Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our March/April. 2017 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Training a cat to walk on a leash enriches her lifestyle by safely allowing her to enjoy the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. It’s also an excellent way of revving up her exercise routine. There’s no question that a cat’s personality plays an important role in deciding if she’s game for a fresh-air challenge. An adventurous cat will probably embrace this opportunity, while skittish scaredy-cats may resist, preferring the view from the kitty condo instead.
￼￼And, it goes without saying that it’s easier to introduce the idea to a kitten than to an adult cat. Either way, patience is key. Cats do everything at their own pace.
Choosing a harness
A harness and a 4- to 6-foot leash is the best combo for training a cat to enjoy going for a walk. A harness sits comfortably across the shoulders, under the tummy and doesn’t place a direct strain on the neck area. Also, it won’t get in the way of your cat’s collar and ID tags — essential accessories for any outdoor activities.
Many cats feel more secure in a harness. I have been leash-training my 5-month-old kitten, Tory, and, as a pet parent, I also feel more in control using a harness and thus more confident about embarking on outings, too. (Also it’s easier to wriggle out of a collar than out of a harness.)
Fortunately, because of the growing trend to take cats outdoors, there is a good selection of harnesses available for both adult cats as well as young kittens. The H-style harness usually has the same thickness as a collar and goes around the shoulder area and around the tummy. A mesh-styled harness has a mesh band across the shoulders and a thinner ribbon band around the tummy. A harness that clips on the side of the cat and not under the tummy is much easier to use. They’re often sold in harness-and-leash combo sets.
Let the training begin
With a cat, it’s truly baby steps. Start by simply leaving both the harness and leash lying around the house for feline inspection. When I began the process with Tory, I let the leash drag along the floor and allowed her to “chase” it.
Teaching Tory the “sit” command really helped her to focus and stay in one place long enough to secure the harness in place. Leaving it on daily for about 10 minutes for a few days is enough for a cat to feel comfortable wearing it.
The next step was to clip the leash onto the harness and let her drag it around the house. After Tory was ignoring both the harness and the leash, I slowly started walking her around the house.
There’s really no fixed rule as to how long it will take for a cat to feel comfortable to step outside the front door. And initially, it’s a really good idea to keep the door open so that she can safely do an about-turn and head back inside of her own volition.
Staying close to home
So where do you go? Cats, if they are allowed outside on their own, will often go and hang out under a bush and watch insects, butterflies and birds from this vantage point. Others may like to prowl around, possibly climb a tree and observe from a height. So it’s not essential to take a feline for lengthy walks around the neighborhood. I have a neighbor who takes her cat outside her condo, and she sits and reads a book while the cat “roams” the area her extended leash allows. This is a great option.
Know the neighborhood
Traffic, people and dogs can easily spook even a confident cat on a leash, causing her to panic and possibly attempt to get away like greased lightning. So scope out any route first and the best time of day. If it’s a popular path for unpredictable neighborhood dogs, find an alternative.
Know what else lurks in your neighborhood in terms of wild life. Many suburban areas are popular feeding grounds for coyotes. It boils down to trusting your instincts and good old-fashioned common sense.
We live on a canyon where coyotes roam in broad daylight. So I leash trained my cat, Ziggy, and am currently teaching Tory to enjoy sitting on a first-floor balcony that affords a great view of birds in nearby trees — not to mention those that venture close to the balcony. The leash training here involved teaching them to remain on floor level and not to attempt to jump up and walk around the top of the balcony ledge. Ziggy is now allowed out here without a leash but always under supervision. And eventually, Tory will be afforded the same privileges. I am more than happy to join them for a cup of coffee and a sunshine-infused dose of vitamin D.
Feline personality traits: Is your cat game for the great outdoors?
According to well-known pet detective Kat Albrecht, who has successfully searched and found lost cats, felines have four distinct personality traits. Determining your cat’s personality will help determine whether she’ll enjoy outdoor excursions.
- Curious or clown cat: A cat with a gregarious personality will happily greet strangers and is generally curious, unafraid and adventurous and will enjoy going outdoors.
- Care-less cat: Such cats are aloof and usually don’t care to be around people. However, a feline with this personality may enjoy going outside with you if there is no one else around.
- Cautious cat: A cautious cat is likely to be shy and may run for cover under a bush if someone else is on the path and have to be coaxed out.
- Xenophobic cat: Xenophobia is a fear or hatred of anything strange or foreign. Fearful cats are better off indoors. Enrich their lives with lots of fun indoor games.
About the author: Sandy Robins is an award-winning multimedia pet lifestyle author. She has written three books. She is also the co-host of the web series Pet Product TV. Sandy lives in Southern California with her family, including cats Fudge and Ziggy. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.