Pet Tips 'n' Tales©

Leash Training Cats

Photo of Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe" and Nymbus©
Teach your cat how to walk on a leash. It expands her world and yours; plus,
you can meet and make new friends along the way.

With the dangers of traffic, roaming pets, and outside pesticides, many cat parents are concerned that their "outdoor" cats may be in danger.  Is your "indoor" cat becoming a couch potato? Here are two options for their health and safety: build a cat enclosure and/or teach them to walk on a leash.
Cats love exploring, and can be trained to walk on a leash and enjoy the experience. Not all cats will love walking on a leash, but our 4 indoor cats love it.  It helps them to satisfy basic hunting instincts and enhances their "indoor" lifestyle through exploration of the "outside" world.

- Buy a harness specifically designed for cats.  Dog collars are dangerous for cats.  Cats tend to bolt when frightened and you do not want to harm a cat's fragile neck with a dog collar.

- Many of the cat harnesses are made from slippery fabric.  This poses a problem, as cats loosen the fabric and wiggle backwards completely free of the harness.  Prevent your cat from demonstrating this Houdini-like skill while out walking by testing the harness BEFORE leaving the house. Our cats wear a lightweight harness that resembles a T-shirt.  It supports their chests and doesn't put any pressure on their necks.

-It's a good idea to monitor your cat's "wiggle" behavior inside the house for the first few days by alternately removing and replacing the collar.

- Avoid an initial rejection of the harness: Prior to placing the harness on your pet, change its scent to match yours!  An effective method is to place the harness under your shirt while you watch TV.  This way, the new harness' imperceptible odor will dissipate, and be replaced with your essence.

- The first time you place a harness on your cat, don't be surprised if the cat flips onto its side and lays inert and immobilized on the ground, like a casualty of an old Western  gunfight. Leave the harness on briefly, then remove it so the cat becomes comfortable with the process. Repeat this process over the next few days, leaving the harness on longer each time.  Soon your cat will not even notice it.  Leave the harness out for your cat to become accustomed to seeing it.  Soon your cat will step into the harness to assist you.
- Add your pet's name and your home ID to the harness.

- When the leash is attached to the harness, do not let your cat drag it around your home, especially if you have other pets.  Cats naturally become frightened when chased and you also want to prevent your other cats from joyfully bounding after a dragging harness.

- "Patience" is your keyword when working with cats.

- Take your cat outside wearing its harness and leash.  Remember you are walking a cat, not a dog!  Cats have their own minds, thoughts, and goals.  Make the first walk short to ensure a pleasurable experience for your cat.

- Now, here is the secret to success: Let the cat walk anywhere it wants to!  Allow your cat to choose the speed and the direction, and watch its body language, so you know when it wants back inside your residence. Patience is an important part of leash training. Cats need to feel in charge, so let them 'think' they are leading you.

- The more the cat understands this walk is for her, the more she will anticipate the next walk.  After several walks, ever so gently tug on the leash when you want her to move in another direction.  She will easily comply, as up to this point you have not demanded anything from her.

- Soon, your cat will be thrilled to go outside into the world and explore it with you tagging along as she watches the bugs and eats grass from her favorite location.

- When walking your cat for the first few times, you may feel more comfortable carrying a soft mesh carry case in case the cat becomes tired, an unleashed stray dog appears, or your cat becomes frightened of traffic.  Carrying a scared or wiggly cat is exhausting. Placing your cat in the carry case guarantees that you both make it safely and easily home.  

- When taking a cat outside a home, it is wise to have her microchipped and include your ID on her harness.

- Carry a small bottle of DOG-OFF-SPRAY for emergencies.

- Even cats who have cat enclosures relish going outside for walks to relieve boredom and explore new territory.  Now, when we walk one of our cats, the other 3  jealously sit in the window calling out to us!

- Have two harnesses.  When a harness is wet, remove it immediately.  A wet harness moves differently with a cat's bodies than a dry one, and can cause chafing under their legs. 
Our family has comfortably walked and traveled with cats on harnesses for years.  Here are a few precautions and stories to help.

- Years ago, unaware that the fabric in new harnesses had changed, we took our cats camping and tied their  leashes to the trailer.  Before we could set up camp, one cat backed out of his harness unseen by us until it was too late.  Only with Divine intervention and a miracle did we locate him.  Compete Story:

- Another time, I was inside the house and the cat was on her harness outside watching the birds from under her favorite bush.  Her leash was securely tied to a stake.  I heard a little boy laughing and went outside to investigate.  The boy had ridden his tricycle into our yard and was peddling into the helpless cat!  The cat had climbed up the bush and was hanging from a branch, all four of paws were off the ground! 

Luckily, this had just taken place, and I lifted her safely down.  The branch was under her harness, and she could not have dislodged herself. I never left her unattended after that incident and NEVER again tied a cat to any object.  It became obvious that they are at the mercy of any and every thing that comes along!

- On a beautiful summer day, a reader tied her small dog to their porch's heavy picnic table. Ten minutes later, she discovered he had pulled and moved the impossibly heavy table.  Sadly, he had fallen off the patio, strangling in his collar. These stories are not to scare you, but to teach that unexpected things happen.  Pets are known for their creativity.

- At a breeding farm for 13 years, Mr. Wings, a male Silver Persian, lay in a smelly cat cage that was stacked on top of other cats' cages. Lack of movement had atrophied his muscles.  When he tried to walk, he could not complete a normal walking step, and he limped painfully.
Once rescued from his imprisonment, how could we best lift his spirits and help him regain his health? 

Fresh air, and watching butterflies are wonderful cat medicine. The first time we put him into a harness, he was leery.  Once he learned what the harness meant, he ran to to us every time he heard the harness and leash come out of the closet.  Mr. Wings loved his new walking experience.

Imagine the freedom, the sun, the fresh air! Outside we let him walk wherever he wanted for the first few days.  He explored everything; even grass was an oddity under his feet that had only known a painful wire cage floor. 

Soon, he moved on the leash like a prize show horse.  One slight imperceptible movement from my finger on his leash and he went in the requested direction. 

Mr. Wings became stronger, happier and healthier. With patience, you and your beautiful cat can discover the joys of a long walk together.
Mr. Wings' son Nymbus walking on his leash with Mary Ellen

Nymbus is no ordinary cat! He has appeared on TV and in international magazines as a swimming cat. I started out to teach him how to swim so he would not drown in the back yard pool, but now he swims the length of it.  Each year, he gets stronger and faster as he swims.

Bike rides are Nymbus's favorite activity.  Sitting in his bike basket, with the wind in his whiskers, Nymbus' big eyes discover lots of cats, birds and squirrels.  He hangs his arms over the basket like humans do in their favorite chair.  His favorite stop is the Fleur de Lis cafe for a tidbit of turkey!

Nymbus's reward, after the bike ride, is a walk around the block on his leash.  If I forget, he has a temper tantrum! He sits in the window and yowls and yowls until I take him back outside for his walk.


*  Build a safe outside cat enclosure.
*  Teach your cats to love bike riding.
*  Teach your cats to love car rides
 *  Teach your cats to love walking on a leash.
* Teach your cats to swim for their safety.
Nymbus, the Silver Persain cat swimming
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