How to Leash Train a Cat

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17 Minute Read
Updated August 13, 2021

Have you ever seen someone walking their cat and thought, “I wish I could do that with my cat!” Well, it turns out you can with our simple tips for how to leash train your cat.

It’s just not fair. Dogs get to go outside all the time, and our poor kitties are stuck indoors staring out the window and daydreaming about going on a fun adventure.

No more will our feline friends be doomed to a life without the wind against their whiskers and the grass between their little toe beans! Though domestic cats are living the life of Riley, being pampered indoors, it doesn’t mean they have lost their natural foraging, hunting, and exploring instincts.

Get your cat ready to get back to nature with these tips for how to leash train your cat!

Benefits of Walking Your Cat

You may be thinking, “why would I walk my cat? She’s happy living inside!”

That’s true! Most cats are perfectly happy lazing around the house, moving from one sunbeam to another all day, but if you find your cat getting restless, especially in the warmer months, then it might be time to offer her a more enriching environment.

Cats need more attention and stimulation than you might think. While your kitten may have no issue with a lazier lifestyle, they can definitely benefit from a more energetic routine and taking your kitty for a walk might be just the activity she needs.

It’s about more than just excitement too. Here are some benefits of walking your cat on a leash:

Exercise

Enriching your cat’s exercise routine is the number one benefit of leash training your cat. Daily walks with your feline furball are an excellent way to make their tired old playtime and exercise routine much more exciting.

Naturally active cats and kittens will no doubt be excited for a new arena to play in, but even lazy old fat cats will be encouraged to participate in some more casual exercise once they get used to the leash.

When combined with an enriching indoor activity routine, walking your cat can help keep down her weight, build muscle, and prevent destructive behaviours in the house. 

Expand Her Horizons

When you take your cat outside, you are literally opening the door to a whole new world for her. What was once just a landscape that she longingly stared at through a window is now a reality that she can explore.

The new smells, new sounds, and the new feelings, like the grass between her little toe beans, will be almost overwhelming at first. With each walk, your cat will be able to investigate this new environment and learn how to navigate different terrain.

This kind of mental stimulation may not seem like much, but in reality, it’s an excellent way to keep your cat’s mind sharp, even as she ages, and it will help reduce anxiety and other restless behaviours that result from your cat being bored and understimulated indoors.

Building Confidence

For kittens and more timid cats, short outdoor adventures can be an excellent way to help her build confidence, and even socialization skills. Whether it’s with new people, new pets, or even just with the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.

In addition to building her own confidence, the experience will help you build a stronger bond with your little kitty as you go on these new adventures together. When she’s nervous or feeling overwhelmed, you can stop and give her a reassuring butt scratch or a tasty treat, showing her that you are there to protect her.

How to Leash Train Your Cat in 10 Steps

teddy-taking-a-break-from-walking (1)Photo Credit: @theoretically.teddy

Leash training your cat may seem unusual, but now that you know how it can benefit your kitty, it’s a little easier to interpret your cat’s longing looks from the window every day.

We won’t lie to you and tell you that leash training a cat is as easy as leash training a dog. It takes time and practice, and in most cases, a few frustrating failures. But don’t give up too easily.

You want your cat to see your outings and practice as a positive experience, so take your time and go through each step for as long as it takes to help your cat feel confident and ready to hit the road (more accurately - lawn or sidewalk).

If you think your cat is ready for her next adventure, then these steps can help you get started:

1. Get the Right Gear

While a collar is recommended for holding vital information, like city tags and ID, It’s not the ideal gear for keeping your cat secure on a leash. Instead, invest in a properly-sized harness that your cat can’t slip out of.

The style you choose will depend on your cat’s shape and size. Smaller cats and kittens tend to need a harness with a strap that goes around the neck and the chest, like the RC Pets Classic Cat Harness.

Larger cats may need something that is synched around the chest to control their larger size and strength. The Petsafe Come with Me Cat Harness is perfect for big cats that like to pull.

For the cats out there that are ready to really get wild, RC Pets Adventure Kitty Harness is a more full coverage harness that can keep up with your kitty as she explores nature to the fullest.

Choose an appropriately sized leash to attach to your cat’s new harness too. A standard 6 ft nylon leash, like the RC Cat Leash, is common because they are lightweight and easy to use.

How to Teach a Cat to Wear A Harness

If you’ve ever tried a cat harness before and found that your cat was playing an involuntary game of freeze tag, you are not alone. Most cats, when first introduced to harnesses or clothing that covers or wraps around their body will instinctively panic and kind of forget how to use their legs.

Once you get the harness on, and after you stop laughing, it will take time, patience, and possibly some bribery to show your kitty that she can still move, and you haven’t strapped her to the floor, as she seems to believe.

Just getting her used to wearing the harness might be the most time-consuming part of leash training your cat, so don’t get discouraged or give up if your cat is being stubborn. Just keep practicing putting on the harness and encouraging her to move around.

Wearing the harness for short periods of time in the house, specifically during playtime will help. Make sure not to leave the harness on all the time. Use it for a specific activity, just like you would a walk. 

2. Reward, Reward, Reward

Just like training dogs, treats can be an excellent way to teach your cat new behaviours. A positive association can help to reduce anxiety, build confidence, and make your cat see the harness as a sign that she gets to go outside, much like a dog recognizes a leash or a collar.

Keep some small but high-value treats handy while you are putting on your cat’s gear, and help encourage her to get comfortable moving around in it. Treats like Purebites Freeze-Dried Cat Treats are flavourful enough for any food motivated kitty to stay focused and keep trying.

Treating your cat while you are putting on the harness and after it’s on to motivate her to move are both great ways to speed up training and help her associate the whole process with a yummy snack.

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3. Practice Indoors First

If your cat is starting to get the hang of wearing a harness, then it’s time to attach your leash and practice at home. Even if you are just walking around the living room, you want your cat to become familiar with the idea of being attached to you and following you.

While holding the leash, call your kitty over to you. This is called the “follow me” command. Pick a single command, like "come" or "here", and show her the reward. If she starts heading your way, give her some praise and a tasty snack. 

Not all cats respond to vocal commands, and if she prefers to forge her own path, that’s fine too. Just know that if you let her lead the way, your walks may go nowhere fast. Helping her learn to follow the leader (that’s you!) before you take her outside will make your walks more efficient.

4. Choose the Right Environment

For your first trip outside on the harness and leash, choose an environment that is quiet and controlled. A backyard or front lawn is ideal if you have that option.

This will allow your cat to take in the smells and sounds without feeling too overwhelmed. This is a great place to practice your “follow me” commands, too.

The more sensory stimulation she has, the more scared she might get, but this baby step is perfect introducing her to a limited number of new experiences at a time.

5. Add Distractions

Now that your cat has mastered the backyard, you can start practicing in areas with more distractions to get your kitty used to new sounds and wildlife. Your yard may have grass and trees and bugs, but it doesn’t have cars, people, bicycles, skateboards, kids, and much much more.

The first time your cat sees these new and confusing things, she may be nervous, but helping her get used to them will make her more confident when you are exploring new routes and environments.

6. Read Your Cat’s Body Langauge

suspicious-cat-on-a-leash (1)

Body language is a very important part of understanding how your cat is feeling. She can’t tell you if she’s feeling excited, scared, or nervous, so keep an eye out for some of the more obvious cat body language cues.

Start by looking at the four main visual indicators of your cat’s emotional state: ears, eyes, tail, and body.

Ears

Ears can easily indicate alertness, shyness, or confidence depending on the direction. Ears that are forward but relaxed show a confident, relaxed, and playful cat, while stiff and high ears show alertness or suspicion as it tries to listen closely for sounds.

A nervous or scared cat will have low, flat ears. It’s almost as if their ears are cowering, and this is because they are trying to protect this sensitive and delicate part of their body. This cat is either ready to run or fight.

Eyes

While the eyes can be a bit more of a subtle feature, they can tell you a lot. When cats are alert, like when they are hunting, playing, or just generally excited, their eyes will be wide and dilated allowing them to see movement better from more angles.

A cat that feels threatened or angry is going to constrict their pupils into tall thin slits. This is designed to help them control the amount of light entering their eyes and can be a sign that they are hyper-focused on a single target.

The most well-known mood indicator that you probably see in your cat is a relaxed eye and a slow blink. If your cat slowly blinks at you, it’s a sign of trust and relaxation. You likely won’t see this often on walks, but if you do then she is very content.

Posture

There are a few common body posture cues that you will likely recognize in your cat. Big posture changes often indicate a more extreme emotional response, so they are pretty easy to spot.

A tall hunched back and fur sticking straight up is a pretty tell-tale sign that your cat is royally p’d off. She could be acting aggressively or extremely defensively if she’s feeling very attacked.

Another common pose is the hunter pose. This one isn’t necessarily aggressive or passive on its own. It’s mostly just alert. When your cat is hunting something, she’ll be low on the ground, with all shoulders and hips high and her legs under her ready to move if needed.

One of the more subtle body languages in cats that can signify your cat is feeling shy or nervous is if she’s leaning back or to the side. She’ll be looking at whatever has caught her attention, but she will be passively protecting her body.

Tail

Your cat’s tail is always moving but the way in moves can tell you if she’s feeling protected or not. Cats that are excited or stimulated will have a high tail that sometimes shakes like a rattlesnake.

Cats that are ready for a fight will also have a high tail but will flick the tail like a whip. This is a sure sign of aggression so try to call your cat away and find a different area to explore.

Calm and content cats will have a loose tail that gently sways as they move, but if the tail is low and tucked under their body, they are scared and will be more than happy to head back home.

Be prepared for changes in body language as you continue to adventure. Your cat may be having a grand old time but can rapidly change her tune when she sees something new. You don’t have to panic if your cat starts to look uneasy, but you should take stock of your surroundings, keep your cat close, and be prepared to leave if needed.

If you determine there is no danger, then you may want to let her explore the area a little further so she can calm herself and get more comfortable.

7. Be Prepared for Anything

Even in a controlled environment, anything can happen, so make sure you are prepared to pick up your cat and head back inside if you need to. Interactions with wildlife or weather changes can cause your cat some stress, so be prepared to cut your walk short if needed.

Additionally, make sure you have the right tools to keep your cat safe and clean up after them if needed. A travel water dish, some pet wipes for quick clean up or even some poop bags if your cat decides to leave your neighbours a “present”.

On longer walks or more adventurous excursions, it’s a good idea to bring along a cat carrier. This will be useful on longer treks where your kitty may get tuckered out, or even if she’s just starting to feel a little overwhelmed with nature, the carrier is a safe and secure place for her to take five.

8. Take Your Time

Don’t expect your cat walks to be as speedy or as straightforward as walking your pooch. Your cat will be using this time to explore, so you will make frequent stops for your cat to sniff, roll around, and eat grass.

Rushing your cat can add unnecessary stress, so be prepared for a very leisurely and erratic walk. While exercise is important, it’s hardly the most important reason for walking your cat on a leash.

9. Stick to a Routine

To help your cat get more confident on your walks, it would help to pick consistent days and times to take your cat out. Making walks part of your cat’s regular routine will allow your kitty to become more comfortable with the process.

If you only go out infrequently or sporadically, it will be much harder for your cat to build confidence and get comfortable. You want walks to be consistent to help desensitize her. 

10. Work Your Way Up to Bigger Adventures

Once your cat is accustomed to walking your usual neighbourhood walk, then you can start changing up the routine to provide new and exciting experiences, like small hikes or short camping trips.

It may seem like an unusual adventure for a cat, but you’d be surprised at how comfortable your cat will be in the wilderness. With the right gear and proper practice, your cat could be the ideal adventure companion!

Want proof? Check out @theoretically.teddy below! Teddy is no stranger to adventure and is proof that cats can do anything dogs can do! (...other than maybe bark?)

teddy-the-cat-walking-along-the-river (1)

Photo Credit: @theoretically.teddy

My Cat is Scared to Go Outside

Those first few steps out the door can be intimidating, especially to a shy kitten. It’s a big, scary world out there, so don’t be surprised if your cat is hesitant to take the plunge. Don’t force her if she’s not ready.

Practice inside with the leash and harness, remembering to reward even the smallest successes. When you feel your cat is ready, crack the door and let her walk out on her own. You can sit on the porch holding the leash and just wait.

This may take several tries, or she may just need a minute to gather her confidence. Even if she just steps out and then goes back in, make sure to reward her.

Nervous cats will take longer to train, so patience is extremely important. You may be ready to at least make it up and down the driveway, but your cat may not be ready to leave the front steps.

Just remember that the tiniest wins are still wins, and if you keep practicing, your cat will get just a little braver each time you try.

You may also decide that your cat is perfectly happy being indoors, and that’s ok too. Though outdoor adventures have a ton of benefits, you can look for ways to enrich your indoor cat’s environment too. Here are some creative ideas to bring the fun of the outdoors, inside:

    • Catit Cat Grass - Oat Grass, commonly called cat grass is an easy to grow and inexpensive option for giving your cat a little piece of outdoors. Additionally, it helps to support digestion when eaten and most cats enjoy the taste.
    • Window Seats - Your cat may prefer to be a spectator to the outside world, and a great way to help her do that is with a Sunny Seat Cat Window Bed. This elevated seat gives your cat a “cat’s” eye view of the neighbourhood so she can chitter and trill at whatever piques her interest.
    • A Cat Forest - Combining a tall cat tree with some cat-friendly indoor plants can give your cat the illusion of being in the wild even though she is safe and sound in the living room. Make sure you know which plants are safe and non-toxic for cats, because they may be tempted to taste it.
    • Cat Videos - Have you ever noticed your cat watching TV? Watching TV can be an enriching experience for indoor cats that want just a taste of nature. Cat videos, like this one on YouTube, can allow your cat to experience wildlife and the sounds of nature from the safety of their own comfy cat bed.

Outdoor Cats

We focused specifically on leash training your cat in this blog because this is a safe way to let your cat explore nature while supervised. Some cats are natural outdoorsmen though, so they prefer to patrol the neighbourhood solo.

If your cat bolts for the door or tears through your screens for just a taste of outside, then you may be considering letting him become an outdoor cat. You see them in your neighbourhood, those cats that hop from yard to yard, climb trees, and even dodge traffic, but outdoor cats do in fact have a shorter average lifespan than indoor cats according to the Ontario SPCA

Cats left outside to roam freely face an average life expectancy of two to five years. In contrast, cats living within the home enjoy an average life expectancy of 12 ½ years. 

This is because they are more likely to get injured or sick from something beyond their control while they are out prowling the streets. Some cats are tough and many live long happy lives, but you need to understand the risk before you set your ferocious feline free. 

Pros and Cons of Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats do have some advantages over a strictly indoor cat, but that benefit doesn't come without risk. If you are thinking about letting your cat roam free outdoors, there are some pros and cons, so check out this list before you set your pretty kitty free:

Enhanced Activity

Pro - Outdoor cats get way more exercise because they can climb trees and leap fences on their daily adventures. They tend to be very muscular and are less prone to weight issues and joint problems as they age.

Con - Unsupervised, outdoor cats can be injured or get stuck with no one around to help them. They tend to do riskier things like climbing trees or even getting on the roof.

Natural Instincts

Pro - They get to hone their natural foraging and hunting skills. This is both physically and mentally stimulating and can lead to an overall more satisfied kitty. 

Con - They could be bold enough to take on a foe that could injure them back or pass along something dangerous like rabies. Additionally, you have no control over what they catch and eat, so it can be hard to ensure they are getting a complete and nutritionally balanced diet. 

Exciting Exploration

Pro - They have a much larger and more enriching environment to explore. They have a huge advantage over an indoor cat in this regard. Beautiful scenery, more stimulating sights and sounds, and they learn to adapt to changes in the environment, like the weather. 

Con - That environment could include roads with cars, larger wild animals, or dangerous terrain that can be very dangerous for your cat. Cats are usually quite graceful, but even they can be caught off guard. 

Additionally, they may be exposed to the elements, like rain, snow, and extreme heat or cold. This can quickly become dangerous if they are too far from home and don't know where to go for appropriate shelter. 

Socialization

Pro - They can socialize and make new friends in your neighbourhood. Many outdoor cats are very friendly with people. Some even get along with other pets and kids. 

Con - Not every stranger they meet will be a friend. They could get cat-napped, picked up by a by-law officer, or just get lost. Additionally, you run the risk of your cat lashing out in fear if they are approached by a stranger.

Safety Tips for Outdoor Cats

While some cats do just fine living that outdoor life, there are serious risks that you need to be aware of before you make that choice. If your cat is only used to living indoors, then setting them loose could have some tragic results.

We don’t recommend letting your cats outdoors unsupervised, but if you are confident that your cat is street smart enough to handle it, make sure you take every precaution to ensure their safety.

    • Talk to your vet to ensure your cat has all the right shots. Rabies is a particularly important one.
    • Bob Barker says "spay and neuter your pets" and he's right! The massive population of feral cats will continue to grow if you let your unfixed cat roam the neighbourhood. 
    • A break-away collar with identification and city tags is essential for ensuring your cat makes it home. Without ID your cat may look like a stray or lost cat and end up living with a new family or at the pound.
    • Pest control is especially important for outdoor cats as they have ample opportunity to come in contact with common pests like fleas, ticks, mites, and worms. A flea and tick treatment like Bayer Advantage II plus regular vet visits will help keep your cat pest-free. 
    • Regular vet checks for outdoor cats are recommended. Cats are good at hiding injury and illness, and when they spend most of their time outside, subtle symptoms like urinary issues, skin abrasions, and poor digestion can go unnoticed.
    • Provide shelter from the elements. An insulated outdoor cat house on your property will make sure your cat has a safe place to cool down, warm up, hydrate, or just get out of the rain.

Should You Let Your Cat Outside?

cat-walking-on-fence (1)

Not sure if your cat has what it takes to be an outdoor cat? Why take the risk? This is something only you can answer. We generally don't recommend letting cats roam free outdoors. There are too many risks and variables, but we also respect that there are many cats that do just fine outside. 

If you aren't sure or aren't willing to take the risk, then leash training your cat is probably a better way to go. Once your cat acclimates to this new practice, you can enjoy as much time exploring and adventuring together as you want, all the while having the peace of mind that your cat is going to be safe and supervised. 

Does your cat love to go on adventures? Let us know your cat’s favourite outdoor activities in the comments below or post a pic of your next kitty adventure and tag us @homesalivepets!

Bayer Advantage II

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

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