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With spring around the corner pretty soon your cat will be pining at the door or window to go outside. Since outdoor cats have lower life expectancies we recommend that you do not give in to the constant meowing no matter how much it tugs at your heart.
Instead, consider training your cat to walk on a lead. While it wouldn’t be your cat’s first choice, they enjoy it nevertheless, and it's also fun for you to get outside for a walk with your cat.
This blog is intended to help you train your cat to walk on a lead. We've provided a step by step training guideline that includes some tools, tips and general observations from our own experience to help you successfully walk your cat on a lead. We hope you both enjoy!
The earlier you start with your cat or kitten with a harness and lead (or leash) the better. Younger kittens are obviously more open to adopting new ideas than older cats. Having said that, it is not hard or impossible to train a mature cat to walk in a harness and leash. The keys are: using reward and praise; making it a pleasurable experience for your cat; properly accustoming your cat to wearing the harness and; patience.... Your patience, not the cat's!
A sure way to ruin your chances is to in any way try to force the issue. You want to avoid a battle of wills at all costs as, we all know who will lose. Ideally, you want to tune yourself in to the cat's reactions during the training process and effectively let the cat guide you.
Buy a well-fitting Cat Harness and a lightweight Cat Lead. Don't look at dog leashes as the hardware (snap) is usually too heavy. As well, don't use a collar as cats can often slip out of them and/or most cat collars are designed to breakaway in the event of a snag. Should the cat pull or dart with the leash attached to a breakaway collar it could easily do what it has been designed to do (break away) and your cat is gone. Go with a well-fitting harness and nothing else.
Once you buy the harness and leash DO NOT run home and immediately try to take your cat to the outside. Set aside the fact that your cat has been meowing at the window or door for months. If you introduce the concept in the wrong way, you will lose any chance to walk the cat on a leash. INSTEAD, take the new harness and leash out of the packaging and simply place them somewhere near one of your cat's favorite sleeping places or hiding spots. The intent is to let your cat sniff and become accustomed to them over a few days.
Your first training session, and many after, will be just before a regular feeding time. As above, a key technique is to use reward and praise. Cats are the most receptive just before feeding and you can use this as a training advantage.
After your cat has become accustomed to the new items for a few days, put the harness on your cat just before the regular feeding time and then immediately put down the food.
Praise excessively when the meal is done and let him/her wear the harness around for a while. If your cat is bothered by the harness after the meal pull out a favorite toy for distraction and to extend the harness experience. Take the harness off after a short, reasonable time and look toward longer experiences in subsequent training exercises.
Repeat the harness, feeding and toy exercise over the next several days. Gradually try to extend the period that your cat has the harness on and isn't bothered by it. If your cat immediately accepts the harness and has no issues in this regard DO NOT skip ahead on any of the next steps. While your cat might be exceptional and you may be a gifted cat trainer, there is still trouble ahead.
Now that your cat is used to the harness attach the leash but, don't hold onto the other end. Do this inside your house. Let your cat get used to it and drag it around but watch your cat during this process to ensure it doesn't become tangled on furniture. Do not leave your cat alone with the leash attached.
Let that exercise continue for a few days and remember to praise your cat every time you put on the harness, attach the leash, etc. Again, the keys are reward, praise, accustoming your cat and your patience.
Next, pick up the end of the leash and follow your cat around the house for a few more days. Be careful not to restrict it's movement by keeping the tension slack. DO NOT try to force it to go anywhere that it doesn't want to go and whatever you do, don't try to get it to heal! Dogs will heal, not cats.
Next, start to teach your cat to follow you by encouraging and talking to it in a fun, cajoling manner while lightly pulling on the leash. Make it pleasurable, praise excessively, and use plenty of the favorite cat treats. At this stage particularly you do not want a war of wills. If your cat objects, stop until it relaxes. Try again later or wait until tomorrow, just before feeding time. Again, patience!
Once you have mastered it around the house, the great outdoors is the next step. Start slow in the backyard or a small enclosed outside area. Although your cat has been pining for the outdoors they are usually quite nervous when first provided the opportunity.Once outdoors, gradually increase your range and experiences with your cat. Be careful that you are not walking routes commonly used by dog walkers. A confrontation with a dog could cause your cat to panic and you want to avoid this, especially early on. As time goes on, your cat may become accustomed to dogs and this will not be a concern.