How To Train Your Cat to Walk on a Harness
Cats are made for hunting and exploring. This is how it’s always been and always will be. Understanding the true nature of a cat allows us to address their individual needs and avoid unwanted behaviors.
While we understand that it is not always possible or desired to allow cats outside unattended, we do believe for cats who exhibiting restless or aggressive behavior, it is important for their mental and physical well-being to allow them to interact with the natural environment. We feel strongly that every cat benefits from fresh air and the sight, sound and smell of the outdoors. Fortunately, there are ways to give your indoor cat the benefit of the outdoors. Two of our favorites? Cat enclosures and training them to walk on a harness.
Signs your cat needs more mental and physical stimuli:
- Aggression towards people and other animals in the house
- Inappropriate urination and defecation
- Chewing and eating odd objects such as plastic bags, hairbrushes, or cords
- Scratching furniture and carpets
Many people think that having a cat requires less maintenance than a dog. However, indoor cats need lots of additional environmental enrichment because they lack the opportunity to hunt and explore the outdoors. A great way to provide your cat with the stimuli they need is to start harness training your cat, and yes it can be done!
Ideally, you would start harness training your cat as a kitten because they are naturally more accepting of new things. However, if your cat is older, the biggest trick is to make your cat think the harness is their idea by rewarding the desired behavior with a fun treat.
First Steps to Harness and Leash Training Your Cat
- Put the harness on your cat and then provide a treat. Do not put on the leash, as often times the feel of the leash on their backs is a big turn off.
- Try to get your cat used to walking around the house with the harness on by distracting your cat with treats or play. Continue this exercise until your cat shows that he/she is done wearing the harness. It is always important to make the experience positive and not push your cat too fast or too far beyond their comfort level.
- After your cat has exhibited ease and comfort in the harness, attach the leash. We suggest holding the lease up so that it doesn’t touch your cat’s back or drag on his body. We don’t normally suggest retractable leashes for dogs, but for cats it can be a good option that doesn’t touch their body.
- Ideally, you will be able to start your outdoor activity in a safe, fenced-in area. If you don’t have access to a fenced area, choose a place near your house (like a patio or porch) and be sure to keep the door open, as it is very important that your cat has access to their “safe zone” at all times.
- Cats are naturally territorial and like to expand their territory at their own pace. It is typical for a cat to slowly explore their environment so allow him/her to set the pace of your “walk.”
- Ideally, you should repeat this exercise every day, with the ultimate goal to take your cat out everyday for 30 minutes to one hour. It sounds like a lot of work, but remember dog people do this all the time and it will greatly benefit your cat — both mentally and physically.
Harness Rental Program
Try a few styles of harnesses to see what your cat might like best. Rent a harness from The Happy Beast. $7 for 7 days.
Important Tips to Remember:
We suggest scouting your prospective walking area during the time of day that you plan on walking your cat. Cats are both predator and prey, so if you find that there are lots of dogs out at one time of day, pick another time that is more mellow in order to reduce chance encounters with dogs.
In general, we recommend walking close to your home and not hopping in the car with your cat for a hike that’s miles away from his/her familiar environment. If you allow your cat to slowly expand his/her territory around your home turf, you have a safeguard that if your cat gets loose he/she will be able to find the way back home.
For those of you interested in taking your cats on vacation, be sure to scout out your pit stops before taking your cat out. Your cat should be 100% comfortable walking on a harness if you are planning on taking them to unfamiliar areas.
*Remember that while some cats absolutely love getting out and about, for other cats, especially those that are skittish, it might not be the best expression of their energy. For these kitties, a cat enclosure may be the safest way for them to interact with their natural environment.
Our store kitties are benefiting from an enclosed “catio” since our busy store location in Lafayette does not allow for safe outdoor access. Check it out next time you’re at The Happy Beast!