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By keeping your cat indoors, you are helping to keep her safe from certain inherent dangers in the outdoor world, such as being hit by vehicles; attacks from dogs, other cats and other animals; and exposure to toxic substances such as rat poison and antifreeze. But a stroll outside is something that many indoor kitties still enjoy. Leash walking your cat — if she is amenable to it and has been properly prepared — is a great way of providing physical and mental enrichment for your indoor feline. But how do you get started? And how do you determine what’s a safe place to walk your feline friend?
First, you need to purchase a secure harness that your cat cannot get out of and that fits her comfortably. These can look like traditional dog harnesses or they can be made of fabric and fasted with Velcro. Second, you will need to gradually pair the event of your cat wearing a harness with something positive, such as getting her favorite treat or playing with her favorite toy or game. The key thing to understand is that you want your cat to feel comfortable in her new gear and to enjoy wearing it. This comfort level is much easier to accomplish when you are getting kittens and young cats accustomed to a harness. However, even some adult cats are amenable to wearing a harness, so don’t throw your hands up if you have an older cat. For example, my older male cat soon learned that, when he wore the harness, he was allowed to go outside. The reward of going outside made him much more cooperative in getting the harness on and wearing it. For more specific tips on training your cat to leash walk, take a look at this video.
Navigating the world outside can be made easier and less stressful for your cat by teaching her a few simple behaviors and verbal cues.
It’s very common for a cat to go outside for the first time and then freeze and hunker down when exposed to the great big world. Here are a few simple tips to help get beyond this natural fearfulness. One really helpful aid is to teach your cat the “touch” command. You can teach a cat to “touch” or “target” in a number of ways. I typically use my finger, a pencil or pen, or you can be fancy and use a target stick (or make your own using a dowel and a small pom pom on the end). Generally, if you stick your finger or any stick-like object out, most cats will approach and sniff it with their nose. When they touch the end of my finger with their nose, I mark that behavior using a verbal cue or other marker, such as a “click.” I then offer a reward, such as a food treat or praise. After repeated pairings, I will name the behavior “touch” when my cat consistently touches my finger. Once my cat knows how to touch, I will then move my finger and be able to guide her to specific locations or even teach her to “come” to me. I recommend teaching your cat how to “touch” to get her to move toward you or a target. You can follow this up with a “walk” command in order to move forward. It’s also a good idea to make sure your cat is accustomed to being picked up. I like to use the word “up” to tell a cat that she is about to be picked up so that she does not get scared by my movements.
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