Harness training a cat – Safe outdoor exploration for your kitty

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Harness training a cat, walking them on a leash, is it truly possible?

You may have seen videos and pictures online of people walking their cats just as they would a dog.

On the other side of the spectrum, you may have seen hilarious posts of those who go about it all wrong. You know the videos. A cat strapped into a harness, their human dragging them across the floor. The cat lays flat on the floor as though they’re dead a look on their feline face that says it all.

Tere is a way to avoid your cat reacting in this way to being in a harness. They will even gladly let you attach a leash.

Should I harness train my cat?

Yes, yes, and yes!

I cannot stress enough why it’s so important to get your cat into a harness and take them for walks. At the age of twenty-one, I watch a video of a man who had leash trained his kitty. I was immediately intrigued.

At the time I had two male cats. They were five years apart in age. Both would try to escape whenever I opened the door. The problem was, I lived on the second story of an apartment complex in a busy part of Phoenix. There were neighbors who had dogs and many stray cats wandering around. I was scared that if either of them got out I may never see them again. There are many dangers out there for cats and as prolific hunters, cats can be a danger to other animals. Some examples of the dangers to cats are cars, other animals, and humans.

Yes, humans are a danger to cats. You may love your kitty, but there’s plenty of people out there who don’t. It makes me sad and angry when I see yet another report of injured or poisoned cats on Nextdoor.com for my local area.

However, not all cats will take to harness training. In the case of my two boys, the older cat took to the harness right away. The younger cat, a skinny, skittish black cat, would have none of it, no matter how I bribed him. Thankfully, my younger cat was more than happy to stay next to his older friend during walks.

Some breeds may also have personalities that make it next to impossible to get your kitty into a harness. According to Star Tribune most cat breeds will take to a leash with this one exception, “A Persian? It’s a cat that might prefer to be pushed in a stroller.”

With this in consideration, be mindful of your cat’s personality. Don’t try to force them to take to the harness and leash. If they don’t want to do it after plenty of time and effort you should respect that.

Keep in mind what is mentioned in the following quote by one of my favorite all-time people, the cat daddy himself, Jackson Galaxy,

“Leash-training your feline friend provides an extra dose of exercise for your cat. If your cat is one who typically avoids hanging out anywhere near the front door and doesn’t exhibit any interest in the great outdoors — or who even might be fearful of going outside — don’t bother.”

A cat free to roam is a happy cat

Cats are very much wild animals and they have an overwhelming need to be outside. They were domesticated well after dogs were. According to Next Gen Dog:

“…cats have been living under the same roof as people for the past 9,000 years as far as we know… canines arose from wolves over 30,000 years ago.”

That’s quite a gap when you consider domestication and the evolution of the two types of pets in our homes. Another thing that keeps cats closer to their wild ancestors in comparison to dogs is how they came to live with humans in the first place.

These quotes from an article from ASPCA Pet Health Insurance explains it well:

“…as we began settling down into flourishing agricultural communities…humans were able to grow and store plentiful amounts of grain. And all of that grain began to attract mice. Lots of mice. These mice, in turn, drew cats who were pleased to discover an abundant and relatively easy to hunt food source.

This was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship between cats and humans.”

Cat excited by something in grass

As you can see, cats were not chosen by us to be their masters, they chose us to be their associates in the business of survival. Taking your cats for walks is the best way to fulfill their need to be outside while keeping them safe at the same time. The biggest benefit of this is having a cat that is less likely to rush out the door as you open it. No more tripping over your fluff ball as you bring in groceries or having to warn guests to play feline goalie as they come in.

When to harness train a cat

Start em’ young, a saying we often hear in regard to children when teaching them certain behaviors.

This is true for cats as well.

According to this article on MarthaStewart.com: “The earlier you introduce your cat to a leash, the better. “Most kittens will be adaptable to learning to walk on a leash,” says Bales. “Ideally, you start as early as possible you can even begin training indoors while they’re getting old enough to be fully vaccinated.”

But older cats can be good candidates, too. It all depends on your cat’s temperament: If you have a naturally relaxed, confident kitty, he could adjust easily to leash life with the proper introduction.”

My two girls now, Mio and Melody, were both trained early on as kittens to wear a harness and go for walks. They are a common sight around my complex and my neighbors look forward to seeing them. When I’m walking alone without them, I always get the question, “No cats today?”

The girls have even become best buddies with the neighbor’s dogs and have claimed dominion of the area. With their strong presence outside, we rarely have stray cats in the area. Cats tend to be very territorial and most will not enter the territory of another feline.

Don’t forget the noms

As mentioned in my previous post Cat training treats – Get your cat excited about training, treats are the number one thing that will keep your cats interested in training. I suggest having a specific treat dedicated to just these training sessions. Just be mindful of how messy the treat may be. You don’t want your cat licking the ground and potentially getting chemicals or poisons into their bodies.

This quote from The New York Times sums it up quite nicely, “Hungry is good. Many cats respond to food treats, so start with a hungry cat. Cut treats into tiny pieces because when a cat gets full, it will stop working. Only give the cat treats when you’re doing the training, and limit the overall amount.”

Walking your cat, an adventure for everyone

While it may take some time and patience to get your cat comfortable with a harness and leash it will all be worth it

Harness training your cat and taking them for walks can be a very rewarding experience for both of you. It allows them to burn through some of their wild energy while giving you both some much-needed outdoor time. Your cat will develop a level of confidence that will shine through in how they react to you and others. You may even find that watching them be their wild selves is not only entertaining but one of the best bonding experiences you can have with them.

Are you unsure about what harness to buy for your cat? Check out Melody’s Review of this Escape-Proof Harness on Amazon.

If you have questions or experience with harness training a cat let us know in the comments!  

Two cats on leashes

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2 thoughts on “Harness training a cat – Safe outdoor exploration for your kitty”

  1. Hi there, I find this very intriguing that one can actually train a cat to be walked on a leash, the same way that you would take a dog for a walk. I can certainly see the need for doing it, if, like you say, you live in an apartment block and it is not safe for the cats to go outside on their own. I think the best time to train your cat to wear a harness, is when it is still a kitten. Thanks for sharing.  

    • It’s true that the best time to train a cat for a harness is when they are a kitten. However, it can be done any time in their life, it just requires more patience as they get older. I had a cat I trained to walk on a leash who was 5 years old. His younger brother had no interest in a leash. So whether a cat can be trained for a leash or not should be based on personality, not age. 


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