How to Use a Cat Harness and Leash: Catwalks 101

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It’s a bemusing and wonderful sight to see a cat on a leash, and when you observe how much enjoyment that cat is getting out of his daily walks, you’ll wish you had leash-trained your cat years ago.

Leash training​​​ a cat allows an otherwise housebound cat the freedom to explore the outside world and see new environments he would never have been exposed to otherwise. Whether you live in an apartment building, on a busy road, or if there is another reason that your cat can’t leave the house unattended, learning how to use a cat harness and leash is the first step in your new adventures together.

How to Use a Cat Harness and Leash

The first thing you need to know and understand is that this process is going to take time. It is very unlikely that you will have your cat walking comfortably on a leash today, this week, or even this month.

If you do get there sooner, then bravo! Be warned, though; you probably won’t. Nevertheless, we don’t want you to be discouraged by your slow progress because any progress is progress! This is a longer process than many people realize at first, which all begins with getting your cat accustomed to the harness.

Cat Harness Training

The first thing you need to do is train your cat to feel comfortable in their harness. Most cats will freeze, recoil, or fall down when you first try to put a harness on them. This is due to age-old, built-in survival instincts that they would employ if they were grabbed in the jaws of a predator.

Step 1: You should start by getting your cat accustomed to having their harness around by having it near them when they sleep and eat. You can even try playing with them using the harness as a teaser toy. Depending on whether the harness is a step-in or a head-in harness, you can tempt your cat to step into (or reach with their mouth into) the harness to reach their food or treats.

Step 2: If they try to avoid the harness, then remove the harness and food. This is so that one is always associated with the other. Repeat the temptation process after 10 minutes, coaxing them closer and closer to the harness each time.

Step 3: Once they are happy with the harness being close to them, you can then attempt to put it on them. Continue to distract them with treats or toys as you try to put the harness on. Alternatively, you could also attempt this while they are fast asleep and are cuddled in your arms.

Step 4: It is recommended that once you have your cat into the harness easily, and you've made all of the size adjustments needed, put them into their harness for a short period each day to get them used to wearing it. Once they fall asleep in their harness, then you can safely assume that they are comfortable in it, and you can graduate them to leash training.

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Cat Leash Training

Next up, you need to start following them around your house. Yes, we know that sounds weird. Seriously, though, your cat is going to feel weird when you start walking right behind them to retain control of the leash. Hence, you might as well get them used it now while they’re in a safe space.

Step 1: Cats like being the ones in charge, so don’t expect submission to a leash to come easily. Start by putting the leash on for small amounts of time in each practice session.

Pick them up, place them somewhere (anywhere!) purposefully, and let them begin walking on the leash just a few short paces. Gently pull back on their leash to get them to stop and when they do, immediately reward them with affection and treats.

Step 2: Keep repeating this process until they realize that there is a massive benefit to you being in charge (treats and love!), and they can happily walk around your house and garden on the leash.

Start off your walks outside in quiet areas with as few disturbances as possible. Build up your cat's confidence in the great outdoors slowly. As your cat learns to trust you outside, they'll soon be able to relax into a good walk just as much as a dog!

Top Walking Tips

Once you have your cat walking outside comfortably, there are just a few extra tips we can give you to help you on your way!

  • Introduce walking cues

Always pick them up inside and place them back down outside, ready for a walk. If you let them leave the house on foot with you for walks, then they might start thinking they can take themselves for walks whenever you leave the house.

  • Introduce home signals

Teach them a “home” signal by telling them its home time. Simply say "home" and then pick up your cat to enter the house. Give them a treat to show them it was a job well done.

  • Return home when necessary

If something unexpected or frightening happens on your walk that upsets your cat, then it’s only fair to pick up your cat and return home as soon as possible. Your cat will feel vulnerable on their leash at first, and you need to build up trust that you will be their protector when you’re outside.

Final Words: Catwalk Success

Learning how to use a cat harness and leash will enable you to have your feline friend walking with confidence beside you. If you give each training step time and patience, then you will benefit as much as your cat does from this bonding experience.

Your cat doesn’t know it now, but their life will be richer for being able to explore the great outdoors. What’s more, your relationship will be deeper for the bond you share because of it.

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