How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash

Barb Hopkins

Cat Walking On Leash

Many indoor cats love the opportunity to explore a new space in their home. Unfortunately, the ability to provide uncharted territory for our feline friends is not always possible, especially with an indoor cat. However, youcan indulge their cats' adventuresome spirit with safe, supervised time outside. Whether it's hanging out in the backyard with the family or strolling along the sidewalk, cats of all ages can be trained to walk on leash. Leash training makes it possible for kitty to enjoy outdoor time and it can be great exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.

Essentials Needed for Training a Cat to Use a Leash

If your cat doesn't have a collar with a securely-attached identification tag, then that should be your first step before moving forward with leash training. All indoor cats need a collar and ID tag as a precaution. Accidents can happen. If your pet gets lost having proper ID on them helps give you the best odds for finding him.  An ID tag is crucial.

In addition to a collar with an ID tag, there are four key things needed when training a cat to walk on a leash. These essentials are:

  • Properly-fitted harness
  • Non-retractable leash
  • Kitty treats
  • Patience

Tip: Patience really is key when attempting any type of pet training. Remember that not all animals pick up on new skills quickly.

Important Harness Tips for Cat Owners

While it's possible to attach a leash directly to a collar, it's recommended to use a harness when leash-training a cat. A harness is more comfortable and can help prevent a clever cat from slipping out of a collar. Consider three harness styles: the basic figure-eight, the H, or the vest harness/v-harness. The figure-eight has two circles that fit around the cat's neck and torso. The H also has two loops but it includes a straight piece of material that can reduce pressure on the neck if/when your cat tries to pull away. The v-harness slips on like a vest. Choose a harness that's easy to clean, is durable, and comfortable for the cat to wear.

The Humane Society cautions, "Regardless of your cat’s age, proceed safely and gently with training. Select a harness that fits snugly enough to keep her from wiggling out of it—and do not attach the leash to a collar. Avoid retractable leashes, since the force of the recoil could overwhelm a cat. Never yank the leash or scold; one negative experience can turn a cat off from the process forever."

How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash

All steps during the leash-training process should be positive. If at any time your cat perceives the moment or action as negative, success will be more difficult to achieve.

Introduce harness. Simply hold it out for the cat to sniff. After the initial sniffs, offer a single treat. Another option is to sit on the floor and set the harness in front of you, creating a safe zone for the cat to "investigate" the new "thing". After the introduction of the harness, snap it open and closed to acclimate the cat to these new noises.

Try on harness. Slip the harness on the cat, but don't secure it. Just let your cat get a feel for it. You'll know if this stresses your cat out—backing out of the harness, pulling away. To avoid a stress-out, rely on a distraction. Offer a treat while slipping on the harness. Leave the harness on for a few minutes initially and then remove it. Offer another treat. Repeat this process a couple of times a day for several days in a row until the cat becomes accustomed to the harness. It's normal if your cat walks oddly or even freezes the first few times wearing the harness. Be patient.

Attach the leash. Once your cat easily accepts wearing the harness and seems comfortable with it on for a length of time, try attaching the leash. To avoid accidental entanglements that can frighten your cat, do this in a room where the leash won't catch on any furniture. If the dragging leash bothers kitty, then loosely hold it or distract with treats.

Practice with the leash. Before heading outdoors, practice following your harness and leash-wearing cat around the home. Treats and praise can be used as positive reinforcement during this practice time. Gently guide your cat, never yank or pull too sharply with the leash.

Going outdoors. Put the harness and leash on inside. Carry your cat outdoors to a quiet, secure area the first time. Some cats may be more sensitive to the outdoors. Triggers for reaction may include:

  • Smells from flowers to other animals
  • Noises
  • Feel of the cement or grass on the paws
  • Heat and brightness of sunlight

The first time out try sitting with your cat on the grass or sidewalk, the cat on your lap. Allow him to venture off your lap on his own, in his own time. Keep hold of the leash, but keep it loose. It's normal for the cat to have a reaction or get scared.Be reassuring. If your cat is overly frightened or stressed, head back inside and try it again the next day. 

Tip: Take a heavy towel outside with you. If your cat freaks out, it's much easier to scoop him up in the towel to carry inside. This helps reduce painful scratches from a frightened kitty.

As a pet parent, it's essential you learn to read your cat's mood when venturing outdoors on the leash. It should be fun for your cat, never terrifying or stressful. Leash-training a cat can take time and will require patience. However, in time, you and your kitty can enjoy outdoor adventures on a regular basis.

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