By Vanessa Voltolina
Want to let your cat explore the great outdoors without fleeing the scene? You might want to consider leash-training him. Being able to take your cat for a leisurely walk outside can create the perfect balance between having an indoor cat that’s safe and protected (but bored) and an outdoor cat that’s pitted against the elements and unfriendly critters on a daily basis.
Before you put on your (and your feline’s) walking shoes, here are some key tips for leash-training your cat and gear you’ll need to make training easier.
Leash Training and Harnessing Your Feline
According to North Ryde, Australia-based veterinarian Dr. Eloise Bright, most cats need a “gentle introduction” to the great outdoors, so be prepared to provide your cat with lots of treats to encourage them to walk—at least at first—rather than expecting them to follow you willingly. Leash-training from an early age on can also be beneficial, as exposure to going on walks at a younger age means a greater willingness to make outdoor walks part of your cat’s routine throughout his life.
Attempting to figure out how to gear up your cat for an optimal walk experience can be overwhelming—there are so many gear options! When it comes to finding the perfect leash, consider a bungee leash to provide some give for your cat’s walk, and never use a retractable leash with a cat, Bright said, as they can easily break, tangle and cause cord burns if your cat becomes entangled or startles.
Because cats can easily wiggle out of a collar, the best option is to walk your cat with a figure-eight harness, said Kelly Meister-Yetter, author and animal expert from Toledo, Ohio. A good rule of thumb: A harness should be loose enough to fit two fingers comfortably under the material but tight enough that it doesn’t change position as your feline moves. Incentivize your cat with treats while gently slipping his head through the harness and clipping accordingly. Remember, don’t force this gear on your cat if he becomes agitated. End your session for the day, and continuing trying again at another time.
Getting Comfortable On-Leash
Before you hit the open road, it’s paramount that a cat feels comfortable and at ease in its gear. Get your cat used to the harness by having him wear it around the house, says Meister-Yetter, and continue to provide treats and positive reinforcement as long as he’s wearing it. Once your cat seems comfortable wearing the harness, connect the leash and allow your cat to wander through the house, getting him accustomed to the idea of you following along behind him.
“Once your cat grasps the idea of walking in the house on a leash and harness, then take him outside,” Meister-Yetter said.
Your Cat’s First Walk
For your cat’s first venture into the great unknown (also known as the backyard), choose a quiet area at a quiet time of day. “Chances are, he will be a little nervous at all the new sights, smells, and sounds,” Meister-Yetter said. “He might even want to simply roll around on the ground!”
Allowing your cat to explore the outdoors in his own time is crucial, she said. “It may require multiple attempts before your cat is comfortable going outdoors, so don't give up.” Some cats may only tolerate a few minutes at a time, while others will completely embrace the experience. Remember that depending upon the cat, the process can take anywhere from days to months, so be patient and try to create the most paws-itive experience for everyone involved. “Many cats will walk quite happily on a leash and harness once they get the hang of it,” Meister-Yetter said.