You’ve probably seen the adorable posts and videos of cats walking on leashes and adventuring the world with their owners. As cat lovers, you may have dreamed of doing the same thing. While training your cat to walk on a leash can take quite a bit of patience, it can be rewarding for both you and your cat. In this guide, we will outline the steps on how to train your cat to walk on a leash, the benefits of leash training your cat, and important things to remember when leash training your cat.
Benefits of Leash Training Your Cat
Besides how cool both of you would look walking around together, there are several reasons why leash training your cat might be beneficial for them, such as:
- Safely gives them access to outside
- Fosters and develops your bond
- Gives them exercise
- Stimulates their senses
How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
1) Get Your Cat Used to Wearing the Harness Indoors
Start by putting the harness on your cat indoors. It is important to use a cat harness and not a collar because cats can get out of collars easily. Using a collar instead of a harness can also cause strain on the cat’s neck and cause them to choke. When you put the harness on them, give them a tasty treat. You can give them more treats while they are wearing the harness and are getting more comfortable with it on.
However, only give them treats with the harness on and not when you take the harness off. This will help your cat develop positive associations with putting the harness on and wearing it and not with taking it off. If you are experienced in clicker training, this method also works great to help train your cat to walk on a leash.
2) Start by Walking Your Cat Indoors
Once your cat is more comfortable wearing a harness, attach the leash. This may get you the side-eye from a smart kitty who knows something is up. But by introducing both the harness and leash slowly and separately, this helps you avoid potential stimulation overload. Begin walking your cat indoors so they can get used to the tension of the leash in an environment they know. This is an extremely important step. Because cats like to be in control, the tension of the leash can make them feel uncomfortable. This is why it’s essential to introduce the leash in an environment where the cat is comfortable.
As they begin walking, give them a treat to let them know what a good job they are doing. Keep the indoor walks short, and let them get used to walking at their own pace. Keep in mind this could take quite a bit of patience and time for your cat to feel comfortable.
3) Take Your Cat Outside
There are two different ways to introduce your cat to walking on a leash outside. You can either let them walk out of the door on their own or carry them outside. Carrying your cat outside is often the safest route. Carrying your cat outside versus letting them walk out the door helps discourage them from venturing out on their own. It also helps show them that part of the process for going for walks is you taking them outside.
Carrying Your Cat Outside
Introduce a phrase they will associate with walking outside such as “Want to go for a walk?” or even something shorter such as “Walk” or “Time for a walk”. Whatever works best for you and your cat. Gently pick them up and take them outside. Place them on the ground, give them a treat, and keep the walk short and sweet. When introducing something new to your cat, it is important not to overload their senses and to leave the training on a positive note.
Letting Your Cat Walk Outside
If your cat is less likely to behave like an “escape artist”, and you decide to let them walk out on their own instead of carrying them, using the short phrase can help them differentiate between when you are normally going outside and when it is time for a walk.
Put your body halfway outside and halfway in the house. This shows your cat that you are still with them, but you are heading to another environment. You can even try tossing a treat outside to see if your cat goes after it. If your cat is still not comfortable going outside, remember to have patience. Close the door, give them a treat for trying, remove the harness, and try again the next day. As mentioned before, you do not want to put your cat in a position that they do not want to be in. By stepping back and trying again later, you give them time to think if it’s something they really want to do.
4) Establish a Ritual/Routine
By taking the time to associate the harness, leash, treats, and short saying with your cat, you are helping them establish a routine. This helps reduce the possibility that your cat will associate every time you open the door with them going outside. Instead, over time, they will realize that the putting on of the harness, the treat, and the short saying equals outside time and not the opening of the door.
Things to Remember When Training Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
1) Let them Lead
As most cat owners have noticed, cats like to be in control, and walking a cat is different than walking a dog. It is important to remember that a cat’s body is more delicate than a dog’s body. When walking outside with your cat, do not tug or pull on the leash or harness. Instead, gently lift the harness, and at any point if your cat is uncomfortable, pick them up and take them back inside.
2) Ensure the Harness Fits
Make sure that the harness fits your cat well and is made for cats. With the harness on the cat, there should be enough room where you can put one or two fingers underneath the harness. Cats can easily slip out of loose harnesses, and you do not want your cat getting out of their harness outside.
3) Avoid Populated Areas
Teaching your cat how to walk on a leash in a populated area or an unfamiliar setting could be dangerous. Make sure the environment you choose to walk your cat in is as controlled and comfortable as possible. Keeping in mind that patience is key, you could potentially work your cat up to being more secure walking in environments with more stimulation.
4) Let Them Decide if Leash Walking is Right for Them
Some cats do not wish to walk on a leash, and that is perfectly okay. If your cat enjoys sunbathing or staring outside of the window every day, consider getting them a cat window perch. You can also take them outside in a pet backpack, cat carrier, or stroller if they are willing.
5) Let Them Learn at Their Own Pace
It is important to remember that cats can be finicky creatures. While your cat may be a rockstar who is comfortable with the harness as soon as you put it on, this is not the case with every cat. It is essential to respect them during this process and gradually introduce them to the new concept so they aren’t overwhelmed.
The most important thing to remember when you train your cat to walk on a leash is that walking your cat on a leash is for their enrichment. If it is not something they want to do, do not force it. Instead, adapt to what they prefer. It can be a challenge pleasing a cat, but the mutual respect and bond you earn by doing so is extremely rewarding.
For more cat training tips, check out Jeffers’ blog How to Train Your Cat to Drink From a Cat Water Fountain.