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Training Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

A Handy Guide to Leash Training Your Kitty

Most of us cat lovers would like nothing more than to take our fur-covered babies with us everywhere we go, but how can we make this dream a reality?

Easily! 

All you need is a cat, a proper leash and harness set, treats, patience, and the will to make it happen.

Firstly, you must realize that your cat is not a dog. This seems like an oversimplified, even silly statement. I assure you, this needs to be said, because a cat and a dog respond to training very differently. A dog will do anything for a bit of praise and a potential treat, but a cat is more of the "what's in it for me, though?" mindset.

Bearing this in mind, we can get started.

First, you must measure your kitty for a harness. You will need to measure around his/her neck and around the bit of belly that sits behind the shoulders. The easiest way to get measurements is to use a bit of ribbon, place it around the cat's neck, but not too tight (think collar rules, you should be able to fit two fingers under the ribbon/collar). Now you may measure that length of ribbon out against a ruler. Be sure to write down the length so you will remember it. Now you can use the same method to measure around the tummy area directly behind the shoulders. You may get bitten by an annoyed feline at this point, but such is the nature of cats. Write down the measurements and dust yourself off. It's time to go get a harness!

Head down to your favorite pet store, or your preferred pet supplies website, and check out the harnesses. You may notice that the store does carry cat harnesses, but these are very wide in size and in this writer's experience, they are not a good option, as they are easily escapable. Go instead to the small dog harnesses. You may now use your measurements that you wrote down earlier... you remembered to bring that with you right? Now you can find the properly sized harness that will comfortably fit your cat. Be sure that the harness uses the plastic "break away" clasps, not the metal buckle versions. Pick a color you like, and grab a matching leash, some treats that your cat really likes, and head on home.

Here is where the fun begins!

Find your cat and place the harness on your furry friend.

You will notice that your cat is now probably laying on his/her side, wagging their tail, and glowering at you with the intensity of a thousand suns. Do not worry! This is called the "protest flop" and is completely normal!

Put some treats out in front of your cat and just let them be for a while. This is all part of the harness acclimation process. After about 15 minutes or so, take the harness off of your cat and put it away for the day. Tomorrow you will do the same thing: attach the harness, put treats out a few feet away from the kitty, and then remove after 15 minutes. After a few days, your cat should be getting used to the harness, so now, try to get him to do his everyday activities while wearing it. At this point, you may start leaving the harness on for up to a half hour per day, and be sure to offer plenty of treats and praise. This process can be very slow going, but it is integral to getting your cat used to the harness. Be diligent and patient! Every cat is different and some take longer than others to acclimate. Eventually, your cat will see the harness as no big deal. Do everything as you and kitty, normally would while wearing the harness.

Now that Mr. Fluffypants doesn't care about his new accessory, it is time to leash train!  

Attach the leash to the harness. DO NOT TUG THE LEASH once it is attached! This is very important. Remember, your cat is not a dog and will not just walk because you tug on something attached to him.

Put the leash on the floor, get those yummy treats out, and call your furry baby to you. Give him/her lots of treats for walking up to you while wearing the harness and dragging the leash behind him. As cats are stubborn, this step may take a few attempts to get right. Just hang in there and stay patient.

Repeat this step every day for at least 15 minutes per day. 

Once your kitty is completely acclimated to the leash and harness combination, you can move on to the next step.

Hold the end of the leash in your hand and take a step away from your kitty, call him to you, and offer him a treat when he does. Take another step, and repeat the process. This process will take time, depending on your cat's level of friendliness and interest. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't work out as planned the first few times. Training a cat takes a huge amount of patience and determination. You can do this! Keep stepping and calling every day until your cuddly companion is adept at the idea of staying by your side when you are holding the leash.

After a lot of practice, you should be able to walk with your kitty around your home. Once you feel that you are both ready, we can move on to the next step.

Now it is time for the outside world. 

NOTE: No matter what your intent is for walking your cat, the author would advise you to purchase a pet identification tag with your cat's name, address, and phone number. Attach this tag to either the harness or a collar. Even if you only intend to walk Mrs. Cuddlywhiskers in your own backyard, it is strongly advised that you still have a way of identifying your cat in the worst case scenario. 

Taking an indoor-only cat into the outside world for the first time is going to be a nerve-wracking experience for your kitty. It is a big world out there, full of strange sights, sounds, smells, and creatures. This is a lot to deal with, so your first leashed visit to the outside should be very brief and should cover nothing more than standing outside your front door. If your kitty wants to rush back inside, this is okay. Take your time and try again tomorrow. Sit down outside your door with your cat and just stroke her and play with her, get her used to this new environment. After a few days of this, try to get a few steps away from the house this time. Remember to praise your kitty and give treats. Every few days, try to go a few more steps. It is extremely important that your cat knows they are protected with you. If there are times when you have to scoop her up and quickly take her back inside, then so be it. Don't be discouraged if the process does not seem to be going as fast as you hoped it would. Proper training takes patience and trying to force this, could result in the project failing completely.  Just be patient, you know your kitty better than anyone and you know how much he or she can handle. 

Once you can walk your kitty to and from your door, you may now want to place your cat right into your car and drive off to explore new realms together.

You are not there just yet, but you are much closer than when you first started!

You need to figure out how kitty is going to travel in your car, will she be crated or will she be free to roam the vehicle? This is a very important question. Your cat is, of course, safest in a pet crate while in a  moving vehicle; however, many cats associate the crate with things like the vet/being abandoned etc. So this is your choice. If you are going to have your cat free in the vehicle, it is advised that you either have a passenger to hold your cat in place while the vehicle is in motion, or you could have your cat in the back seat of the car with a pet barrier in place to keep her out of the front seat.

Regardless of which way you want your kitty to travel, now you need a game plan. If you are using a pet crate, place him/her in the crate after securing the harness. If you are not using a crate, just snap the harness and leash on and take your little buddy out to the car. Put your cat in the car in the desired location, close the door and assume your position in the driver's seat. Start your car, do not move the vehicle! After about 2 minutes of being in the car, turn the car off and bring kitty back inside, give him some treats, and let him go about the rest of the day as normal.

Your daily training routine now should be fairly easy. Get your cat on the leash, walk out the door together and walk to the car, start the car, get out and go back inside. When you feel that you and your cat are ready, you may begin with a very short car ride, no more than 5 minutes of time should be spent inside on the first occasion that the car moves. Repeat this every day until your cat has acclimated.  

Now you can add a few more minutes to each car trip.  After the initial acclamation, the length of the car trip should not matter to your cat, the purpose of these short trips is to show Sir Pusspuss that he is safe in the car with you. He may sing you the song of his people while you are driving, this is normal.

Next we can start taking your kitty out of the car in a new environment.

The author suggests that the first place you bring your cat to is your local pet store or feed store. 

If your cat has been riding in a crate, take her into the pet store in the crate for the first visit. If your cat is just on a leash, carry him into the pet store. Make this first trip very brief, just let your kitty know that he is safe in this new space, if the claws come out, or your cat tries to bolt, it is time to get out. If you are using a crate, take your kitty out of the crate in the car after the second or third visit and proceed with the steps for an uncrated cat.

Once you have gotten your cat acclimated to new environments, you can now let your cat walk about the store, set him down, take a step or two forward, just like you did when you first started this journey together, call him to you, and give him praise and a treat (he may not eat it in this strange new place, but it's worth a try). As your cat relaxes and becomes accustomed to this new place, just walk about and let your cat explore. Once you've gotten your faithful furry friend to a state where she can walk around in a store without incident, you can now take her pretty much anywhere pets are welcome. The more places you go, the easier it will be for your cat to feel relaxed in a variety of environments,

Congratulations on a job well done!

Some things to look out for:

During training and then subsequent outings, you will undoubtedly notice that a cat on a leash garners a lot of attention. People might stare, or look at you like you are insane, but mostly you will be met with positive attention. Many people will exclaim things such as "Aww! Look at that kitty!", "That's so cute!" And so on. Some people will even ask you how you did it. Mostly though, people will ask if they can pet your cat. You know your furball better than anyone, so you can make the call here. If you think your cat will be okay with it, then go for it, if not, it is okay to politely say no. 

You must always be conscious of your cat's safety. If you are in an area with dogs, it is best to carry your kitty to keep her safe from a possibly untrained dog or careless owner.

Children are drawn to fuzzy things. It is not uncommon for unattended children to bolt towards your feline friend. Some cats are okay with children, others are not.  If you feel your kitty will tolerate a child petting it, then you may tell the child he or she can gently pet Madam Puffyboots. Always instruct children on the proper way to pet your kitty. If the encounter is too much for your cat, pick him up and remove him from the situation. Safety and comfort for your kitty is the priority here.  Always stay in control of the situation and be mindful of your cat's signals and body language.  

Some days are better than others, Some days your cat may not be in the mood to travel. Don't force it. These excursions should be fun for both of you.

Some people will take pictures of you while you walk your cat. If you notice this and are uncomfortable, make it known that you would appreciate permission before anyone takes a picture.

Be prepared! Always carry food , water, a first aid kit for you and your pet and if necessary, a travel litter box.

And lastly, if all else fails, buy a zippable pet stroller and take your cat out that way. Many cats who cannot handle a leash feel very safe and comfortable in an enclosed stroller.

Some cats, however, refuse to be trained to go out. It is a shame, but it is by no means a failure. You will just have to love your kitty while you are home together.

Thank you for reading, and may you and your feline overlords have many happy adventures together!

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