For those of us with indoor cats for whatever reason, the chance to take them outside for them to explore their natural environment in safety is often important. That is why it is vital that we know how to train our cats to walk on a leash so they enjoy it. Its important start training to see if your cat will actually walk on a leash and if it will ever be happy doing so.
If you take the time to learn these few simple steps and the time to teach your cat to walk on their leash and harness bot you and your feline friend will be richly rewarded by hours of outdoor fun. Below I have gone through these simple steps.
As with all things cat patience is the key. Not my strong point I am afraid. So I can understand the temptation to start now only too well. Don’t succumb. If you want your cat to walk on the leash and harness successfully and happily you have to go by your cat’s schedule. Which of course is different for each cat. That may be quickly or it may take forever or even be never depending on your cat. I was lucky with Boo he was a natural, but not all cats take to it so well.
How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash Without Stress or Fear
This article is based on my experience with Boo and that of my family’s experience with a total of 4 cats all learning (or not learning in some instances) to go for walks on the leash). With examples of what went wrong and why and what worked and why.
Preparation and Equipment Needed To Leash Train Your Cat
- One Cat Harness & lead (leash)
- Special Cat Treats
- Time & Patience
- The Leash and some space both inside and outside
Phase 1 – Getting the Harness Ready for Your Cat. Resist the Temptation to Start Now
Here is what often happens:
You get your harness home or it arrives in the post and you open it keen to get your cat outside and exploring the world. You pop the harness on and bam your cat freezes and growls and crouches, next time you don’t stand a chance there is just no way you are going to get that cat in that harness willingly.
What you need to do:
What you need to do is when you get your harness is to open it and remove any packaging and leave it lying about the house for a week or two near your cat so it becomes familiar with it. As it is a lead and can tangle the cat this needs to be when you area around or just the harness part.
Give it time for the strong new smells to subside and the time to gain more familiar smells. The object itself needs to also be familiar.
**When to Stop**
If at any stage of the phases your cat is showing signs of stress or aggression or any kind of fear stop immediately. It may be that it needs more time to adjust. It may be that your cat will not ever walk with the harness. Please do not force it to if it isn’t ready even if it means you have to abandon your plans.
Please always, always take your cues from your cat, and don’t expect it to behave like a dog.
Some cats may never walk on the harness. Some charities say the practice of walking your cat in this way is causing undue stress for the cats and they are not happy doing it.
If you look at the examples at the end of the post you can see our families successes and failures.
Phase 2 – Introduce Your Cat to the Harness
Now it’s time to get your cat more familiar with the harness.
- First, let your cat smell the harness and maybe rub against it if it wants to.
- Depending on your cat’s temperament you can start by resting the harness near to or simply on your cat so it gets used to it.
- Praise your cat for positive reinforcement when it is interacting with the harness. Speak to it gently and give it a special treat.
Phase 3 – Start to Put the Harness Onto Your Cat
Some harnesses will go over the cat’s head. If you have one that doesn’t all the better as that will be less stressful for you and your cat and easier to put on the cat.
So simply pop the harness gently over your cats head for a moment then remove it. Cats don’t like things coming at them like this. Be as careful as you can. Keep as calm and relaxed as you can. Do not force it.
Do this a few times over time to get your cat used to it going over their head.
Phase 4 – Look at Me Aren’t I Handsome? Fit the Harness to Your Cat
Now it’s time to fit the harness and see how your cat takes to it. Boo took to this phase really well and looked happy and proud so we proceeded to the next phase really quickly.
For this stage, you want to fit the harness to your cat so it is wearing it fully. Each harness is different.
- So following the instructions pop the harness over the cats head (or around its body).
- Gently put any legs through the holes
- Fasten the fastenings
- Gently fit the straps allowing a finger width gap
- If your cat is comfortable you can leave the harness on it for a while under supervision
Note: Don’t add the leash yet though just let your cat get used to wearing the harness a few times around the house with you supervising.
Remember to praise your cat and give it treats for any successes as they happen. This also distracts it from the fact it is wearing a harness.
Depending on how well your cat takes to it depends on how long to leave it. Start with short bursts and increase over time if needed.
Phase 5 – One Paw Out. Time to take You Cat for A Short Walk
Now it’s time to explore the outdoors. If you can go out in the garden you can walk your cat there first. If not try to let your cat decide that it is the one that wants to go out. Open the door and let your cat see outside, sniff the air and sit a while. Even cats who are sued to going outside like to survey their territory first for possible dangers before venturing forward.
Try to do this when it is quiet and not too busy or too many cars or other hazards about so as not to stress your cat out. Also make sure it is a dry day, not too hot and not too windy.
(Note: Once a cat knows that there is outside through the door you may have to be more careful in the future that it doesn’t decide to dash outside when it is not safe.)
Phase 6 – Now Your Cat is (Finally) Outside Yay!
Once outside let your cat decide as much as you can where it wants to walk. Cats like to feel in control so forcing it to go where you want isn’t a good idea.
I have seen lots of videos of cats being dragged along, this in my view is not funny and a horrendous practice and very cruel.
If your cat does not want to go out for a walk or doesn’t want to go where you want it to then don’t force it to.
Always give your cat as much freedom to decide as possible.
While outside even with a harness many of the outdoor hazards previously mentioned still apply such as dogs and cars etc.
4 Real Life Examples of Cats Learning to Use the Harness
Boo – Success
I painstakingly researched what to do with a harness before I got one for Boo. I really wasn’t happy with the idea of a cat on a lead anyway. It didn’t seem right somehow, but I wanted him to experience as much of life as possible as he’d had so little up until now.
In addition, I didn’t hold out much hope of him really learning to use it as he had been inside all his life without any outdoor access until he came to me and he was now 11 years old.
I decided to try it anyway.
So I went through the process above. I got to phase 3 really quickly as Boo seemed completely unphased by the whole process and quite happy with the harness. In fact, he was keen to get going and explore the outside.
I let him decide where to go as much as possible. But it was here I hit a few unforeseen things that perhaps I should have thought of.
Firstly cats don’t do boundaries. Boo just couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t go where he wanted to when there were neighbours paths and gardens.
Secondly, although he loved going out you could see the panic on his face. We were walking down the path with him looking confident and proud. Then he stopped, his whole body tense, he was looking down the path. It was as though he suddenly realised that outside went on forever. He did an about turn and came back towards the house.
Thirdly he had no concept of cars or danger at all as he had not experienced them other than to get to his new home.
Katniss – Fail
I don’t think anyone really thought Katniss would take to the harness she is just too strong-willed and independent. I’m not even sure that my sister even successfully got it over her head let alone on her, she was having none of it. And fought it. My sister didn’t force her and decided to give it a miss.
Willow – Success
We got my mum to follow the phases as above with her cat Willow. Willows garden isn’t enclosed so mum was afraid Willow would run off. As her bungalow is really tiny she wanted Willow to have some outside access.
After following the phases above successfully it came time for Willow to go outside. It took her quite a while to go outside and get used to it. She would sit on the porch and look out. I had to keep saying to mum to let Willow take her time and be patient she needed to gain her confidence.
Willow gained her confidence in spite of mum keep taking her to the centre of the garden and putting her down. Willow froze. Really?! I kept telling mum not to do this as it was stressing Willow out. To let Willow decide when and where she was going.
One day mum gave up on the lead when Willow got out into the garden. I got a text, Willow is now an outdoor cat!
Scarab – Fail
Scarab got as far as getting the full harness on but then he would just lie there and not move. Given time he may have gotten used to it but my sister decided it wasn’t worth stressing him out over it so she stopped. He can go out anyway.