Most of us have seen the Instagram-famous adventure cats who explore the wilderness or bike across entire countries with their owners. And most of us are (rightfully) in awe of this. How do they get their cats to do that, we wonder. I don’t even know how to train a cat to walk on a leash.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. You’re in good company. A cat walking on a leash is a relatively rare sight, even these days. Most people are still under the mistaken impression that cats are inherently untrainable.
It’s true that training a cat is not the same as training a dog, but cats can still learn tricks and behaviors when you teach them with the right approach. So while getting your cat to sit on your shoulder while you bravely pedal your way across North America is a bit beyond the scope of this article, we can certainly provide some guidance and tips for training your cat to walk on a leash.
We all have to start somewhere, right?
When Should You Start?
Speaking of getting started, when it comes to how to train a cat to walk on a leash, most advice-givers out there agree that younger is better. Kittens are generally more adventurous by nature and may be more tolerant of new and unfamiliar experiences.
This doesn’t mean that you should wrestle your brand new 8-week-old kitten into a harness and leash on day one. But teaching your kitten the basics of positive reinforcement, such as how to come when called or sit for treats, is a great way to lay the groundwork for leash training.
For all you adult cat owners out there, don’t despair that your chances are lost. Older cats can learn to walk on a leash, too, but it may take more time and patience. The key here is to take your cat’s personality into consideration. No one knows them better than you do, after all, so you should be able to determine whether going for a walk is even something that your cat would enjoy.
Let’s face it: some indoor cats are homebodies who are perfectly content to nap on their windowsill all day and run through the halls yowling in the middle of the night. For these cats, it may be better to provide more indoor stimulation, such as climbing posts or elevated catwalks, and leave them to it. Additionally, if your kitty has an immune disorder or any other health issues, then taking them for a walk may not be the best option.
How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash: The Basics
Now comes the big question: where to start? A lot of cat owners make the mistake of moving too fast when it comes to leash training. Before you can even start to train your cat to walk on a leash, you need to make sure you have the right equipment.
First, hooking a leash to a cat’s collar is a big no-no. Collars are easy to slip out of and if you and your cat run across something on your walk that startles them, they could hurt themselves trying to get away or even slip out and get lost. Always use a harness that is designed for cats.
Next, introduce your cat to the harness slowly. This is where laying the groundwork for positive reinforcement training comes in handy. The goal is to make the harness an interesting and positive experience. And, as always, stay tuned into your cat’s mood to be sure you’re not causing stress. If you are, stop immediately, let your kitty calm down, and try again later.
Once the harness is on, practice walking around in your house or backyard to make sure your cat is comfortable moving around on the leash. Never drag your cat but try to entice them to follow you of their own accord. Again, reward them often and make it a positive experience. Once your kitty is focused on following you consistently and is comfortably responding to leash tension, you’re ready to move ahead.
Going for Your Walk: Some Tips and Safety Considerations
Now, you know your kitty has the right personality to go for a walk, you’ve bought the right equipment, and you’ve worked with them in the house to make sure they know what to expect when on the leash and harness. You and your cat are ready to hit the streets, right?
As you might imagine, not quite. There is an enormous difference between practicing with your cat in the house and taking them outside and away from everything that’s familiar.
First, you want to make sure that you’re never allowing your cat to walk out the front door on their own. If they get used to doing this, your cat could slip out on you when you don’t want them to be out and get lost. Always pick your cat up and carry them out the door yourself.
From there, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on your cat’s mood and your surroundings. Don’t try to push your cat to go too far or keep a certain pace your first time out. Instead, let your cat wander and explore to get comfortable. Additionally, try to avoid anything that might cause anxiety. This might mean taking a solo walk through your neighborhood first to map out the fence patrolling dogs, busy streets, noisy parks, and anything else that might be a stressor for your cat.
And finally, always make sure your cat is up-to-date on vaccinations and preventative medications. Walks are meant to be a healthy and enriching experience for you and your cat, and that starts with keeping them safe and healthy.
Are Walks Good for Your Cat?
The resounding question: are walks actually good for my cat?
The short answer is yes! With proper training, preparation, and a safety-first attitude, walks can be highly beneficial to your cat’s physical and mental health. Indoor kitties are especially prone to boredom and obesity, and a daily walk can go a long way toward addressing both of these issues.
Taking your cat for a walk can also help build a stronger bond between you and your cat (and maybe put your cat on the path toward Instagram fame and fortune).
At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s best for you and your kitty.
For more tips on teaching your cat to walk on a leash, check out this video from Jackson Galaxy: