For some pet parents the thought of letting their beloved kitty outside is enough to run shivers through their body; meanwhile, other folks feel it’s a feline’s right to roam free and untethered.
Of course, any animal wandering at large has the potential to be put in harm’s way, some still view it as unfair to keep our feline friends totally secluded to our homes.
So what’s the alternative?
Why not teach your cat to walk on a leash?
Here are some simple tips to giving your cat the outdoor adventure she craves, while still keeping her safe and sound.
Step 1: Know Your Cat
Most cats, especially kittens can be taught to walk on a leash. However, some older felines may never take to the idea. This is when knowing your cat’s personality comes in handy.
If she is set in her ways and hates new situations, then she most likely will not be receptive to the prospects of having this “strange” object strapped to her.
Tip: if your cat is dead-set against wearing a harness, you can always open a screened window for her so she can see what she’s missing by being so stubborn.
Step 2: The “Equipment”
For the safety and security of your cat or kitten, purchase a harness, not a collar.
Harnesses made specifically for cats offer a few advantages, such as providing more control over your feline friend when outdoors, it won’t pull on the neck and it will not “break-away” when tugged on (a feature most cat collars have to prevent the feline from strangling if caught on an object).
In addition, the harness also attaches to the leash from the back of the cat instead of the throat region which helps reduce stress on the animal.
Tip: pet retailers have a wide variety of patterned and colored harnesses with matching leashes to have Kitty ‘rockin’ the pathway.
Step 3: Have Realistic Expectations
Anyone that has ever owned a cat knows that the feline species is an independent creature that does what it wants and when it wants to.
So when trying out the harness and leash for the first time, have realistic expectations.
Your cat will most likely not want anything to do with this strange apparatus and may even kick, roll or try to get away when you embark on the challenge of fitting her with the harness for the first time.
This is perfectly normal, so have patience and get ready for step number four… the bribe!
Tip: food motivates most creatures and your cat is likely no exception, so grab some tasty, hard-to-resist morsels and get to it!
Step 4: Reward Training
Better known as “bribing,” food rewards work well for most cats, especially when they’re hungry. With this in mind, do short training sessions with your cat when it is most likely to be craving some tasty treats…or dinner.
Now comes the “fun” part; put the harness on your cat in the house. Make sure it is snug, but not too tight as to be uncomfortable. Once you have the harness on (and before you let her go) give your Kitty a treat and praise her.
Now let her go.
If she takes a step in the harness, give her a treat and praise her.
Keep repeating this step is she continues to move around in the harness.
However, if she immediately drops to the floor, wait a moment to see if she will move, if so praise and reward.
If she doesn’t move or is freaking out and trying to run away, remove the harness and try again later.
Tip: experts suggest leaving the harness near your cat’s food bowl at mealtime and near her favorite napping spot for a few days to get her used to seeing it in places she associates with good things.
Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice Walking on a Leash
Depending on each individual cat, you may have to practice indoors for days before your cat is comfortable and confident in the harness.
As your cat learns to tolerate the harness and leash for longer periods-of-time, be sure to continue the verbal and physical praise and the reward treats.
If at anytime she drops or her tail is swishing and her demeanor changes to being upset, immediately remove the harness, give her a treat and try again later.
Tip: you want the training sessions to be a positive experience, so leave Kitty feeling in charge and happy, rather than ticked off or annoyed that you pushed her for too long.
Step 6: The Great Outdoors
Now that your cat is used to the harness and leash, it’s time to embark on the adventure of the great outdoors.
Once again, depending on the temperament of your feline friend, you could spend weeks just getting down the front walk, or you could be going for real walks in a matter of minutes.
Most likely your cat will want to drop and roll around on the soft grass, so give her the time she needs to take in her surroundings.
Tip: notice your neighborhood through your cat’s eyes. Is it noisy with lots of traffic, barking dogs and other distractions?
These may be viewed as threatening to a newly outdoored kitty, so take her to a quieter place that she will feel less exposed until she feels comfortable with her surroundings..
Step 7: Beware of the “Dangers”
When your cat is exploring, be sure to watch her closely so she doesn’t lick, chew on or swallow something that could be poisonous or dangerous for cats.
Do not let Kitty run up a tree as it is potentially dangerous when tethered.
Also, never leave your feline tied up and unattended (even for a moment) as this can prove to be hazardous if she were to be attacked by another animal or to escape.
Step 8: Don’t Give Up!
When walking a cat on a leash they can become easily spooked, so an area that was okay yesterday, may set your cat off in a streak of terror today. If this happens, go back to the last place she felt comfortable and start again.
Also, unless your cat is in harm’s way, try to resist the urge to pick her up and soothe her. Cats learn confidence while working through a situation, so let her be.
Walking the Walk
Taking your cat for a walk on a leash is a fun and safe way for her to explore the outdoors. Follow these steps, and be patient while Kitty is learning the “leash.”
It is sure to pay off with hours of fun for both you and your precious furbaby.
Bonus: If you dare to fight the good fight, how about reading “How to Train Your Cat to Get off the Counter?” Good luck!