With all the dangers of modern urban life, more and more cat owners are opting to keep their felines permanently at home. Providing cats get plenty of opportunities for mental and physical enrichment, most will adapt well to living life as a house cat, but some will be less happy with this arrangement and will stare longingly at the window, begging to be let out.
Many owners are now considering walking their cat on a lead to offer them a safe way to explore the great outdoors and if done properly, it can be a great way for them to exercise and can help to prevent boredom behaviours. Find out how to leash train a cat and get our top tips in this guide.
How to leash train a cat
First things first, it’s important to note that walking a cat on a lead is very different to how it is with a dog. Expect it to be a much slower experience, both with training them and then when you go out and about for walks.
Where dogs will be led by you and will trot along happily, occasionally stopping for a sniff, a cat will lead the walk and may want to stop to bask in the sun, play with a bug and then may even go for an excitable sprint!
If you’re prepared to let your feline lead the way, here are our top tips for leash training a cat:
Step 1: get the right equipment
Before you begin the training process, you’ll need to get the right equipment to ensure your kitty’s safe and comfortable on their adventures. Here’s what you’ll need:
A specialist cat harness: this will need to be well fitted to your cat (you should be able to fit one or two fingers beneath the harness). Using a small dog harness is absolutely not suitable as cats are built very differently.
Lightweight nylon or cloth leash: chain leashes should be avoided at all times and extending leashes shouldn’t be used whilst training.
Tasty treats: you’ll need to reward your cat well during this process so they see it as a positive experience.
Step 2: familiarise them with the harness
Before you brave the great outdoors, you’ll need to get them used to wearing the harness around the house. Pop their harness on briefly, give them a treat while it’s on, then take it off. Don’t worry if your cat seems to ‘freeze’ or walks oddly the first few times they wear it, a harness can be a very odd sensation for them and it takes a while for them to get used to it.
Step 3: build up the time they wear the harness
Repeat the above step of popping their harness on, giving them a treat and taking it off. Monitor their reactions during this stage and if they seem happy to wear it, leave it on for longer. If they seem upset, give them a treat and take it off. How long it takes for them to get used to the harness will vary depending on the cat – some will be more accepting, whereas others may never get used to it.
Step 4: attach the lead
Now they’ve got used to wearing their harness and are walking around comfortably, it’s time to go to the next step of cat leash training: attaching the lead. Let them walk around your home at their own pace and investigate wherever they want to. You can either try holding the lead very loosely or let it drag along on the floor behind them. Be aware that if you let it drag it may scare some cats or they may even try to play with it, so monitor your cat to ensure they’re comfortable.
Step 5: take them outside
Once they’re used to the harness and lead, it’s time to head outside. In the first instance the garden (if you have one) is the best choice as this is a safe area for them to get used to all the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors.
Let them wander around outside at their own pace and encourage them to go the direction you want them to go by coaxing them with treats and toys – never pull your cat by the lead. Once they head the way you want them to, give them lots of praise and offer them a treat. It can take some time for them to be comfortable with being outdoors and wearing the harness, so be patient!
Tips for walking a cat on a lead in public
When you’ve mastered walking around the garden or your street, you may want to take them out in public to go for walks, but just remember, they’re not a dog so don’t expect them to behave like one. Your cat will always be the one leading the way and you’ll just be a passenger along for the ride. Always avoid busy roads as these can be quite scary for your feline and avoid areas that tend to be very populated with dogs as they may frighten your cat or some might even try to chase them.
The bottom line with walking cats on leads is that some will take to it like a duck to water and love it, whereas others will never adapt to it. This can be especially true of older house cats that are too scared to go outside. Our best advice is to take each step very slowly and just see how your cat reacts to it all. If they love it, great! If they hate it, don’t force them!
Want more top tips on training your cat? Read our guide on litter training kittens and cats, next.