How to Walk Your Cat (Part 2)

If you haven't read the first part, do it now! It should take at least two weeks to get your kitty (and you!) comfortable enough to move on to part two.

By now, your cat (hopefully) should be wearing his or her harness like it's nothing. In addition, you want your cat to come running to you whenever you hold up his or her harness. This means Kitty is now associating HARNESS with HAPPINESS. Good job.

Let's work on leash training. While there are some very special cats who will happily follow you while on a leash, others won't. A cat's natural inclination is to walk and/or dash in seven different directions at once. Even worse, if they feel any pullback from their leash, they will either crouch down in misery or flail around like the ground has suddenly turned into ice, fire, or water!

Step 6: Put your cat's harness on and attach the leash. Don't go outside yet. The two of you are going to practice the art of walking straight. Hold the leash loosely in one hand and plenty of yummy treats in the other. Take one step forward and hold out a treat to get Kitty to walk forward too. Keep doing this one step at a time until you run out of treats. Eventually, progress to two or three or even more steps.

Step 7: When your cat veers to the side, don't jerk back on the leash. Just stay still and let the leash grow taut on its own. Coax Kitty back to your side with a treat without pulling on the leash. You want Kitty to learn that the leash will tighten only if he or she wanders away from you and it will slacken as long as he or she remains by your side. You want to keep working on this until Kitty gets used to being attached to a big, awkward human and will (reluctantly) follow you around the house while on leash.

Step 8: Take a deep breath. It's time to go outside. If you have a backyard, start there. Pick a time when it's quiet. Evenings are great because cats feel safer when it's darker but it's not so dark that you can't see what's happening. Get Kitty all harnessed up like usual then walk him to the door. That first step out into the big world can be really scary so go slow. You might have to spend this training session just staring through an open door, and that's perfectly fine.

Step 9: You're outside. Okay. The outside world is filled with distractions, most of which you can't even see or hear but your cat can. In the beginning, let Kitty explore to his or her heart's content but always with you holding onto the leash. If he or she starts wandering into an area you'd like to avoid, just let the leash grow taut like in Step 7. Slacken the leash as soon as Kitty switches direction. If you've got a stubborn one, pick him or her up and place back down in a more appropriate location.

Step 10: Once the novelty starts to subside and Kitty starts paying attention to you again, repeat Steps 6 and 7 while outside. Eventually, you'll be leash walking your cat around the neighborhood like a pro!

Remember: Not all cats will be able to make it to Step 10, and that's OK. Your cat will tell you when he or she has had enough. While leash training a cat requires a lot of patience, the process should ultimately be rewarding for the both of you. It's great if you can get to the point where Kitty runs to the door whenever you say, "Let's go for a walk!" but it's also great if Kitty prefers to stay inside the house. The reward is getting to spend quality time with each other. You're strengthening your bond and learning something new together. I guarantee your cat will be happier because of that—even if Kitty never sets a single paw outside.

How to Walk Your Cat (Part 1)

Happy 2017, fellow cat lovers! January is when people make healthy resolutions, but it's also National Walk Your Pet Month. That's right. You can teach your indoor-only cat to go for a leashed walk.

Note: Not all cats should be walked outside. Some don't have the temperament (or health) to do it safely. Also, take a look around your neighborhood. If you live on a busy street with a lot of noise, consider investing in a cat stroller instead. Or simply place a cat tree beside a window so Kitty can observe the great outdoors while remaining safely inside.

In 2015, research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention stated that about 58% of cats are overweight or obese. Yikes! Too much food and not enough exercise is a bad recipe for humans and cats alike. In addition to feeding a high-quality diet and introducing more playtime into your cat's routine, consider taking him or her out for a walk.

To help make the process as stress free as possible, remember to go slow and be patient. Since January is National Walk Your Pet Month, we're releasing a two-part blog post on how to walk your cat. The second post will be published in about two weeks since it may take at least that long to get to the latter half of the training. 

Step 1: Safety's first! Check in with us to make sure your cat's vaccines are up to date. Does your cat have a breakaway collar? Is he or she microchipped and fixed? We want to make sure Kitty is as safe as can be before he embarks on his great adventure.

Step 2: Invest in a harness designed for cats. You'll want one that looks more like a vest or jacket (instead of thin straps) so kitty is secure and comfortable. Avoid retractable leashes. Once you find the right one and it's sized correctly for your cat, you're ready to move on.

Step 3: Leave the harness near your cat and let him or her get used to it for several days. You can even drape the harness over his back without attaching any of the buckles. Wait until mealtime (when he or she is getting hungry) then slip the harness on. Your cat may act like you've just placed the weight of the entire world on his shoulders or he'll tear through the house in a blind panic. Stay calm. Give lots of treats. If Kitty continues to struggle and remains scared, take the harness off and try again later. You'll just have to go even slower next time.

Step 4: For the first several training session, keep the harness on for only a short while. If your cat will eat his dinner while wearing his harness, great! If not, take it off then feed immediately after. Repeat every day. Since most cats are food motivated, your job is to convince Kitty that Harness = Delicious Treats. Your goals are to: One, get your cat to comfortably walk around while wearing a harness. Two, get your cat to come running whenever you hold up the harness.

Step 5: If you're lucky enough to have a cat who takes to wearing a harness right away, try attaching the leash to acclimatize Kitty to the extra weight. Don't just drop the leash, hold it in your hand first. You can let Kitty drag the leash around but only when you're around to supervise. Just like the above steps with the harness, the point is get Kitty to start associating leash + harness with yummy treats and praise.

Remember: Training sessions should be short and positive. Keep it up for a couple of weeks until you're both comfortable with the whole process of putting on, wearing, and taking off the harness (and leash). Don't go outside just yet! Our next post will talk about how to get your cat to take his or her first step into the outside world.