For many decades people resisted the idea of leading their cat around on a leash because let’s face it, cats don’t like to be controlled the way a dog will submit to a leash or his master’s commands. But leash training can be done and it can be a great way for you and your cat to play together and for your cat to explore the outdoors in a safe manner.
Taking a cat out on a leash can also be a great way to allow him to get away from the furniture he’s scratching and clawing and to work out some of his aggressive behavior. If he has a tendency to play at night and keep you awake, taking him out on a leash can wear him out enough so that you all get sleep at night!
Choosing a harness and leash.
Do you know why cats have whiskers? One reason is so that they can judge the width of any opening they plan to squeeze through. If their whiskers can fit, a cat of healthy weight can also fit. Think about that when you look at your cat’s whiskers; you might be amazed at how skinny a cat can make itself when it needs to wriggle through or out of something.
This is important to remember when choosing a leash and harness. Cats can wriggle and wiggle and squeeze their way out of the tiniest of spaces and harnesses. You need one that’s snug enough to keep your cat feeling safe and secure and that he won’t be able to get away from.
Most owners use the “lifejacket” form of a harness and leash. This fits snugly around the cat’s torso and neck so that he’s securely inside and can’t get out. Make sure it’s not too tight as of course this could be painful and may hinder him from breathing; allow two fingers to slide between the cat and harness.
A cat’s neck is also more sensitive than a dog’s so yanking a leash on a cat’s neck can hurt him. With the lifejacket style, the leash is on the cat’s back which is much stronger and will withstand any resistance it experiences. Again, your finger should be able to fit smoothly between the collar and the cat.
Dealing with issues over the leash.
Here are some common problems that come with putting a cat on a leash and how to address them:
- If your cat starts to chew on the leash, put a bit of Tabasco sauce or other bad-tasting liquid on it until he gets the hint that it’s nothing he wants in his mouth! Don’t make it anything dangerous or anything that will hurt him, but just something he won’t like. Keep a dish of water nearby if you do this as he’ll want to cool his mouth.
- Some cats get very excited about going outside and may be so “squirmy” that they make it impossible to get the jacket on. If they’re hyperactive before your time outside this will set the tone for your entire walk. When they act up, stop what you’re doing and refuse to put them in the jacket until they calm down.
- Teach him what a tug on the leash means. Give it a very gentle tug as you call his name and stand ready with a treat. Continue to do this a few times and then remove the treat; he should come when called and when you tug on the leash by that time.
- Don’t drag your cat or pick him up by the harness. This is very uncomfortable and even traumatizing to him.
As with all other parts of cat training, it will take patience to get your cat accustomed to a leash. He’ll need some time to be comfortable with the jacket itself as cats don’t appreciate being confined. Being outside might be a bit overwhelming for him so don’t expect him to just run and play on his own. Be patient and understanding and reward him for efforts and soon enough he’ll be outside and loving it!