Taking your cat for a walk
More and more cats nowadays are full-time house-cats. They never go out to the garden by themselves so their outdoor experience is minimal. If you donít want your cat roaming around the garden on her own, the next best thing is to take her for a walk. However, anyone who knows cats will tell you that sounds easier than it really is.
Cats are not like dogs. Being restrained is not something your average cat likes at all. So if you are planning to take your cat for walks, expect that the training to achieve this may take a long time. Patience is the key here and although it is not impossible to train an adult cat to walk in a harness, it is far easier to teach a kitten than an adult. So if you have a chance, start when the cat is young. Even if you do not need or want to take a cat out walking, getting her used to a harness may be useful. For example if you need to travel with your cat, having her in a harness is safer.
Before going into detail about the training, it is important to distinguish between a dog's leash and a cat's harness. Never use a collar and a leash. A cat will pull against the collar to try to get to where she wants to go and may pull so hard that the pressure can injure her neck. Instead, there are specially designed body harnesses for cats which fit over the neck and the middle of the body. This causes the pressure from tugging on the leash to be transferred to the middle part of the body, protecting the cat's neck. Make sure that the harness fits your cat. There are number of different types of harness but an adjustable harness is definitely the one to go for. Make sure that the harness fits snugly around the body but is not too tight.
As everyone who has lived with a cat knows, cats have characters as individual as a human's. Some cats will not mind wearing a harness at all, whereas others will object to it vigorously. Some may take a long time to get used to walking on a leash, and a minority will simply never accept that you can tell them where to go.
So first things first. To begin harness training, present the harness to your kitten as if it were a toy. Let her play with it and then just put the harness on top of her without actually buckling it down. Donít force it when the kitten runs away. Try again in a couple of hours or next day. Once the kitten is used to the harness being around try putting the harness properly on and leave it for few minutes. If the kitten gets restless, take it off. Repeat again till she is used the harness. Offer her a little treat when you put the harness on and when you take the harness off. You want to make sure that the kitten develops a positive association with the harness. Depending on the temperament of your kitten, this part of the training may take a couple of days, weeks or even months. If you are dealing with an adult cat, make that several months.
Once the kitten is used to her harness, it is time to attach the leash. Choose a strong but lightweight leash. The leash often comes with the harness and it is a good idea to use a leash made from the same material as the harness. If your cat had particular difficulty in getting used to a harness, you may start with a short string first to get her used to this new dangly accessory. If you think that the cat will have no problem with the full leash, then attach that. Leave it on for a while, but watch carefully to make sure that the cat doesnít entangle herself in the leash. Again repeat till your pet is used to the leash.
Once this is done, it is time for your cat to walk with you. Start walking her inside the house. If the cat is reluctant to walk, remember that cats don't understand discipline, but they fully get the concept of bribery. Give her some treats, spacing them along the floor so she has to walk to get to the treat. Tug gently on the leash to encourage her to walk. If she resists or starts fighting the leash, take a break, hand over a treat and once everything has calmed down, try again.
Once your kitten is used to walking on the leash inside your home, it is time to take her out. If you have a garden this is the best place to start, if not, find a quiet area away from traffic and other animals, especially dogs. Most cats are frightened of dogs and may freak out. Remember that for a indoor cat, the outdoors will be a whole new (and somewhat mind-blowing) experience. There are so many things to explore that, although you want the kitten to walk in the direction you want to go, give the cat enough time to get to grips with the new environment. After all the purpose of the walk is not to cover large distances but to give your pet an outdoor experience.
If you need to walk on the pavement, you may want to first take the cat in a closed cat basket or holding her in your hands (with a firm grip on the harness) so that the cat gets used to the traffic and general activity around. Always be prepared to pick her up if dogs are about or when crossing the road. Be vigilant of anything unexpected and try to anticipate any potential dangers. The outdoors are not as safe as keeping your cat locked up at home, and you have to decide if the extra risk is worth the added richness of experience it brings to your cat's life.