While you may be concerned that giving kitty a taste of the great outdoors will turn him into a demanding puss who sits by the door meowing incessantly to go out, the new thinking is that the greater danger lies in providing a boring living environment. The stress of boredom can be a contributing factor in a number of destructive behavior problems, as well as in some physical and psychological problems. Simply put, while much can be done to make the home environment more interesting, nothing can compare to the excitement of the great outdoors.
Of course, allowing kitty to roam freely is more than a bit irresponsible, as an unsupervised cat faces the very real dangers of road traffic, irate neighbours, disease, and other predatory animals. Leash training can add a new dimension to both of your lives, as cats look forward to their outings just as much as dogs. If taken out at approximately the same time every day, kitty will learn that this is the only time he can go out and there’s no point in pestering you at other times.
While it’s always easiest to introduce new experiences to kittens (to whom life is a big adventure), even older cats can be trained to accept a harness and leash with patience, persistence, and sensitivity. Each small step of progress should be rewarded with praise and food treats and at no time should the cat be punished or scolded. Following is a brief summary of the steps involved in training your cat to walk on a leash, from Warren Eckstein’s How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want:
Step 1 – Purchase a harness that is designed to pull from the chest, not from the throat. A harness is preferable to a collar because if properly fitted, it will provide less opportunity for kitty to wriggle out of it. You should be able to slip two fingers between the harness and the cat. The leash should be lightweight and detachable, and have a clip that closes tightly.
Step 2 – Let your cat get used to the harness and leash by leaving them near his favorite sleeping place for a few days. Before placing the harness on the cat, prepare Kitty’s favorite meal, praising him profusely. After he is finished eating, let him walk around for awhile.
Distract him with toys if he seems unhappy with the harness. After he has visibly relaxed, the harness can be removed.
Step 3 – Attach the leash to the harness. Don’t try to walk Kitty at this point, just let him wander where he pleases, dragging the leash behind him (pay attention in case the leash gets caught on something).
Most cats don’t have a real problem with the leash, but if yours becomes agitated, use the “food tactic” (as before). Encourage Kitty to walk, and when he does, shower him with praise. Keep these daily training sessions short and positive.
Step 4 – Once your cat is at ease with the harness and leash, pick up the leash and walk around the house behind him (keeping the lead slack).
At this point you do not want to restrict the cat’s movement, just let him get used to having you follow him. Practice this for a few days.
Step 5 – Now’s the time to teach your cat to go where you want. Using a sweet, high-pitched voice, encourage him to follow you. Don’t expect him to walk like a dog – allow kitty to wander from side to side while not veering off your predetermined course. When the cat feels resistance, he’ll either walk in your direction, or lie down. Patience and persuasion are the key – never pull or jerk the lead to force your cat back in line.
Remember, a single bad experience may turn your cat against leash training forever.
Step 6 – Once kitty is walking comfortably on the leash inside, it’s time to introduce him to the outdoors. It’s best to simply sit on the stoop outside the first few times, letting him become used to the sights and sounds of this new (and somewhat scary) world. Once kitty has adapted to this new environment (his nervous tail twitching has stopped, and he shows an interest in exploring), find a quiet location that will present as few frightening elements as possible and follow the same procedure used to accustom kitty to walking on a leash indoors.
Now your feline friend can join you for walks around the neighborhood, picnics, even quick trips to the pet store. Most importantly, trips away from home (particularly the vet) will now tend to be easier for you and less traumatic for your cat.