Leash-training a cat seems like a losing battle, doesn't it? If you've ever tried to walk your cat on a leash, you might have given up rather quickly, concluding that your cat would hate you if the leash stayed on for one more minute. And yet you may notice your indoor cat peering outside longingly, or smelling the fresh air from an open window. If only there were a way to train your cat to tolerate the leash...
But there are ways! Leash-training requires the right frame of mind, the right equipment, and lastly, a good amount of time. But leash-training provides a safe and healthy way for your cat to indulge his most famous of attributes - curiosity.
- Be patient and positive. Curiosity is followed rather closely by stubbornness - or so you might think as you first introduce your cat to wearing a harness. Most animals don't like to wear anything encumbering anyway, and cats certainly don't like to be constrained. But your patience and friendly attention will help soften the furry friend, making her more receptive to the harness. The most counterproductive thing to do is to lose your patience and vent your frustration.
- Buy the right equipment. Though a collar is appropriate for a dog, it isn't acceptable for a cat's slender, more fragile neck. It might seem wrong to put your cat into something as severe-looking as a harness, but a harness is required when you walk your cat on a leash. Different harnesses are available; visit a pet store to see which one your cat likes best. The important thing is that the force of leading your cat isn't absorbed in a bad place like the neck, but instead better areas like the chest or mid-back.
- Getting used to the equipment before putting it on your cat. Once you have bought the harness, allow your cat to become acquainted with it before putting it on him. If you leave the harness by his bed (or in a pile of your clothes that your cat likes), after a couple days your cat will recognize the object and no longer approach it with as much trepidation.
- The inert phase. Once the object is more familiar, you should put the harness on your cat. You can expect your cat to become immobile for a period of time, just sitting there wearing the harness. At this point, you should sit a short distance from her and offer either a toy or some special treat to entice her to move. Eventually she will come to you, at which point you should give her the treat and give her some much-deserved petting.
- The mobile indoor phase. The next day, let her wander through the house a bit while wearing it. Give her attention and show your affection, because the harness is undoubtedly causing no small amount of anxiety. It's best to confront this anxiety indoors rather than outdoors, where your cat will face lots of other stimuli. Start her off wearing it for a period of only about five minutes. Then each day for about four days, add about five minutes.
- Introduce the leash. At the end of that period, it's time to show your cat the leash, and attach it to the harness. In the same graduated fashion, attach the leash to the harness indoors, and take hold of the leash. Your cat won't take too kindly to your attempts at first, which is why you should use treats once more to entice movement. Reward small movements at first, and then gradually move toward rewards for larger movements, and then fewer rewards until your cat follows you without treats at all. This step will take time, but is necessary if you and your cat are to enjoy walking outdoors (if your cat isn't able to enjoy it, then what's the point?).
Don't tug at the leash or become impatient in any way! Your cat will be compelled to cooperate by your calm steadfastness and your rewards.
- Outdoors... Now you can introduce your indoor cat to an entirely unfamiliar world. Not surprisingly, you should start slowly here as well. Begin by walking your cat through your yard (if possible). If that is impossible, then take your cat to a nearby park. The goal is to find a quiet, green location away from cars and really loud noises.
Make your trips short at first, and reward your cat as you go along, gradually removing the rewards. Don't opt for one big goal upon your return home - your cat will just learn that the quicker he gets home, the quicker he receives a reward. You want to train him to enjoy the outdoor walks; he'll enjoy the homecoming with or without any treat.
Can we put a value on the feeling of a warm breeze through our hair, or the smell of grasses and flowers? Imagine how you can enrich your cat's life by leash-training her so that she can experience these wondrous things, too. Soon you and your feline companion will be enjoying outdoor walks together!