How to Train a Cat to a Leash
Updated: Sep 23, 2019
Disclaimer: this is how I learned to walk on a leash, and may not work for your cat or your friend's cat. Your human may also become quite frustrated with you, but patience is required.
As stated in my previous post about harnesses, the first thing you need to do is purchase a cat harness and a leash. You can buy one in most pet supplies stores and online. They start around $15 (USD) and go upwards to $21 (USD). They come in a variety of colors and sizes. Some are supposedly escape proof ... but I haven't tried any.
The human and I are working on making unique, handwoven harnesses to sell. You won't be able to find these ones in the stores.
To find the correct size measure around your cat's neck and chest (right behind our front legs). This way, you'll have the best idea of size. Most of the harnesses have a collar measurement, but don't worry, all harnesses are adjustable.
The leashes come in a standard size and extendable ones. The human first used a standard size leash, but once we moved to the United States, I have been using an extendable leash. Both work; though, if you live in a city or town, I would strongly recommend a standard leash not the extendable.
Step 1 - Basic Comfort
We don't have any photos of our first time around with the leash, but rest assured, I didn't appreciate having a harness on very much. Us cats don't like to be limited in any way, and a leash is the biggest limiter there is. Besides, I wanted to stay inside and watch people not go outside.
How wrong I was.
Once you have your harness and leash, have your cat wear the harness for a little while without putting the leash on. This is especially true if your cat doesn't wear a collar already. It might take us a little time to get used to having a harness on, but wait until we accept it.
Leon's Trick - give us some of our favorite food when doing this part. A little treat goes a long way, I always say.
Step 2 - Walking ... or Not
Be prepared to be frustrated. Both human and cat. This part is going to take time, and truth be told, I was forced into this part which is how my journey is different. The human bought my harness and leash in the autumn of 2017, shortly after we adopted each other. She followed all this following part, but we were both often frustrated. In fact, my silly human attempted to take me out on a bike ride.
Does she think I'm a dog?!
Once your cat is comfortable with the harness, the next step is to attach the leash. At this point you will need the following:
Plenty of nice words
As you begin this step, your cat will most likely flop. We don't enjoy being told what to do - unlike dogs. We also grow tired quickly mainly because of how our bodies move. Dogs are pursuit hunters. Think how wolves or coyotes hunt - they chase down their prey, wearing it out until it is ready to fall over.
We cats, on the other hand, are more like tigers - we wait patiently until our prey comes close then we pounce. Because of how our bodies work, we can't go for very long before getting tired. Added to this, we don't necessarily like our harnesses. This is where the treats come in handy.
My human started me in our apartment. This was after the bike incident, however. We started with me getting used to the leash then walking for a little while. Another cat owner said to stop training when the cat stops training. That's a very good suggestion. We can be trained to leashes, but it'll take longer than with a dog.
And we're less inclined to pull you off your feet.
Step 3 - We're Walking!
Once you get your cat walking a little while, begin to take short walks on a regular basis. Your cat may like to walk every day or only once a week. You'll soon find out. For me, I enjoy going out for short walks at least three times a day. This is around my human's parents' property, and gives me the chance to survey the property.
We only go on long park walks once a week. They take a lot out of me, and I'm usually tired for a couple days. This is partly because we have to drive. I will have an article about taking a cat in a car, eventually. Once you sort out a schedule, you can, like all things, extend it bit by bit until we're out for long walks.
Step 4 - Bonus
People and dogs can make us nervous. It doesn't stop my human from taking me to populated places such as Niagara Falls. If you want to take your cat to a populated place, make certain you give us space to hide (a carrier is perfect). The human carried me around in my carrier while we were in Washington D.C. after I was too overwhelmed from walking.
You will also be bombarded by people because no one usually sees cats out and about. Even going into a pet store is an event. In those cases, make certain that your cat can handle being petted by people. My human and I want to meet people, but she sometimes just has to tell the people, "Nope; Leon's tired, and you can say hello, but he doesn't want to be touched."
Please, make certain you protect your cat.
Bonus 2 - Me
As I mentioned before, I was slightly different than other stories. In my case, I flew from Seoul to San Francisco. While we lived in Seoul, I didn't like walking outside on my leash. We rarely traveled farther than the little garden in the front of the apartment buildings. I went to the nearby creek once, but didn't travel a lot.
When we arrived in the United States, I found that I enjoyed going out on my leash. I had to travel around in my carrier. When we arrived in Kansas City, Kansas, (USA), I started to use the leash more often.
Once in New York, I went out on the leash on a regular basis (especially once it warmed up a little). All of this to say, I was forced to adjust to my leash. Even though I say to take your time as your cat adjusts to the leash, don't be afraid to push us a little bit.
And have plenty of treats.