Leash Training a Cat
Training a cat to wear a harness and leash is a safe way to allow your cat controlled access to the great outdoors. Because cats can easily escape a collar, you cannot just use one with a leash to walk with your cat outside. Be patient, as it will take some time to acclimate your cat to a harness.
A good body harness should be well-fitted to the individual cat. This means that it must have been designed for a cat’s body (in other words, do not use a dog harness), and it should be comfortable for the cat to wear.
The leash you choose should be practical for a cat, so it should be light-weight and made of cloth or nylon. Obviously, chain leashes are too heavy. “Flexi-type” leashes are also discouraged, because they can easily get wrapped around trees and other items. Your cat might get tangled and injure itself, as well. Make sure your cat has a collar with an identification tag and a microchip with your current contact information.
Acclimating your cat to the harness and leash needs to be a slow process. Rushing it will cause the cat to balk about wearing the harness and possibly set your progress back significantly.
Start by placing the harness, without the leash attached, on the cat. It’s best to attempt this while the cat is relaxed – perhaps after eating or a vigorous play period. Give your cat a treat or two, then remove the harness. Wait a few moments and repeat. Gradually increase the length of time the harness is on. Do not give treats after you remove the harness. In this way you are teaching your cat that the feeling of the harness on its body equals delicious treats, and the harness being removed ends access to the treats. Soon your cat will be begging to wear his harness!
Once your cat is comfortable wearing the harness, attach the light-weight leash to the harness. While still indoors, walk behind your cat and gently hold the leash loosely. It is imperative that you make certain there is no tension in the leash. After a brief period of time, remove both the harness and the leash. Continue this process for a few days until your cat is comfortable and freely walking.
The next step is to allow your cat to drag the light-weight leash behind him while moving about your home. This will allow your cat to feel a slight degree of tension being applied to the leash. Be sure to always supervise this activity. NEVER leave the leash or harness on an unsupervised cat!
As long as your cat is unconcerned up to this point in the training, it’s time to try this outdoors. Of course you must only attempt this on temperate and dry days. Walk your cat to the door, open the door, and encourage it to exit. Do not carry your cat outside; you could easily be injured if it gets frightened and tries to run. You may toss a treat about one foot out the door to lure him if he is hesitant, but don’t force him outside. If your cat just won’t go out this time, call it a day and try again later.
The use of yummy treats will help your cat to feel secure and happy about this adventure. Keep the time spent outdoors to a few lovely minutes. Do not wait until your cat has become frightened to bring him indoors. You will want your cat’s last impression before coming inside to be one of safety and enjoyment.