How to Leash Train Cats
Why would you want to leash train cats and confine kitties from stalking and pouncing? Isn’t that mean? Actually, it’s not cruel, but without proper introduction, it can be a wee bit scary. In my Complete Kitten Care book, I call this LIBERATION TRAINING. Teaching your new cat to walk on a leash is a safety issue, but also means they get to venture beyond the confines of your house and into the yard and beyond.
This week during a cat consult, a pet parent asked about training her cat to walk on a leash. It’s always a good time to revisit the notion. An adult cat won’t automatically understand the concept, though, so this blog not only explains the benefits of leash training to YOU, it also helps you purr-suade your cats to get a new leash on life. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
How To Leash Train Cats—Choose The Best Halter & Leash
I like the figure-8 harnesses because when the cat tugs (as nearly all will); the design tightens so they can’t wriggle out and escape. These often come already attached to a leash. The smallest size H-harnesses made for Toy-size dogs may also work. The jacket-style harnesses also work well for cats, particularly for big kitties. These fasten with Velcro and are adjustable for the best comfort fit.
When the harness and leash come separate, I recommend a lightweight fabric leash that won’t weigh down the cat. A six-foot or shorter leash works well. You don’t need the kitty ranging too far from you for safety reasons, so I don’t recommend the retractable spooled leashes for that reason.
Whatever the style, it’s vital that you fit the harness correctly for two reasons—first, a cat not used to the outside easily becomes frightened and lost if she gets away.
And second, even if she escapes the harness while inside the house, it teaches the cat that she CAN escape, so she’ll continue to fight the harness. You want the cat to accept the harness and leash so she can fully enjoy the benefits.
Training Cats—Really?! Yes!
Kittens are incredibly easy to leash train. I’ve had shelter kittens walk happily on leash within five to ten minutes of meeting them. It takes a bit longer with adult cats, but the technique for leash training your cat is the same whether she’s a kitten or a senior citizen cat.
Seren learned to walk on a leash when she was about five months old. At less that 7 pounds, I got her one of those tiny dog H-harness contraptions and had to adjust it down even farther. That, of course, was over 20 years ago, and times have changed. Today there are new options for kitty harnesses that are much more comfortable for the cat, and less likely for the pet to wriggle out.
Karma-Kat Walking Vest & Why Leash Train Cats
So I took a look around when Karma came to stay. Although Seren only rarely went outside on walks and never without her harness and leash, I suspect Karma may be more interested in an occasional ramble. Why do this? Well, for a couple of reasons.
First, I want Karma to be comfy wearing the equipment–and it actually seems to calm him down somewhat, so that’s a plus! Also, wearing a harness gives me added grab-icity (something to hang on to) if he decides to wriggle around. I’ve found this to be very helpful with Seren during vet visits, as she was never a happy patient.
Finally, because of the way Karma came to us—wandering up onto the back patio—there’s a chance he got away from someone. Yes, he’s now microchipped just in case that ever happens again. But ultimately, I want Karma to be very familiar with the immediate area surrounding our house, so he knows and can recognize HOME.
Lost cats rarely run far away from their house even if they get out, but they may hide–and if chased by a strange dog or (gulp!) coyote, they might race far away from familiar territory. This actually was part of the plot in my second thriller HIDE AND SEEK, where the main character hung up a variety of wind chimes around the house that also served as audio signposts to the pets.
For Karma, I chose a small dog harness that also works well for cats. Puppia comes in a variety of colors and sizes and there are many other options that may also work well for your cat. You can check it out here:
How to Leash Train Cats, Step-By-Step
Make It Part of the Furniture. Leave the halter and leash on the floor for your kitty to find.
Smell It Up. Make the halter smell like him by petting him with it, so it’s less frightening. Remember, cats communicate with smell, so if it has a familiar scent, the cat will be more accepting of the halter. If he really likes catnip, spike it with this cat-friendly herb.
Turn It Into A Game. Drag the leash around like a toy, and praise Kitty when he catches it, to associate the leash with fun times. Make the leash-chase-game part of his routine, always beginning the process with the halter-petting. Do this for at least a week before you ever attempt to put the halter on your cat. Once the leash and halter have become part of his normal routine, sit on the floor to play with the cat put the halter on him.
Lure Him to Move. If he tolerates wearing the halter and immediately moves around or licks it—BRAVO! You have a genius cat ahead of the game. But if he turns into a furry lump and refuses to move (typical of many cats), use the end of the leash to get him engaged in that familiar chase game.
The key is to get them moving, because once he does get up and discovers he’s not “tied down” he’ll be willing to explore—and that’s the whole purpose of the halter and leash training. If he’s not interested in the leash, try using a feather lure or a treat—anything to convince the cat he’s able to move is legal. After five minutes, take off the halter.
Baby Paw Steps. Gradually increase the time that he wears the halter.
Bribes Are Legal. Be sure to offer a special treat or toy/game after each session, so he recognizes there is a lovely payday to be earned.
Let the Cat Lead. After several days, when he’s no longer protesting, clip on the leash and hold it while following him around. Let him direct where you go, rather than pulling or tugging to direct him. At least initially you want him to believe he calls the shots—use the feather lure to get him moving the direction you like.
Success At Last!
Eventually, when both you and Kitty feel secure on the leash, you can explore the porch, smell the roses, or even mall walk together. Be one of those fashionistas who visit the pet products stores and allow Kitty to choose his own toys! And if you wish to make a really bold fashion statement, I know for a fact that kitty halters and leashes come with sequins.
By the way, the first two times I put on his vest, Karma pulled the old OMG I’M PARALYZED! routine and fell over on his side and lay there. Even my standard technique of teasing him to move with cat wand toys failed to get him up and moving more than two or three wobbly steps. So I took off the leash, and walked into the other room for something and….IT’S A MIRACLE! he raced in after me, stopped as if caught in his act, and sauntered on into the room. Now he’s rocking his kitty vest!
Do your cats ever go outside on leash (or otherwise?). How do you ensure they stay safe? Have you created scented or audible or special visual signposts to aid a new pet to know that THIS is home? Does allowing them outdoor access “create a monster” so they beg to go out? I found that happens with some cats, but never has been a problem with Seren. We’ll find out about Karma.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!