How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash
Letting your cat explore the great outdoors is an easy way to provide significant enrichment for their life, but it is not without its dangers. Allowing your cat to roam outdoors alone is an easy way for them to run off, get hit by a car, or get into a fight with another animal. Knowing how to train a cat to walk on a leash is a safer way to let them explore and get exposed to different sounds and scents.
The Benefits of Walking Your Cat on a Leash
Walking your cat on a harness and leash provides important exercise than many housecats may be missing. Even going for a stroll in your fenced in backyard increases the distance they can walk and explore and may encourage playtime and exploratory behaviors.
Giving your cat the opportunity to stroll outside on a leash allows them to experience new things, particularly if they get to experience walks around the neighborhood or getting to walk through the large wooded lot at the end of the street.
Walking your cat on a leash is also a safer way to allow them to explore. It provides you with a means to control where they go and what they get into, which is especially helpful if they get exposed to something that might frighten them and cause them to bolt. Keep in mind, walking on a leash is not the only way to allow your cat to experience the outdoors; you can also put them in a pet-safe stroller that allows them to see the neighborhood or go places around town without having to walk around.
Risks Associated With Walking Your Cat on a Leash
However, walking your cat on a leash is not without its risks. If your cat is crafty or small, they could slip out of their harness and get loose. You should also be cautious about other animals, as some dogs may be driven to chase cats, even if they are on a leash. You will not normally have to worry about other cats or wildlife encountering them, but you should still be cognizant of your surroundings while you are walking your cat on a leash.
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How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
It's best to teach your cat to walk on a leash by starting when they are young. Older cats can still learn to walk on a harness and leash, but it usually takes a little more time. Keep in mind that not all cats are amenable to learning to walk on a leash, so you will want to keep your cat's personality in mind when you start.
Get Your Cat Familiar With the Harness
When walking your cat on a leash, using a harness is much safer than using a collar. It displaces pressure across a wider area, and it is less likely that your cat will get loose. You should let your cat to see the harness and get used to the sounds that it makes, particularly the sound of the buckles snapping or the Velcro coming undone. Let your cat see the harness from a distance before attempting to put it on them.
Once your cat does not seem afraid of the sounds of the harness makes, you can slip it on them. You should move slowly and not strap it on them at first. Just let it rest loosely around their body and offer them either a treat or affection and praise (or all the above). Once your cat has gotten used to it, adjust the harness to fit them comfortably and connect the buckle, strap, or Velcro. You'll want to work with positive reinforcement and remove the harness if your cat becomes stressed or reacts negatively to wearing it. Keeping them distracted, such as with treats or at mealtime, can extend the duration of wearing it and get them used to the harness.
Start Indoors Before Going Outdoors
After a few days of wearing the harness, attach the leash to your cat. Generally speaking, it is best to just allow your cat to wander with the leash attached in the safety of your house, so they get use to the feeling of the material. You can then start to teach them to walk on a leash, coaxing them towards you with treats or a toy. You'll want to spend the most time on this step, as it is important that your cat feels comfortable wearing the leash and harness.
If your cat seems to tolerate wearing a harness and leash well, it is time to go outside. Spend your first adventures exploring a secure area, such as your own backyard. Keep in mind you never have to go further than that. Your cat may enjoy lounging on the deck or climbing up your child's slide. After you have both gotten comfortable with leash walking, you can consider branching out further and go for a walk around the neighborhood.
Things to Keep in Mind With Cats and Leashes
Walking on a leash can be a great experience for your cat, but not all are interested. If your cat keeps laying down and refusing to budge, spend more time working on leash walking in the house. If your cat is nervous or unsure, consider activities you can do together in the house. Walking your cat on a leash is very rewarding, but it is not quite the same as walking a dog, so you should be prepared for the differences.