By Jamey Walker
We all know about walking dogs. They have classes, dog walkers, and about a million different leashes, collars and harnesses. Cats on the other hand are often seen as way too independent and dignified to succumb to such an extroverted and obedient activity. Now let’s be clear, many cats really do not enjoy this. If you have a cat that’s shy, nervous or reactive to other cats, walking them outside on a harness may not make them a happy camper. On the other hand, if you have a playful, young and outgoing cat, you may have a candidate….of course they should be spayed or neutered and free of any health issues. You should also have access to a quiet area that is safe for your cat to explore like a garden or backyard. The space should be free of any threats like dogs, other cats (kitties that have not met one another can be a source of stress) or lots of different people. Make sure you have a carrier handy so that kitty can be safely put away if this becomes too stressful.
Ok, now you’re ready to start teaching your cat how to feel comfortable on a leash and harness.
First, purchase a harness and leash. These come in all different styles. I find that the soft Velcro ones are sometimes accepted easily, but any will do. The leash should be on the longer side for room to roam (a retractable leash can be good for this).
Next, try putting the harness on your cat without the leash. Your cat may act uncertain for a bit. Have treats handy and give kitty lots of positive rewards just for having the harness on. Do short bursts of harness wearing and treat-giving to familiarize your cat with the sensation of wearing something on their body. Each cat’s response will be different. Don’t force your cat and be sensitive to their anxiety levels. If they fuss a lot, take it off and try again at another time.
When your cat is wearing the harness around the house normally, hook up the leash and walk wherever your cat walks. Don’t pull or allow any resistance between the cat and yourself. You simply follow the cat wherever they go.
This is the big secret; the cat is actually walking you!
When you can successfully be walked around the house by your cat, you may be ready to try a new environment. This can be an outside hallway or back porch. Start off slow. If kitty seems stressed, end the session. If your cat acts curious, let them explore. Give them a short session at first, followed by a fun familiar activity back at home base. Over time you can extend the outside sessions as they feel comfortable.
Controlled outside time can be stimulating and psychologically rewarding for the right cat. The sights, sounds and smells can add enrichment to their daily lives. Again, make sure your cat feels safe, let them take the lead, and end any outside time that seems overwhelming for your cat.