On a typical Sunday, you can find me walking the Farmers Market getting lots of fresh produce for the upcoming week. This week however I picked up something new that intrigued me.
As I walking down the sidewalk I noticed a man coming towards me with a dog on a leash… and a cat on a harness. Of course this caught my interest so I went over and introduced myself. He had a gorgeous Bengal that was behaving so well on a leash I had to know how he did it.
After our conversation, I couldn’t get that cat out of my mind; I went home to my own cat and had to try it out. My cat already has a collar so I just started with that. If your cat does not have a collar already, I would suggest getting a harness. If you plan on taking your cat out of the house on a leash, I would always recommend a harness instead of collar, but the collar is okay for in the home training.
When wearing a collar, it is fairly easy to pull out of the restraint especially if given a tight hold such as a leash is present; for this reason whenever you take your cat out of the house, you should have them on the harness, not collar. If your cat is new to collars or a harness, then I suggest letting them comfortable with the idea before trying to leash train them. Give them a few days to become accustomed to a collar or harness by putting it on and watching them.
To properly fit a harness or collar, you should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between the collar and their skin. Remember as they move, their body shifts and what fits when standing my not fit when lying. Once they seem okay, take it off and repeat up to a couple hours per day.
If your cat wears a collar everyday then the change to a harness should not be that bad. The harness is only worn for a few hours a day at most but it is your choice if you want your kitty to wear a collar full time or only once in a while.
Once your cat is comfortable with the restraint you can add the leash. At first, your cat may be leery of this long toy attached to them and may play with it. As long as you keep an eye on them, this is okay. Another common reaction is to simply lie down and not move; this is also acceptable.
However long it takes your cat to be okay with having the leash attached to them is fine. Let them just walk around with the leash dragging so they can smell it and rub on it to make it their own.
After your cat doesn’t seem to notice the leash attachment, the next step is to pick up the leash and follow kitty around. This just teaches your cat that where ever they go- you go attached to the leash. My cat would take a few steps and lie down most the time. He was more concerned with what I was doing hovering over him than going for a walk so I got the leash tangled between my legs a few times, but eventually he worked it out. After you can successfully follow your cat around the house, it is your turn to take lead.
When you want your cat to come to you or walk in a certain direction, you will be more productive getting their attention than pulling. With a dog, you can nudge the leash and they most often will follow. With a cat, they will sit down and not move; they are not coaxed easily. With my cat, I made a kissing noise and he came to me; so then I would move out a little further and do it again.
Perhaps your cat would come to a toy rattling or a small treat or petting every few steps. Whatever you need for your cat to learn to follow you or at least head in the direction you want them to go. After completing this step, the fun part begins!
When I first took my cat outside, I carried him over the threshold of the house door. Although it may sound silly, I don’t want my cat going outside without me so by not letting him walk out the door on his own, he has not attempted to. This is up to you of course, but it is a suggestion for first timers.
The first time you bring your cat outside on a leash, I suggest starting in a back yard or private secluded area as your cat will be scared. For my cat, this was his first time outside and he was fascinated with the grass. He kept lifting each paw and testing the grass as well as just eating it. After we got over the grass excitement he started walking and I repeated the inside training, just following him around.
It would be very common for your cat to become frightened so always stay near him and alert; you may need to pick your kitty up at a moment’s notice and remove him from a situation. Remember when cats are frightened their nails come out, so keep that in mind in case you have to pick them up. Never pull or yank on the leash. Not only can hurt you, but their reaction will be to plant down into the ground rather than come towards you.
Over time you can start to introduce distractions such as children and adults not only walking by but also wanting to touch your kitty. And of course dogs that walk near or want to smell your kitty during your walk. Start in a safe place that you know well and gradually work your walks into more time and more distractions. After each walk give your kitty lots of attention and love and let them know they did good!