Cat on a leash
It doesn’t make sense. Your cat loves to look out the window, but when you bring out the leash, she takes off and hides.

What gives?

“It’s normal for a cat — especially more fearful or timid cats — to be frightened by a new experience that is introduced too quickly,” says board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, of the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital.

But if you’re willing to put in the effort and patience involved to properly teach your kitty to walk on a leash, it can open doors for her — literally.

The Benefits of Leash Training

“The outdoors are a great opportunity for enrichment, particularly for cats who used to spend time outside,” says Dr. Sueda.

A harnessed jaunt in the fresh air offers felines a safe way to experience new sights, smells and textures, like the feel of grass under foot. (Before heading outside, just be sure that your cat has adequate parasite protection, an ID tag on a separate collar and/or a microchip, and up-to-date vaccinations.)

The leash life has health benefits too: Overweight cats may be more motivated to move around in a stimulating outdoor environment.

Of course, not every kitty is cut out to learn to love the leash — older cats may take more time to adjust to training, and some personalities simply won’t take to the idea — but it’s still worth trying.

How to Train Your Cat to Like the Leash

Still interested? Try these tips:

Invest in a good harness. Dr. Sueda recommends buying one that attaches to a leash at the back, not the neck. And look for stretchy leashes that won’t jerk.

Don’t put the harness on right away. At first, aim to get your cat used to just seeing the harness, then eventually touching and smelling it, before attempting to put it on. Do something pleasurable — like playing your kitty’s favorite game or rewarding her with treats — whenever the harness is around.

Take it slow with the training. Once you’ve graduated to putting the harness on your cat, attach the leash, and allow your feline to drag it around for a while. Encourage her to follow you, rewarding her when she does.

When you’re ready to pick up the leash, hold it gently, but don’t pull on it or try to lead her right away. Over the course of several days, spend five to 10 minutes, two or three times a day, working with your kitty.

“If she takes to the harness, gradually increase the duration of time she spends wearing it,” suggests Dr. Sueda. “If she doesn’t love it, keep the sessions short and fun.” When she’s comfortable, try to get her to walk around the house, while holding the leash. If she refuses to budge, encourage her with praise.

Once you’re ready to take her outside, start with a quick walk in the yard or a short jaunt to the car and back.