How to Leash Train Your Cat
Leash training your cat can be a wonderful way to get them outside safely for exercise and enjoyment. After all, even the most domesticated indoor cat has its roots in the outdoors, just like all of us. Getting outside is important! Not only that, but moving freely and exercising outside is vital for good health.
What You Need to Leash Train Your Cat
Don’t try using a dog harness and leash on your cat! They are made for different animals with different needs.
1) Harness: fitted for cats. Before purchasing a harness for your cat, make sure you take their measurements. ‘How to Measure Your Cat’ will show you how so you can confidently choose the correct sized harness, leash, and collar for your cat.
2) Leash: made with a lightweight fabric.
Leash Training Your Cat
Begin With Harness Training
Once you have selected the right size harness for your cat, begin the process of getting them accustomed to wearing it. This begins indoors. Don’t attach the leash at this stage.
Gently attach the harness, paying close attention to your cat’s comfort. If it looks like they’re uncomfortable, make adjustments.
If the fit is wrong, take it off. Forcing your cat to acclimate to a poorly fitting harness can be dangerous for their health and also cause them to distrust you.
Treat your cat and shower them with praise as they adjust to wearing the harness indoors. Identify a special treat that you can reward them with specifically when they are learning to wear the harness. This will give them a positive association with the harness. Eventually, the walk and adventure will be the reward!
Get them to wear the harness for longer periods. Keep ensuring that they are comfortable and that the fit is optimal.
Indoor Leash Training in 3 Steps
1) No Tension Leash Training
Once your cat is accustomed to wearing the harness, you can begin teaching them how to walk on the leash. This is split into two phases, first with no tension, then with tension.
While your cat is wearing the harness indoors, attach the leash. As your cat beings to walk around, follow them so that the leash remains loose and they feel no resistance.
Continue this for a little while. When you decide it’s enough, make sure to detach the leash and take off the harness at the same time. Since the harness is only meant for attaching the leash, there is no need to leave your cat associating the harness with indoor living.
2) Low Tension Training
Repeat this process, without tension, until your cat behaves naturally with the leash and harness attached. Once your cat is used to this, try dropping the leash while keeping a close eye on your cat. This allows them to experience the weight of the leash with very little tension.
Never leave your unsupervised cat on an unattended leash! If they become caught, there is a danger of hanging. Let your cat get used to having the leash attached, dragging behind them before introducing more resistant tension.
3) Leash Training with Tension
Now you are ready to walk your cat indoors! Walk with your cat with no leash tension. With enough slack, stop walking and see if your cat tests the leash’s tension. If they do, follow them and reward them with their special treat. This is ideal, when your cat walks themselves, so you want to encourage them!
Try to lead them, too. Do this very gently and use rewards and encouragement. Keep practicing this step repeatedly, indoors, until you and your cat find your walking groove!
Outdoor Leash Training
Now you’re ready to test your cat’s new harness and leash skills outside. Be patient with this final step. The outdoors can be intimidating to your indoor cat, but with time they will get used to it with more exposure. Keep being encouraging and loving, honoring your cat’s boundaries.
Get your cat set up with their harness and leash indoors and begin walking them to the door. Open the door and see if they leave independently.
Bring treats with you. Throw some ahead of you to see if they will go after it and further outside. If your cat is nervous and scared, don’t force this step!
As with the other steps, patience is key. Repeat this step, venturing out further beyond your door, hallway, yard, until you are out walking them. You will know your cat’s comfort levels best, so monitor them, and honor them!
The Benefits of Leash Training
Once your cat can enjoy walking on a leash, they will be able to take advantage of the many benefits. Indoor cats can enjoy the best of both worlds if you allow them to be outside with you, safely.
Getting your cat outdoors on a leash opens up a whole new world of well-being and life experience. Like you, your cat enjoys the simple pleasure of new sights, sounds, and smells.
A New Form of Exercise
All great cat parents have multiple ways that they ensure their cats get exercise. This could be with toys, like chasing lasers, wind-up mice, or good old-fashioned wands. And if your home has long hallways, your cat might already be racing up and down them!
When your cat becomes comfortable walking on a leash, you allow them to release some of that pent-up, manic cat energy. A simple walk around the neighborhood might feel like a small thing to you, but for your cat, it can mean a huge expenditure in energy. This is great for their blood pressure, muscle tone, and digestive health, to name a few benefits.
Reduce Boredom and Behavioral Problems
Behavioral problems or boredom in a cat can often be the result of a low stimulation environment. Try as you might spend time with your cat, doing the same activities day in and day out can induce boredom. While routine is an important part of your cat’s feeding, sleeping, and toilet habits, there should be moments of novelty and fun in-between!
Deepen Your Trust and Bond With Your Cat
By safely showing your cat new places and going on adventures together, you deepen your connection. Novelty is a proven method of improving human relationships and the same is true for our bonds with our animals. The more we expose them to healthful, unique activities, the more your presence will stimulate positive feelings.
Purina® Canada (2021) “How to leash train your cat,” Purina® Canada, [online] Available from: https://www.purina.ca/articles/cat/training/how-to-leash-train-your-cat (Accessed 14 August 2021).
The Anti-Cruelty Society (2019) “Leash training your cat,” The Anti-Cruelty Society, [online] Available from: https://anticruelty.org/pet-library/leash-training-your-cat (Accessed 13 August 2021).