Saturday, January 30, 2010
By Julia Williams
I imagine that many people, upon reading my title, might wonder why anyone would want to leash train a cat. And yet, I recently discovered a website which claimed that “walking the cat is quickly becoming one of the hottest new trends.”
I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There are valid reasons for leash training a cat, but I sincerely doubt that walking the cat is “the next big thing.” I’m fairly sure you won’t see hordes of cat owners out for their evening stroll with felines in tow. That being said, a few years ago I actually did leash train three cats in preparation for my 1,000+ mile move/road trip. I’m very glad I did too, or I might be minus one cat.
My original reason for leash training was to exercise them on the long trip, which I did. But I also used it when Rocky soiled his cat carrier and I had to clean up at a rest area that didn’t have a lock on the door. With the harness and leash on him, I was able to tie Rocky to the sink so he couldn’t escape while I washed out his carrier.
There are other reasons why you might want to leash train a cat too. For a trip to the vet, it’s safer to have cats (especially skittish ones) leashed whenever they need to be out of their carrier. It only takes a second for a loose cat to bolt out an open door. Leash training a cat can also give an indoor kitty a taste of the great outdoors, without putting their life in peril. They can get some fresh air, exercise and tactile playtime while in the safety of your backyard.
Leash training a cat is difficult, but not impossible. Like any training, it takes time and patience.
Step One: Buy a lightweight leash (approx. 6’ long) and a harness made specifically for cats. My harness is nylon, but I’ve seen others that are more like soft, fitted jackets. Just don’t use a collar, as it can cause choking.
Step Two: Put the new gear near kitty’s napping spot for a few days, and let them investigate it.
Step Three: Put the harness on your cat when they are relaxed. If they don’t freak out wearing it for a few minutes, give them some cat treats as a reward. The hardest part about this step is learning how to put the harness on correctly. It should fit snug but not too tight, nor so loose that your cat can wriggle out of it. (You should be able to fit two fingers between the harness and your cat’s body). Repeat this step a few times a day for a week, to get kitty used to the feel of the harness.
Step Four: With your cat in the harness, clip on the leash. Rather than try to hold onto the leash, allow your cat to walk around with it trailing behind them. As in step three, reward them with treats if they can calmly wear the harness and leash.
Tip: Do this in a closed-off, uncluttered room to prevent kitty from getting entangled in something if they panic while wearing the harness and leash.
Step Five: Once kitty seems relatively at ease wearing the harness, hold the leash loosely and walk with them as they explore the room.
Step Six: Walk your leashed cat around your home, and again, use treats. Alternatively, you could bring out their favorite toy and try engaging them in play while still wearing the harness/leash. Never allow them to wear the harness unsupervised though.
Step Seven: Take your leashed cat outside for 5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. If they’re comfortable outside in the harness and leash, gradually increase the amount of time, and reward them with treats when you go back inside. This is where it gets tricky, because some cats will be at ease from the start, while others take a lot longer. Watch your cat for signs of stress, and bring them inside if they’re frightened. You want this to be a pleasant experience for them, not something to be feared. Give them however much time they need to become acclimated to this strange new thing. It helps if you have a secluded backyard, and you can take them outdoors at a quiet time of day.
You may be surprised to learn that leash training your cat is far easier than you thought it would be. Or, if your kitty is anything like my three, it might be a long and challenging process. It all depends on your cat’s personality, which is something you can’t change. I would never leash-walk my cats outside my own yard, because their personalities aren’t suited for such an adventure. However, if you have a very outgoing and relaxed cat that seems to love walking on a leash, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it.
Read more articles by Julia Williams