We’ve probably all heard a task that is particularly difficult and frustrating to perform referred to as like trying to herd cats. Well, leash training a cat takes plenty of patience. It will only work with cats who are motivated to go outside. Fraidy cats that like being indoors may never leash train.
It helps to start when cats are young. They are smaller and easier to control and also tend to be more trusting. Young cats are very adventurous in general so going outside will appeal more strongly to them than an older animal.
Because we live near a high speed road in a rural area with lots of foxes, coyotes, eagles, hawks and other predators, our cats do not roam. We want them to live. They have an enclosed 4 foot by 8 foot cage they access via a cat door if they want to be in the great outdoors.
Our two nine-month-old kittens Cary and Kai were showing a strong interest in going outside. Because our home is busy and doors don’t always get completely closed, I began to worry one or both might escape. If they had no outside experience beyond the confines of the outdoor cage, they were at risk for running away.
I decided to leash train the kittens and take them for walks to familiarize them with the surroundings and reduce the fear that is likely to occur when a cat is suddenly thrust into a novel situation.
The best leash for walking a cat is a double harness. One loop goes around the neck, another loop encircles the chest right behind the front legs. The loops are joined along the cat’s back and the leash attaches near the thorax loop. This configuration is the safest for cats. They will not be choked if they bolt at a strange noise and if the harness is properly adjusted, the cat will not be able to squirm out of it. The harness should be fitted fairly snug. One finger should just fit between the cat and any of the straps of the harness.
A short, solid leash is best, one four to five feet long. A cat should not have too much room to bolt or it can place enough strain on the harness when the animal reaches the end of the leash that a connection can break resulting in a loose cat.
The first step in leash training is to apply the harness while the cat is inside and allow them to wear it for several hours at a time for a few days. The goal is to have the cat go about his normal behavior paying no attention to the harness. Once this is achieved, it’s time to try outside.
For the first try, I take the cat to the door, put on the harness, then open the door. Allowing the cat time to decide to step out removes any stress from that big first stage: leaving the safety of the house. I continue to let the cat choose the pace of exploration. The kitty leads and I follow, at the beginning.
Slowly I introduce tug and release to teach the cat to go where I want. It never works to maintain a constant pressure on the leash. The cat learns to pull against it, just as a dog that pulls learned it from poor leash training. Because cats love to explore, in no time at all they will go about with a human, checking out the scents, chasing bugs and trying to catch larger prey.
The training has already paid off for Cary. A few days ago, after six lessons on the leash, a screen door didn’t shut completely and Cary sneaked out. It took me nearly an hour to realize what happened. When I finally went looking for him, he quickly came to my call, emerging from a bush near the house.
Without his training, I know Cary would have run off, maybe never to be seen again. During his first couple walks, he was terrified of almost everything. After a half-dozen sessions, he was comfortable enough to stay close to the house and come out of hiding when I called. I’m so glad I made the effort to train the kittens!
Cary and Kai love going for walks so much that they now beg me to take them. This is the down side of leash training. They are very insistent when they want something. Cary so enjoys walks that now, when he sees the harness, he knows it’s walk time. He stands for me to buckle it on him. Cary completely loves being an outdoor kitty and Kai is not far behind. Soon I will routinely take both together for walks. What fun we will have!