You want this to be an enjoyable experience for your cat and you want her to look forward to going for a walk with you.
Once the cat is leading well indoors, and it is best to keep her indoors, leading well, for about 3 weeks. Then it is time to take a stroll outdoors with her. If your cat has never been outside, you’ll have to take it slow. The world will be big and frightening to her and filled with all sorts of strange sights, sounds and smells. Before taking your cat for a walk around the block, make sure she feels comfortable outside. Sometimes the best course to take is to simply go outside with your cat on a leash and sit on your porch. Just let her see, smell, and hear the outdoors. When she becomes relaxed with this she’ll begin to get curious about everything and want to explore all the new sights and sounds. When this occurs, it is time to take the cat for a small walk. Allow her to do the leading for now. Follow her until she understands the idea of walking outdoors on a leash. After a week or so, encourage her to walk where you want to go. Lots of encouragement and praise should be given to her. Soon she’ll be looking forward to taking a walk with you and exploring new areas.
Keep in mind that cat walking is not the same as dog walking. Usually one walks the dog to enable the dog to do his business outside. Cats are far more fussy and private about elimination than dogs are. You will not be able to teach your cat to go outdoors while taking her for a walk. Don’t throw your litter box out! Trying to force her to go outside in this manner can backfire big-time into difficult-to-to solve elimination-related problems in your house.
A cat will not “heel” like a dog when you take her for a walk. She will prefer to trot along beside you or a little bit ahead of you. Long walks are not for cats as a rule. Usually ten to fifteen minutes at the most keeps them happy.
Whenever you and your cat are out for a walk, always keep an eye out for possible dangers: roaming dogs, loud noises from traffic, construction, groups of children, or anything else in the environment that may present a danger or cause your cat fear or distress. Be ready to remove your cat immediately by scooping her up in your arms at the first hint of trouble and leaving the area. Since cats, when very frightened, can even claw and bite you in their attempt to flee a danger, it would be wise to have a heavy towel (or some such article) to wrap around her and prevent injury to your person. We recommend walking your cat only in areas you know are safe from stray dogs or other loud and frightening sounds that could upset her. Again, cat walking IS NOT the same as dog walking. Always keep this in mind.
Cats love to sniff and explore things of interest to her. Oftentimes she may just wish to sit, say on a stone wall or park bench, and watch the world go by. Sit down with her and commune with nature together.
NOTE: Cats usually want to roll in some dust. Let her do this if you are on a walk with her. The dust bath is good for her coat and she will find it very pleasurable. Don’t be alarmed by how dusty she will appear. Give her some time to groom herself and your cat will be spotless in no time and her coat will be silky and shiny. Just remember, the more enjoyable the walk is for your cat, the more cooperative she’ll be the next time you take her for a walk.
We have tried several different methods of training cats to leashes. The above method is the best one we have ever encountered and if you follow it exactly, almost any cat can learn to walk on a leash. Warren Eckstein, a well-know authority on cats and their behaviors is tops in his field. This method of leash training is his. It is a reliable method to accomplish the training, and this is the very best way to do it. Again, you just have to be very PATIENT! The rewards will be satisfying to both you and your cat.