Training Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
Cats love the outdoors, but it's not safe to let your cat roam. You can fence your yard securely, using anti-climb topping, or you can buy (or make) a cat containment system that lets your cat experience the outdoors through a screen, but if you train your cat to walk on a leash, he can also enjoy short walks outdoors.
Although walking your cat won't be the brisk jog around the neighborhood that walking your dog can be, he'll still be able to sniff around, climb a short tree, get some exercise and generally break the monotony of his day. He'll also get to meet any neighbors who happen to see you and want to see the cat who walks on a leash! But be forewarned: Most cats prefer to walk where the neighbors won't notice them.
The Right Equipment
Training does take longer with a cat than with a dog, but it can be done. Instead of a collar, which most cats strenuously object to being walked on, use a harness. You can find cat harnesses at pet supply stores or online. Look for a harness that fits more like a tight jacket than a dog strap-type harness, because cats can sometimes squirm out of the strap harnesses. A jacket-type harness distributes any pulling across the cat's torso rather than focusing it on just a couple of pressure points. You can even use it to lift the cat in an emergency. If you can't find a jacket-type harness, don't worry; a traditional one with straps will also work.
Keep Treats Handy
Place the harness on the cat before mealtime. He'll probably object at first, rolling and scratching at it. Offer him some special treats to distract him. Keep the harness on for longer and longer periods until he is eating his meal while wearing it. Entice him to play and move around with it on. It will take a few days, but he will get used to it, especially if it's associated with good things.
Next, attach a lightweight leash to the harness. You can let him drag it a little, or hold it, but don't let it get tight. Let him lead you for now. Again, this may take a few days for him to accept. Keep a good treat or a fun toy handy and try to lure him forward with it. Once he's walking forward for the reward, make him walk a little farther for the reward, and then a little farther still, until he is walking across the room.
Once he's doing that, give a light tug on the leash and then show him the treat and lure him a few steps before giving it to him. You want him to realize that the tug is a clue about which way to walk to get his reward.
Now it's time to go outdoors. Make sure the first few times that it's quiet outside so he doesn't get scared. Just stay near the house for now, and save longer explorations for later. You can follow him, but try to keep practicing leading him as well, always coaxing him to a treat or something interesting. Never walk him in an area that has loose dogs or predators that could attack your cat. If you have any doubts, bring a carrier with you to quickly put him in.
Some cats become so excited at the sight of their leash and harness that they are difficult to get "dressed" and may start leaping and trying to run once on the leash. It's best not to encourage such behavior. Instead, just remain quiet as long as the cat is behaving wildly. Only when he is calm should you continue to dress him or walk.
Walking your cat may seem boring to you, but it's exciting to him. It's a good way to introduce your indoor cat to the great outdoors he has only been able to experience through glass or screen, or to slowly acclimate a formerly outdoor cat to living indoors. And you may find it's more exciting than you anticipated.
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