“Adventure cat” is not a new cat breed—rather, the term encompasses a new attitude toward cat parenthood. An adventure cat is a feline who, rather than stay indoors snoozing, joins their pet parents outside on a leash and harness.
Any cat with the right personality and temperament can become an adventure cat. But the sooner you introduce a harness and leash to your kitten, the smoother the transition will be. Here is how to leash train a cat.
Why Should You Leash Train a Cat?
While indoor cats use an average of 40 square yards in their home, community cats are natural hunters who have been known to roam up to 150 acres.
But this far-reaching outdoor life comes with risks. In fact, outdoor cats live only half as long as indoor-only cats, due to exposure to cat fights, infectious diseases, and injuries. Because of these dangers, veterinarians encourage pet parents not to let their cats roam freely outside.
This is where a harness comes in. Harnessing a cat and walking them on a leash lets them explore, enhances mental stimulation, and gives them ample exercise—all while keeping your kitty safe. It also helps your kitty combat the dangers of a sedentary indoor life, such as obesity.
What You Need for Taking Cats on Walks
Before you hit the hiking trails with your cat, make sure you have the right gear.
1. A Safe, Well-Fitting Harness
Make sure your cat cannot slip out of their harness. Do not use a neck collar alone. A collar may be useful for a name tag and phone number, but not for attaching the leash. A cat should always be walked on a harness to keep them from slipping out or choking themselves in case they dart.
Measure your cat correctly and, if possible, try a few different harnesses to test which one fits your cat the best. The leash attachment should be at the back of the harness.
2. A Leash
Some harnesses come with a leash, such as PetSafe Come With Me Kitty. But you may need to buy one on its own. There are lots of leashes for cats to choose from, and your cat might like a bungee-style leash that has a bit of give to it, especially when you’re first starting to leash train.
Always bring a reward your cat loves, to help guide them when walking on a leash. This can be:
A toy you can toss ahead of the cat
A wand toy you can dangle in front of your cat
A laser pointer that lets you guide your cat
How to Leash Train a Cat
The younger your cat, the easier it will be to leash train them. That said, most cats, even older ones, can easily be trained to walk on a leash. Some cats require more patience than others, so take small steps when harness training (and offer your cat lots of rewards along the way).
1. Talk to Your Vet
Make sure your cat receives a physical exam and is mentally and physically fit for the adventures ahead. Share your plan of taking your cat on outdoor adventures with your veterinarian, who can guide you through:
Your cat should be spayed or neutered, and they should be microchipped before going outside, just in case.
2. Increase Outdoor Enrichment
Is your cat curious, active, and the type that would enjoy a change in scenery? Or is your cat shy, fearful, and one who tends to hide from any challenges in the home?
If your cat is on the shy side, it’s best to slowly introduce outside time so they can build their confidence and bravery. An easy way to do this is with a catio, where your cat can explore the outside as they feel comfortable.
Your cat will encounter many unpredictable stimuli once they go outside. New noises, smells, objects, people, and other animals are all things you may run into that could scare your cat. The goal is to have a safe, positive adventure when taking a cat outside, without increasing fear and stress.
3. Introduce the Harness
Begin with the harness only, no leash attached. Do this indoors where your cat is comfortable before ever going outside.
Let your cat see and sniff the harness. You might want to coat it with Feliway Calming Spray, or even use catnip to get your cat interested and excited about this new outfit.
Gently lay the harness against your cat’s body, and reward them for staying calm with food or treats. If your cat remains calm, place the harness on their body, and attach the straps and buckles. Reward your cat freely with treats, toys, or play while doing this. Always remove the harness while your cat is still calm and comfortable.
Do this for several weeks before attaching the leash. You may have to adjust the harness a few times to get the fit right. Your cat shouldn’t be able to slip out of the harness, but you also don’t want it to be too tight.
4. Add the Leash
When you first clip the leash onto your cat’s harness, let them drag it around the floor at first. When you gently pick up the leash, do not hold it tight or pull on it. Instead, follow your cat gently with a loose leash. Teach your cat to walk on a leash by following them—not by trying to direct the cat to where you want to go.
Keep up with indoor, loose-leash walking until your cat is relaxed and moving freely while you hold the leash.
5. Direct Your Cat
Begin gently directing your cat with a treat, a toy, a target stick, or a laser pointer. Do this for a few steps, then let your kitty decide where they want to go. Keep the leash loose, and follow them around. Praise them and use tasty treats to reward them.
When directing your cat, use a calm, soft voice to encourage your cat to follow you. It’s important to introduce this skill, as you will likely need to direct your cat when you’re out on your adventure.
If you put a little tension on the leash and your cat stops or changes direction from the way you intended to go, immediately put slack in the leash and reward your cat. Repeat this multiple times in various rooms and with different distractions present.
6. Go Outside
Once you’re confident that your cat has the leash skills to go outside, pick a safe, calm, and fully enclosed place to start the process. Take your cat outside in their carrier, with the harness already in place. Open the carrier and see if they want to start exploring the new environment.
Some cats are nervous at first, and may need a few times to adjust before they become curious and want to exit the carrier on their own. Others jump right out and will show you where they want to go. Once your cat wants to explore, start by following slowly and gently behind, and allow them to check things out in their own time.
If the first outing was a success, repeat this regularly. You won’t need to continue harness training your cat inside. The cat will likely start expecting the outings and start vocalizing excitedly, trying to get your attention to remind you it’s time for a feline stroll.
If you are creating a good routine, it will be fun for you and your cat alike.
Tips for Harness Training a Cat
Always use positive reinforcement, and never punish your cat.
Never jerk on the leash.
Always check the fit of the harness before going outside, to ensure your cat cannot slip out of it and escape.
Never tie your cat up somewhere—especially outdoors.
Never bring your cat to the vet on a leash; always use a carrier.
Never walk your cat on a leash where there are predators. It can be difficult to protect your cat from a larger predator.
Watch your cat’s body language carefully. Your cat should be having fun—smelling and exploring new things, scratching on trees, and chasing butterflies. If your cat does not want to move—or tries to run away or hide—they may not be ready to walk outside on a leash just yet.
Featured Image: iStock/Kateryna Kovarzh
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