How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

Cats can learn to walk on leashes.

Walking your cat outside has the potential to provide many good times for both your kitty and you, but it is a serious endeavor that can be fraught with mishaps and outright danger if it is done haphazardly. It is also not right for every cat.

Why Walk Your Cat?

Leash-walking, when the proper precautions are taken, can allow your kitty to expand her horizons and get in touch with some of her wildness in a way that's safe for both her and the local wildlife. On a leash, your kitty can leave her scent on branches, scratch her claws on tree trunks, and pick a random spot in the grass on which to repose. A leash walk can give your cat new opportunities for discovery, and it also relieves stress and boredom. Leash-walking can be great fun, but it is not suitable for all cats.

If your cat has no interest in the outdoors, that's fine; don't force her. Make your house the best cat-home ever, and strive to make your kitty's indoor life rewarding, safe, and happy.

Leash-Walking Is Much Safer than Letting Your Cat Roam Outdoors Alone

Please consider leash-walking as an alternative to letting your cat outside alone. An outdoor cat is exposed to a multitude of risks, including ingesting toxic substances, getting into brawls with other cats, being attacked by wild animals or unleashed dogs, or being hit by a car. Cats that go outside have a shorter life expectancy than those that stay inside or are outside on a strictly supervised basis.

When to Think Twice About Leash-Walking Your Cat

There are some circumstances in which it's not a good idea to attempt leash-training with your cat. Some of these include that:

How to Know If Your Cat Might Be Ready for Walks

Your cat should be secure in her home environment and know that it is where she should return if she is ever lost. Before you consider walking your cat, the following should be true:

Preparing for Walking Your Cat on a Leash

If you've decided that leash-walking is a good idea for your cat and the above prerequisites have been met, be sure that you don't just throw a collar and leash on your feline friend and run out the door. There is considerable prep work to be done before you're ready for that. Below are some things to take care of before starting leash-training.

Now That You Have Done the Prep Work, There's More Prep Work to Do

Before you can teach your cat to walk on a leash, you need to buy the leash. Rather than attaching it to a collar, you will need to buy a harness. This is because cats can get out of collars, and they can cause damage to a cat's neck if you pull on them. A harness, which goes around the cat's torso, is safer.

Before you buy a harness, you can try and determine whether your cat will allow you to put it on her by bringing your hands down her sides from above, then touching her belly for at least 10 seconds. Some cats are fine with this. However, if you don't regularly pet or brush your cat's underside, you may have to work your way up to it, a second at a time. Use treats and a calming voice to get your cat acclimated to this action.

When it's time to buy the harness, consider an harness. This type of cat harness has two loops; one goes around the neck, and one goes around the chest. The double loops on the H-harness make it almost escape-proof. Ideally, get a harness that requires no pre-adjustments and has buckles that connect on the top. Some advantages of H-harnesses that go on this way are:

You'll need a leash to attach to the harness. It's best to use a short leash that is 4 feet or less in length. Here are the reasons you want a short leash:

Make sure that you attach the short leash to the harness securely, with no gaps or other ways in which it could become detached.

Rules and Guidelines for Walking Your Cat Outside

There are some hard-and-fast rules that should always be followed when you are walking your cat outside.

Remember: You're not really walking with your cat so much as wandering with her. Or letting her walk you. The idea is not to get from Point A to Point B but to stop and smell the roses. And the azaleas. And the barbecue grill. And the foundation of the house. And the paper cup in the yard. And the bird poop. Let your kitty do her job—take inventory, put her scent signature on various objects in the territory, and investigate anything novel or new.

Getting Your Cat Used to the Harness and Leash

A harness is the safest way to walk a cat.

Before putting the harness on your kitty for the first time, attach the leash and ID tag to it, and let the combination lie around the house for a few days in a spot to which your cat has access. Let her thoroughly sniff both pieces and put her scent all over them. Let the novelty wear off.

After your cat seems used to the presence of the harness and leash, there are a couple of ways to proceed. Many sources recommend a rather drawn-out process in which you put the harness without the leash on the cat, have her get used to wearing it around the house, then attach the leash and have her get used to the combination for a while. This may work well for some cats. If you decide to do it this way, never leave your cat unattended with the harness and leash on because it could be dangerous if she gets tangled up in something.

For other cats, this long process may serve only to annoy the cat and make her dislike the harness and leash: who wants to walk around inside with a harness around you and a leash dragging behind you? Consider showing your kitty the prize right away: the reason for the leash and harness. As soon as you have her harness on and she isn't visibly annoyed or uncomfortable, pick your cat up and go outside. Then she'll associate the leash with fun instead of a bother with no apparent upside.

How to Put a Harness on Your Cat

Many people follow the steps below when putting a harness on their cat. But work out any sequence with which you and your kitty are both comfortable.

These instructions are for an harness that fastens on top. They also assume that you are right-handed; use the opposite hands if you are left-handed.

Some cats seem to hate having a harness around them and will struggle to avoid having it put on or to get out of it once it is on them. If your cat falls into this category, the prognosis regarding leash-walking is poor. But don't lose all hope right away. Here's what you can do:

Be sure that you have the leash firmly in hand before you scoop your cat up to carry her outside. Here is a safe method for leash-holding:

It bears repeating that the outdoors is full of dangers for cats, and as pleasant as leash-walking will probably be for you and your cat, it is a serious undertaking. Urban, suburban, and rural areas have cars, dogs that get loose from their leashes, coyotes and other predators, poisons and pesticides, traps, mean people, and cat thieves. The leash must not leave your hand.

How to Start the Walk

As described above, make the process of leaving the house for a leash walk different from other times you leave the house, so your cat doesn't associate any leaving with a walk and start bolting out the door. You can use some or all of the following techniques to accomplish this:

Coming Back Inside

Often, your kitty will want to stay out longer than you will, so you'll have to be the "bad guy" and end the fun. About a minute before you're ready to come in, if your kitty hasn't positioned herself in front of the door on her own, give the "One more minute!" warning. She will soon learn what the phrase means. Giving her this warning allows her to have time to rub her face against one more branch and check out one more random thing on the ground or spend one more minute luxuriously doing nothing before it's time to head back inside.

When the minute is over, pick your cat up. Be confident and no-nonsense, yet gentle and soothing. In most cases, after a few sessions, she'll grow accustomed to the procedure.

Reward your kitty when she comes back in after the walk to reaffirm the joy of being home. After taking off her harness, give her a good brushing as described above. Give her some nice petting and praise and a tasty treat. Coming home should be welcoming and satisfying for your kitty. She may let you know how happy she is with a steady purr.

Possible Situations and How to Prevent or Deal with Them

Below are some common situations that may arise when you're outside with your cat and how you can handle them.

Walking Multiple Cats

If you have a multi-cat household, you have two choices for walking your cats:

"I Want to Go out Again"

After your first venture, your kitty may want to go back out 20 minutes later. She may claw at the door, wail, and aggressively rub up against you. The answer is "No." Cats like to test the boundaries, which is admirable in a way. But be firm. Ignore her pleas. Go about your day. Soon enough, your kitty will understand and accept the routine. If you give in, your kitty might start bugging you to go outside all the time.

Be vigilant during this adjustment period when you leave or enter the house. Even more importantly, warn and keep a watch on visitors to make sure they don't leave the door wide open. You may need to block the door, hold your kitty, or put her in another room if you have guests or any situation in which a door to the outside will be open a lot. Let visitors know that your cat is not allowed outside. A sign on the door saying "Please close the door so the cat doesn't get out" won't hurt, either.

What if Your Cat Gets Loose?

If something unforeseen happens and the worst occurs and your cat gets loose, follow the steps below.

Never yell at or physically punish your cat for escaping or failing to come back to you once you have her with you again. Your cat will not understand this negative response and it will make her less likely to return to you if she ever gets loose again.

Home, Sweet Home

Make your home a cozy spot for your cat.

If done properly, a daily leash-walk can be a satisfying way to spend some quality time with your cat. Watching your kitty take in the sights and smells of nature, pounce on a falling leaf, roll in the gravel driveway for a back scratch, and investigate the immediate outdoor environment can be a fun bonding experience for both of you.

However, leash-walking should not be a substitute for an accommodating home in which a kitty has abundant opportunities to play, relax, socialize, satisfy her curiosity, scratch, climb, and engage in a full range of activities that are important to cats. This way, the best part of your leash walks will be returning to your home, sweet home.

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