Did you know that walking a pet isn’t just reserved for dogs? Cats can also partake in the activity and receive the same satisfaction as their dog counterparts. Especially with people doing outdoor activities more often, don’t be surprised if you see your neighbor with their cat on a harness and leash! We’ll talk about leasing training and harness training in regards to indoor cats. Most cats remain indoors, but many of their owners don’t realize that they can give their cats the best of both worlds in a safe and controlled manner! That’s when we can turn to leash training!
Should I Walk My Cat?
First and foremost, with any new activity, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. If you consider strapping your cat in a harness, you first need to consider if they’re up for the task. If your cat is a “door-dasher” (always lurking around the door, trying dashing out) and always fascinated and curious about the outdoors, they’re a great candidate for leash training! However, if your cat avoids the door and doesn’t even bother gazing out the window, leash training isn’t necessary. Walking your cat is simply a way to change things up, relieve boredom, and exercise your cat with an enriching time outdoors! The decision to-go or not-to-go just boils down to the personality of your cat. You know your cat best and if you believe walking them outdoors can make them happy, by all means, go for it!
The health and age of your cat should also be taken into account. Older cats or those experiencing health problems may not even have the capacity to go outdoors. If you want to start your cat when they’re very young, it’s possible! As they say, it’s good to start them when they’re young. There is no “best age” to start your training on your cat. As long as they have all the budding curiosity and necessary vaccinations, you can leash train your cat anytime! You just want to make sure your cat doesn’t bring home any fleas or parasites in the home since cats can often roll around on whatever they see outside. Consult your local veterinarians for any vaccination and health concerns before embarking on this journey!
A Note on Cat Backpacks
If you’ve ever seen those space pod-looking backpacks online, those can also be a good option for taking your cat outside. It not only acts as a carrier, but also a safe and hassle-free way to adventure with your cat. These backpacks have minimal space (where sitting is the only possible position for your cat) so it’s best to keep them reserved for short trips to the vet or short walks outside. If you have a window-perching cat, cat backpacks are the more simple way to change their scenery for a bit! Especially with the backpacks that have a clear window or frame, the natural curiosity of your cat will be very satisfied. If leash training seems too daunting for your cat at the moment, you can opt for purchasing one of these backpacks! Be mindful that there is some training you have to do if your cat has not been exposed to these backpacks or a carrier in general. Again, use your best judgement on behalf of your cat!
Start with the Harness
Once you’ve decided the fate of your cat, start by looking for the right harness. The harness can make or break your quest to walk your cat, so choosing the right one is very important. Do not use the regular, break-away collars you may already have! Break-away collars are designed for instances where your cat may jump somewhere and their collar gets snagged on something. To prevent injuries, these collars unclasp or break-away easily. These collars aren’t suitable for walking your cat since you want to have as much control and security as possible.
When choosing the right harness, you want to make sure it’s snug but not too tight on your cat. An easy way to check the harness is to slide two fingers between the harness and your cat. If it slides through, it fits well. The harness shouldn’t be too loose and more than two fingers should not be able to slide through. There are some harnesses that are specifically designed for cats. Those ones are made out of softer material and are designed to allow more mobility for cats compared to regular dog harnesses. These specially-made harnesses are the best option to ensure your cat has maximum comfort. But if you find that a dog harness works, then that is also fine!
Feel free to try on different harnesses for your cat. But to be honest, most cats who get strapped in a harness for the first time do not enjoy it. You may witness them falling over, wiggling, or frozen in place when you put on their first harness. This is normal since they are not used to the new weight or pressure on them. Put the harness on them for short periods of time, gradually increasing as they seem fit. Allow time for your cat to get used to it and use treats to enforce a positive association with it! There’s a reason why harness training and leash training are two separate processes. Depending on the cat, it could take hours to days to just get used to the harness itself. You must be patient and work your way up to the point where your cat is walking normally with the harness on. Only until then can you move onto leash training.
Wow, look at your cat! Walking confidently and strutting that new harness of theirs around the home. Well sorry to burst their bubble, but that is only half of the training needed to go outside. Like harnesses, choosing the right leash is important. Four to six feet, non-retractable leashes are the best place to start due to their manageable lengths. Retractable leashes can be used but it’s best to keep them for later once your cat is all done and trained.
As always, introduce the new item slowly and with lots of treats. With the harness on your cat, start by clipping the leash to the harness and let it drag around without you holding it. If this is too startling for your cat, feel free to loosely hold the leash and follow your cat around with it. Again, this is a new added pressure and feeling in combination with the harness. Therefore, you should start by getting your cat accustomed to both the harness and leash inside first. Like any sort of training, make it a habit and set aside time for your cat to practice. Forcing them is simply not an option, and you should train at the pace that suits your cat’s needs. Once your cat is walking comfortably around the home with a harness and leash (and associates them with positive feelings), then you’re able to move on to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Outside!
If you have walked dogs before, drop all assumptions right now. Walking a dog is not like walking a cat. Most of the time it will be your cat walking and you just following them. Compared to dogs, cats can be slower and more curious when walking. They may stop at one spot and sniff for around ten minutes. Then you can take a few steps, and your cat darts to the leaf they saw moving. All this to say, be prepared for more stops and do not expect to get your full workout in this one trip. Then again, all cats are different. Your cat may be bold and start climbing a tree right away. Avoid rough tuggings of the leash, be gentle, and have treats on hand. If your cat is more rowdy, a gentle tug or firm “no” usually gets the message across. You can always ease them away or pick them up from things you don’t want them to, such as darting across the street or rummaging through garbage. This is new for the both of you! Understand that you do not want any negative reinforcements to start off the training.
In regards to where to take your cat outside, make sure there’s not too many distractions such as dogs on lawns, busy streets, things blocking the sidewalk, etcetera. Your cat will be overwhelmed but we want to do our best to keep that to a minimum.
You Can Do It!
Start slow and work your way up! Yes, it will be a weird experience and you will get weird looks for your neighbors, but it’s all worth it! Your cat is getting the enrichment and exercise they need. It’s also a good activity to strengthen the overall bond between you and your cat. Just be sure to make walking a daily ritual. That way, your cat won’t be confused when you bring up the leash after a few months. Keep the harness and leash by the door and have some kind of phrase or signal for them to know that it’s “walking-time” (ie. shaking the leash). And after each walk, congratulate both you and your cat! It’s definitely not the easiest thing to do but with each trip, both you and your cat will feel very much rewarded and gratified!