Walking a Cat on a Leash
No matter how you work it, walking a cat on leash is never going to be like walking a dog. That's the main thing we must accept. However, cats can be trained to walk on a leash! It is definitely a learned behavior, as no cat comes by it naturally. But it can work rather well, if you work at it. If you start with a kitten, it is definitely easier to accomplish. But adult cats can learn it, too. It just might take longer, and tax your patience more, but nothing is impossible with determination and perseverance - and most importantly, patience.
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Start by getting your cat used to wearing a collar, if she doesn't have one already. Or, better yet, help your cat become accustomed to a harness. While a collar can be left on constantly, it's not recommend to do so with a harness. Most cats seem uncomfortable in a harness, and it could impact their balance and mental well being if they are forced to keep it on all the time. Just put the harness on when it is time to do the leash thing, and they will learn that the harness is equated with taking a walk. If this is the cat's only opportunity to go outdoors, they will come to accept it and even look forward to it.
After they learn that the collar, or the harness, is not going to kill them, attach a short piece of string to it and let them drag it around the house for an hour or so. Some cats will be frightened by this and others will find it amusing and make a game of it. If you have more than one cat, this could definitely become a game they enjoy.
Once they become indifferent to it, attach a real leash and let them drag that around for a while. (Never ever leave anything attached to their collar or harness permanently. And keep an eye on them to prevent getting snagged and hurting themselves.) Soon, you can pick up the leash and handle it, perhaps tugging on it from time to time. This lets them know you have it and can control it. Now lift it up off the floor and follow your cat around, holding the leash up. Don't tug - just follow. Once they become used to that, you can begin making little tugs now and then, just to let them know you're there.
Now you can take this show on the road. Well, the sidewalk, anyway. Or the yard, or the park, or.... where would you like to go? Just be near a place where you can quickly put kitty back inside in case a safety issue arises. That place could be your house, your car, a pet taxi, a friend's house, or a motel room. Many motels now allow pets in the rooms, as more and more people travel with their pets.
The thing is, cats are more likely than dogs to freak out and try to run up a tree or under a car. Or into traffic. If she's on a leash, you can prevent these mishaps, but the collar or harness had better be strong, and you will have to be a pillar of calm and strength for her, sweeping her up if she gets into trouble and putting her immediately into a safe place so she can recuperate. It is amazing sometimes what little things will make a cat spook.
The first few real walks will have to be short, but as she, and you, become used to this new activity, she will want to walk farther each time, and you will be amazed at how well she does on a leash. Just don't expect her to heel. And don't encourage any running, as this will only excite her into a fear mode more easily.
Cats also love to stop and smell the roses, or eat grass. Let them smell, don't let them eat. This leash thing isn't going to evolve into a jogging routine for either of you, so let her smell and investigate things. However, eating grass could be dangerous if you don't know whether it's been sprayed with any chemicals. Keep your walks short and get back inside while everyone is still upbeat so these excursions will always be a positive experience.
Article by Dr. R.J. Peters
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