How To Walk Your Cat On Leash

Easy steps for training your cat to walk on leash.

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If your cat is resilient, then he or she is a likely candidate to walk on leash. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett
If your cat is resilient, then he or she is a likely candidate to walk on leash. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett
Stacy Hackett

When I was growing up, my mom taught our red-and-white tabby cat, Baggins, to walk on a leash. I can still picture my mom walking along the sidewalks in our quiet neighborhood, while Baggins sniffed at flowerbeds and stretched out on our front lawn.

Baggins was already an adult cat (about 3 years old) when my mom started leash training him. He was a friendly, outgoing cat — characteristics that made him a good candidate for exploring outside on a leash and harness.

“There are certain traits that indicate a cat may enjoy leash training,” says Jacqueline Munera, a certified cat behavior consultant and owner of Positive Cattitudes. Munera notes that while kittens usually take to leash training more readily than older cats, cats who are confident and curious — as well as resilient — can be good leash-training candidates.

“Resilience is very important!” Munera says. “It is OK if something is startling, but a resilient cat will bounce back quickly. Cats that are anxious, nervous, fearful or really shy will probably not enjoy going out for a walk.”

Does your cat fall into the resilient category? If so, follow these tips to help her learn to walk on a leash and harness so she can enjoy a bit of the outdoors with you.

1. Buy a harness specifically designed for cats. Make sure the ring for attaching the leash is located on the back of the harness, not at the neck. The harness should have adjustable straps so you can make sure it fits snugly (not tightly) on your cat.

Buy a harness and leash made specifically for cats; the leash should attach behind the shoulders, not at the neck. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

The leash should attach to the harness behind your cat’s shoulders, not at the neck. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

2. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to train your cat. My cats pick up on all of my emotions — if I am stressed or irritated, they become agitated. If I am calm and peaceful, they are friendly and open to experiences such as nail trimming. By approaching leash training with a calm, peaceful attitude, you can encourage your cat to be open to the experience.

3. Choose a training area. Munera recommends selecting a safe place inside to start training, and to make it as welcoming to your cat as possible.

“Make the presence of the harness equal good things for Kitty,” she says. “This might mean you simply bring out the harness, set it on the floor, let Kitty investigate it, and give her treats.”

Gradually encourage your cat to stick her head through the straps, Munera says, and reward her with praise and a treat.

4. Acclimate your cat to a harness. Over a period of time, in small daily sessions lasting 10 to 15 minutes, move through the stages of placing the harness on your cat. Such steps include:

  • Placing the harness around your cat’s body.
  • Gently buckling the harness in place.
  • Adjusting the straps so the harness fits snugly around your cat’s body. The optimum fit allows you to fit no more than two fingers between the harness and her body.
  • “It is very important to fit the harness correctly, because cats can wiggle out of some,” Munera says. “Often, the walking jacket styles are safer for cats.”
Adjust the straps of the harness to fit your cat so she cannot wiggle out of it. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Adjust the straps of the harness to fit your cat so she cannot wiggle out of it. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

5. Keep rewards flowing! Be sure to reward your cat with praise and a small treat at each progressive step while you introduce the harness.

“Make wearing the harness fun,” Munera emphasizes.

When acclimating your cat to the harness and then the leash, offer plenty of tasty treats to make it a fun experience. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Offer plenty of tasty treats to make wearing both the harness and leash a fun experience. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

6. Introduce the leash. When your cat is comfortable wearing the harness — and you are comfortable putting it on her properly — move on to attaching the leash. This step takes place indoors, too; try to find an area that is clear of obstacles that could catch the leash. Put the harness on your cat and praise her, then attach the leash. Let her walk around with the leash dragging behind her, and reward her with praise and a treat. Repeat this process several days in a row, and be sure to stay in the room with her so you can untangle the leash if it gets hung up on something.

Let your cat walk around indoors with the leash on the harness so she gets used to it. Stay with her at all times so you can untangle the leash if it catches on something. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Stay with your cat at all times when she is dragging the leash so you are there to untangle it if it catches on something. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

7. Walking on leash indoors. The next step is to hold the leash while your cat walks around the house. Let her go where she wants, and simply hold the leash loosely without pulling or tugging on it. Again, reward her efforts with praise and treats, and repeat the process for several days.

Practice walking your cat on leash indoors. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Practice walking your cat on leash indoors. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

8. Heading outside. You may be content to let your cat direct all your walks outdoors. If so, when your cat is comfortable walking about the house with you holding the leash, consider taking your next short walk outdoors, in a quiet spot such as your backyard.

If you hope to gently guide your cat during your outdoor excursions, employ these next few steps suggested by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals before heading outdoors:

  • While your cat is wearing the leash, walk a few feet away from her. Gently ask her to follow you in a calm voice.
  • Drop a treat on the ground at your feet. When she comes over to eat it, walk away to the end of the leash.
  • Call her again, and when she comes over to you, praise her and give her another treat. Repeat this process many times.
  • If your cat tries to go in a different direction, apply gentle, persistent pressure on the leash and wait patiently. When she takes a few steps toward you and the leash goes a bit slack, praise her and give her a treat.
You may let your cat direct you on walks outside, or you may choose to gently guide your cat; use treats to entice and guide your cat. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Use treats to entice and guide your cat when walking outdoors. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

9. Stay safe outside. With your cat accustomed to your gentle guidance, begin taking short walks outside.

“Gradually work up to small, safe outdoor areas,” Munera suggests. “I don’t necessarily advocate that people take their cats out walking everywhere. There are very real dangers, including dogs roaming off leash.”

Choose where you walk outside carefully, stay safe and take cues from your cat. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Choose where you walk outside carefully, stay safe and take cues from your cat. Courtesy of Stacy Hackett

Article Categories:
Cats · Health and Care

Comments

  • I’ve been walking our cat on a leash for 3 years – ever since we got him as a kitten. He loves going out for his daily “walks” – all I have to do is say the word “walk” and he’s ready to go. Harness over the head, left foot, right foot steps into the rest of the harness and off we go. Only in your back and front yard. He gets to enjoy the fresh air, grass and mother nature and I don’t have to worry about him running away into the neighbors yards.

    Tom July 6, 2015 12:52 pm Reply
    • Good points all around. Truly apcdrpiatee.

      Margaretta December 1, 2016 3:42 am Reply
  • You mean I don’t have to pay for expert advice like this anoemry?!

    Adelaide December 1, 2016 3:22 am Reply

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