Cats in the wild are active hunters and territorial by nature. This means they have to keep tabs on every sight, smell and sound in their immediate environment.
Your cat is just as equipped to stay in tune with her surroundings as her wild relatives. Getting outside to explore is a great way to exercise those traits. And though we feel it’s a responsible choice for your cat to live indoors, leash training as part of a safe outdoor experience can be a great way to enrich your cat’s life.
It’s important to recognize this is far different than walking a dog. It’s not about covering distance or getting cardiovascular activity, but about the sensory experience and exploration. Leash walking takes some patience and practice, but we think it’s definitely worth the time and effort. Some cats may never become comfortable with leash walking due to age, personality, or lifestyle. If that is the case, do not be discouraged; there are great ways to create indoor adventures as well, like creating a DIY Hideout.
Select a fitted harness and leash for your cat (your veterinarian or associate at a pet store can help you with your choice). Leave them out for your cat to smell and investigate.
Be aware that the harness may make some new noises your cat might find alarming. Practice snapping or Velcroing the harness to help get her accustomed to these new sounds.
Then try attaching the harness to the leash and use them to play with your cat. Entice her to swat or pounce on it to create a positive association as training continues.
Try It On
Get your cat used to the harness by having her wear it a couple times a day for roughly 15 minutes at a time.
It’s completely normal for cats to freeze up, refuse to walk or walk very strangely at first. She’s likely never experienced a sensation of having something on her back, and it’s something she’ll need to adjust to.
Next, increase the amount of time she wears the harness around your home. If your cat resists or isn’t adjusting, take a break from training and try again in a few weeks. It’s important to remember that leash walking isn’t right for every cat, so follow her lead and don’t rush the process.
It may take some time to get used to being on the leash. So start by touring the familiar territory of your home.
Reward good behaviors like staying calm after hearing a noise, moving forward and sniffing. Hide toys, kibble, or cat training treats around your home and have fun discovering them together.
Gradually build the duration of your walks inside. Once she’s mastered this skill, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Take It Outside
Before you get walking outside, make sure your cat has her recommended vaccinations - plus flea and tick prevention. Also ensure that she has a collar and tag, or microchip.
Start with a short walk in an area with low noise and activity, like your backyard. As she becomes more comfortable in her new surroundings, try expanding the territory you’re exploring. Ask your neighbor if you can check out their yard, stroll up and down your block or even venture around a park.