How To Train Your Cat To Walk On A Leash

It's not for all cats, but some may surprise you 🐈🌳

Your house cat may be perfectly content basking in a ray of sun from the window, but put a harness and leash on your feline, and watch his inner tiger emerge.

Not every pet cat will automatically transform into an adventure cat — but you never know until you try.

Taking your cat outdoors can give him the freedom to experience another environment outside your home, with new smells, textures and sounds to spare. If done properly, your cat can feel the wind in his fur in a safe and controlled way, without fear of speeding cars, poisons or predators.

Training your cat to walk on a leash can be beneficial for both owner and cat, explains Sherry Woodard, national animal behavior expert at Best Friends Animal Society. The activity can provide a stimulating experience that enriches your cat’s life, a great bonding opportunity and extra exercise for you and your kitty. In addition, leash training a foster animal may also help the cat build skills that make her more attractive to potential adopters.

While leash training can be done at any age, it may be easier for an energetic kitten than an older cat already stuck in her ways. “Most kittens are comfortable and social, so they’re pretty outgoing,” Woodard tells The Dodo.

If the cat doesn’t seem comfortable right away, take things slow. “It really should be something you enjoy together,” Woodard says. “I would encourage people to take their time, take baby steps and use incentives. I think a lot of cats will surprise people in that if we encourage them in appropriate ways, we can get them to enjoy things they didn’t think they could enjoy.”

Find the right harness

Choosing the perfect harness may require some trial and error. “There are so many harnesses to try now, that purchasing one can be a little tricky,” Woodard explains. “Making sure that the harness will wrap around your cat or kitten and stay on securely might mean that you actually end up purchasing a couple of harnesses.”

Before heading to the pet shop, measure your cat around the front of his chest, and around his middle, just behind his front legs, to be sure you get the right size. Never use just a leash and collar alone, as this may be dangerous to your cat’s neck and windpipe, according to Woodard.

Slowly introduce the harness to your cat (at home)

When first showing your cat the harness, allow him to sniff and play with it before attempting to put it on. While spending time with or in the harness, give him plenty of treats and wet food to reinforce positive associations. If your cat seems disinterested or uncomfortable in the harness, Woodard suggests trying different strap thicknesses, or giving it a spritz of stress relief spray to make it more appealing.

Once you buckle the harness, allow your cat to move around the house freely and get comfortable. When sizing your cat, make sure the harness is snug, but not too tight, Woodard says. Observe your cat as he moves around in the house, checking that he’s not wiggling out. “When you’re practicing in your home, it is really important to check for safety before ever going outside,” Woodard adds.

Attach the leash

While you may be itching to go out and play, once your cat is comfortable moving in the harness, it’s time to practice leash walking — inside. “Simply hold the leash up, and don’t put any pressure on it, then follow [your cat],” Woodard notes.

“Most of the leashes are going to be over 3 feet long, but you can hold the leash so you’re keeping your cat close in the beginning,” Woodard explains. “As your cat becomes more comfortable, you can extend out to a 5 or 6 foot leash, and that’s going to be as far away as most cats want to get from their person.” Remember to keep the treats, toys and ear scratches coming while training.

Pick the location for your first outdoors adventure

Once you have gotten plenty of practice walking around inside, set yourself up for success by choosing the perfect location for your first foray outdoors.

It’s important to find a safe, semi-private place, so your cat will feel relaxed, secure and confident on his first trip. Woodard recommends starting in an enclosed area, such as a fenced backyard, where you won’t need to worry about traffic, dogs or other potentially frightening stimuli. Check the weather report too, and make sure no wind or rain is in the forecast.

Be prepared

On the day of your planned adventure, put the leash and harness on your cat and carry her to the location. Be sure to have a towel handy, so if anything happens, you can wrap her up and get her back inside quickly. Sit your kitty down outside and let her enjoy rolling in the grass, climbing (though not too high), sniffing and doing all the things she can’t do at home.

Even if your cat is having a blast, Woodard recommends that her first adventure is a short one, to leave her wanting more.

What if it doesn’t work?

Leash walking should be something you and your cat enjoy together, so if your pal seems unhappy, slow down the training and use more incentives. Everyone is different, and some animals will take more time to feel comfortable with a new activity than others.

Not all cats will acclimate to leash walking, but there are plenty of other ways cats can enjoy being outside safely. Some cats may not feel comfortable walking on the ground in a harness, but are perfectly content in a stroller. You can even set up a cat tent in an enclosed outdoors area, so your cat can relax on the grass in a place she feels comfortable.