Years ago, owners would let their cats wander outdoors. Today, as far as I’m concerned, this is not an option. It’s just too dangerous for our cats and kittens. Cars, other animals, the resurgence of rabies and, sadly, some people, all pose threats to your beloved furballs. As far as I’m concerned, a responsible cat owner does not permit his or her cat to wander outdoors.
By teaching your cat to walk on a leash and harness, you’ll go a long way in satisfying Kitty’s wanderlust. It will allow Kitty so many extra freedoms! He’ll enjoy the joys of the outside world safely and will become a better companion to you. After all, dog owners take their dogs on visits to Grandma’s house or to see friends. Why should Kitty be deprived of such pleasant outings?
If you own a kitten, now is the perfect time to introduce your furball to the concept of walking on a leash and harness. It’s possible to teach adult cats as well, provided you introduce them to this concept gradually. Yes, you can teach an old cat new tricks!
Select Kitty’s Wardrobe
Rather than a collar (which may put too much stress on your cat’s delicate neck), select a proper fitting cat harness. Harnesses provide a secure fit, preventing Kitty from wriggling free. When selecting a leash for Kitty, choose one that is light-weight yet durable, featuring a quality, light-weight clip for attachment to the harness.
INTRODUCING KITTY TO HIS HARNESS
Some cats will take to being “dressed” in their harnesses immediately. Others may require a bit of coaxing. It is, therefore, best to introduce Kitty’s new “wardrobe” to him gradually. To accomplish this, just leave the harness and leash around your home in areas Kitty frequents. Kitty will probably sniff and paw at them as he becomes familiar with them and realizes they pose no threat. Once Kitty seems comfortable with his wardrobe, place the harness (without the leash attached) on his back without actually putting it on. Do this for only a couple of seconds, a couple of times a day, until it seems that he tolerates it well. Next, put
the harness on Kitty for a few minutes and permit him to walk around the house with it. Do this for only a few minutes at a time, over several days. Most cats will act a bit strange at first but will begin to accept it rather quickly. Each time Kitty is wearing his harness be sure you do something special – like scratching Kitty in his favorite spot or offering Kitty a little of his favorite treat. We want Kitty to associate the harness with positive things. Kitty should think that every time he sees or wears the harness, something wonderful is going to happen!
As Kitty adjusts to wearing the harness, increase the amount of time he wears it. Be sure to only let Kitty wear his harness when you can supervise – we don’t want him getting caught on anything.
ADDING THE LEASH
Once Kitty seems to have mastered wearing his harness, it’s time to attach the leash to it. Here, again, Kitty’s newest accessory should be introduced for short periods of time – say only a minute or two at first. And don’t forget to use the same positive reinforcement you used when you introduced him to the harness.
The first few times Kitty wears his leash and harness let him do what he wants while you supervise. He may just sit there looking awkward and confused, or he may wander. Have patience. After all, he has to become acclimated to the added weight of the leash and clip, and to the fact that something (the leash) is dragging behind him. His leash introduction sessions should last only a few minutes at a time and be done several times a day over several days.
Once Kitty’s comfortable with his harness and leash, it’s time to start walking together. At the beginning, let Kitty take you where he wants to go. In other words, follow him around. Do this several times a day, increasing the amount of time of your walks gradually.
Once Kitty seems comfortable with this arrangement, it’s time to take Kitty where you want to go. Some cats will adjust to this with no problem, others will need a bit of coaxing. That’s where some more positive reinforcement comes in. Never drag your cat. Instead, encourage him to come in your direction using your sweetest, most excited and encouraging voice. If necessary, get down on your hands and knees – to Kitty’s level – to encourage him. Odds are he’ll come towards you. Remember, these sessions should be short and should be practiced daily. And by making them positive and fun (and not a tug of war) Kitty should take to it quite well.
Once you’ve both mastered going for walks inside your home, you can graduate to the great outdoors. Of course, Kitty should have had all his innoculations. Assuming Kitty has never been outside your home, you’ll have to take it slow. After all, the outside world can be overwhelming to a little cat.
Start by simply sitting outside your front door or in your backyard. Choose a quite time for Kitty’s first outing – when there’s less traffic or after school has let out and the kids have gone home. You may just sit with Kitty on your lap watching the world go by. In time, Kitty will muster up the courage to do a little exploring on his own. Here, again, hold the leash and let Kitty take you where he wants to go (provided he’s not walking into traffic or other dangerous situations).
These outside sessions should be short and frequent, until Kitty’s confidence is increased and he seems comfortable. And don’t forget the praise! Once Kitty has adjusted to wandering outside while you follow him holding the other end of the leash (it may take several days or weeks), you can start taking him on walks where you want to go.
YOUR PATIENCE WILL PAY OFF
The aforementioned process may take days, weeks and even months – depending on your cat or kitten. But it’s definitely worth it. By being patient and taking the time to gradually adjust Kitty to walking a leash and harness, you’ll be giving your cat a gift that will last a lifetime. By affording him the opportunity to be outdoors with the safety of a leash and harness, your cat (and you) will enjoy what the outside world has to offer. By sharing the sunshine, the fresh air, the flowers – all those outdoor sights and smell – you’ll have an even closer relationship. You’ll be able to share more of your life and spend more time with Kitty – visiting friends, family and new places. After all, isn’t your cat worth it?