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How to Leash Train a Cat

Most cat parents know that our felines can constantly surprise us with their personalities and talents. From their dazzling acrobatics to their unbounded energy, cats are nothing if not entertaining. However, some cat parents might still be surprised by one more thing cats are capable of: walking on a leash. “Due to their oftentimes timid nature, I think a lot of people greatly underestimate what all a cat is capable of doing once they get comfortable,” said David Durst, a professional driver whose own cat, Tora, has become his most-reliable traveling companion (follow their journeys at Tora the Traveling Cat and @toratravels). “Although most cats aren’t as outgoing as dogs are from the start, they’re very adaptive and, with time, can conquer almost anything.”

cat walking on leash outdoors

Tora proves that cats can make the perfect travel and adventure companions…with a little training. Not quite a year old, Tora has been traveling the country with her human parents since she was 2 months old, and has already ticked 42 U.S. states off her travel bucket list! If you’re interested in learning how to leash-train a cat so that like Tora, they can join you on your own journeys, you’ll want to start at the beginning.

cat walking on leash outdoors in AZ

Walking a cat on a leash 101

cat walking on leash and harness

Set yourself up for success

One of the most important things to keep in mind when walking a cat on a leash is to go at your cat’s pace. “It’s very easy to get caught up on what other cats are doing online, where they have gone, and how well they appear to be doing on a leash,” said Durst. “What we share on social media is mainly the positives in our lives. Every kitty has had a struggle somewhere in their leash training.”
 
It’s also important to keep your cat’s personality in mind when you begin training. Remember that your cat is not a dog, said Durst. “Dogs are naturally more social creatures and it’s easier for them to adapt to drastic changes,” he said. “Leash-training a cat is a very time-consuming process and requires a ton of patience. Always remember to include a method of positive reinforcement, such as treats to reward good behavior and progress.”

Invest in the right products

cat in harness

After setting yourself up for success mentally, you can move on to finding the appropriate items to use for successful leash training, including:

  • A cat harness: Purchasing an appropriate cat harness and figuring out how to put it on your cat are integral to the process of leashing-training. For example, you’ll want to invest in a well-fitting harness that your cat can’t wiggle out of, said Durst. “Each cat is different, but I recommend a nice, lightweight harness that doesn’t pinch at their necks or underarms,” he said. Remember that leashes should always be attached to your cat’s harness and not their collar. Cat collars are typically breakaway, which means they will come off if your cat pulls at the leash. Attaching the leash to your cat’s harness is important for the cat’s comfort, and to ensure that they can’t bolt away while outdoors.
  • Outdoor prep: Once you’re ready to take the adventure outside, remember to also bring waste bags to pick up after your pet. It’s also a good idea to keep cat treats on hand to make the process go more smoothly.
  • Backup options: Also consider how you’ll get your cat home if you’re outside leash-training and they decide they’re done. “One of our favorite things to bring with us on our adventure is her travel backpack,” said Durst. “It serves as her safe space if she’s ever feeling overwhelmed, and it’s a good spot to take a nap or be carried when she’s decided she doesn’t want to walk anymore.”

Follow a leash-training plan

Training a cat to walk on a leash can require a bit of patience and acclimation for both you and your cat, so be sure to start slowly.
 
1. Let your cat become accustomed to their harness

Durst suggests starting the leash-training process by putting your cat into and getting them used to the harness in an area where they’re already comfortable. Use a treat to entice your cat to put their head into the harness or to step into the harness. Continue to give them positive reinforcement through treats and praise until you have the harness secured.
 
Once you have put your cat into their harness, let them keep it on around the house. Leave your pet in the harness for small periods of time, working up to longer ones as they become more accustomed to the way the harness feels. As your cat becomes more comfortable, consider adding in fun play sessions while the harness is on so they continue to associate positive interactions with their harness.
 
2. Practice latching the leash

Once it seems like they’re comfortable wearing their harness, you can progress to practicing taking the leash on and off. This may seem like a simple step, but ensuring that your cat is comfortable in their harness and having something attached to it is essential for when you leave the house.
 
3. Try a walk

When it comes to your first walk, “start small,” and inside, recommends Durst. “Go for walks around the house where they can get used to walking on a leash in an environment they know before moving outdoors.” Don't get discouraged if your cat doesn’t take to the leash and harness immediately, Durst added. Practice and patience are key.
 
4. Move your training outdoors

Once your cat is comfortable with their leash and harness while walking indoors, you can progress to short outdoor walks. Pick a nice, quiet place away from people and cars as a starting point so you cat doesn’t get overwhelmed.

cat exploring outdoors
 
The more your cat gets used to and comfortable with being on a leash, the longer your walks can be. Just always remember that your cat is not a natural part of the ecosystem where you live. “Letting your cat free roam, especially unsupervised, can be harmful to not just the plants and animals around you, but to your cat, as well,” said Durst. “Always abide by local leash laws, and make sure to keep a watchful eye on your pet.”
 
With a little patience and the right supplies, you might be surprised how quickly your cat can take to walking on a leash. Before you know it, you might be out and about, taking in all your favorite sights with your favorite furry friend in tow.