Let’s start with the basics! For pretty much all adventure cat activities, you will need to put your cat in a leash and harness. This is the safest way to bring your cats outside, so it is important to train them to accept it.
Introducing something new to your cat is always a bit of a process. It is better to do this slowly so they don’t develop a dislike of it. Once they’ve decided they hate something, it can be difficult to get them to accept it again.
Note: Never drag your cat around by the leash. I know there are funny videos on the internet, but do not do this, especially on the pavement. If they won’t walk, just pick them up and carry them! There’s no need to drag them across the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Can I just put a leash on my cat’s collar?
No. Cat necks are thin and any pull force on their neck will potentially choke or injure them. Do not put a leash on a cat’s collar.
Can only kittens be trained?
No! Cats of any age can be trained to walk on a leash. It is definitely easier as a kitten, because they are more adaptable at that age. It will take a little more time and patience for older cats, but it can absolutely be done.
How long does it take to get them harness trained?
This depends on the age and personality of the cat. If I had to guess, I would say for a kitten it takes a few hours to days, and for adult cats, a few days to weeks. Keep in mind that this is the time for them to get used to the harness only, and does not include training them to walk or anything else.
My cat flopped to the ground. Should I give up?
No, do not give up. This is an extremely normal reaction and I guarantee most adventure cats had a similar reaction the first time a harness was put on them. Just keep trying it on and distracting them, and eventually they will forget they even have it on.
My cat hates being outside. Should I give up?
Possibly… Although I love seeing cats being out and about, there is no need to force this on a cat who doesn’t enjoy it. Some cats may be perfectly happy at home, and want nothing to do with the outdoors. You can slowly train cats to accept anything, but is it worth the effort? Only you can answer this question!
What is the best harness for starting out?
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This will be a future guide! But for starting out, I recommend the strappy H-style harnesses, as they are least restrictive, most adjustable, and probably just feels like having a collar on. You will want to upgrade to a better harness later as they are less safe if your cat pulls on the leash, but just as starter harnesses, I recommend:
- Petsafe Come With Me Kitty Harness (available from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com)
- RC Pets Primary Kitty Harness
- Grreat Choice Kitten Harness
- SurferCat Cat Harness.
Is there any harness which is 100% escape proof?
No. There will always be a risk because cats are strangely flexible and can get out of anything if they try hard enough. Make sure the harness fits properly, leaving a two-finger gap between any straps and the cat’s body. To decrease the chances of a cat escaping, never pull them forwards, as this allowed them to back out of the harness.
Always make sure that your cat is wearing a collar with an ID tag, and that they are microchipped. You can also put a Bluetooth tracker on them, such as the Tile Mate or Apple AirTag.
What is the best leash for starting out?
The leash choice is not as important. You just want to make sure it is lightweight. My personal pick for a lightweight leash is the RC Pets Kitty Leash or the Flexi Leash (available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com). Whether to use a regular or retractable leash is a personal preference, although some people have strong feelings for one or the other.
Please watch the video linked in the instagram post below (swipe over -> to see the videos)! It will show you the 5 steps in action, as well as an actual video from when Teddy was still getting used to the leash and harness.
Step 1: Let your cat investigate the harness
Get a harness and a leash. When starting off, I recommend to pick a harness style that is very minimal, and adjustable. The H-style harnesses work great. If your cat is used to wearing a collar, this step might be easier. The harness shown in the video is the Petsafe Come With Me Kitty Harness (available from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.
Bring the harness out and let your cat examine it. You can put some treats on it for positive association. Allow your cat to be comfortable with this new item before moving to step 2.
Step 2: Put the neck piece on
Put the harness on, starting with just the neck piece. This will ideally feel just like their collar and they won’t notice the difference. Leave it on for a few seconds, and give them a treat. Then take it off. Repeat this a couple of times until they don’t seem bothered by the process of putting it on and taking it off.
When they seem fine with the neck part, move onto the next step.
Step 3: Put the entire harness on
Once they seem comfortable with the neck part of the harness on, you can try to put the harness on all the way. Leave it for a few seconds, and give them a treat, then take it off. Repeat this a couple of times until they allow you to put the harness on without much trouble. There is no need to get them walking around yet!
When they seem fine with the harness on them, move to the next step.
Step 4: Encourage them to walk around
Now we can encourage your cat to move around by throwing a treat on the ground away from them, or waving around a toy for them to chase. Hopefully they will be distracted by the treat or toy, and forget they even have a harness on! Leave the harness on for a few minutes and then take it off. Once they seem to be walking around normally, you can move to the next step.
It is normal for cats to either flop on the ground, or walk strangely, because they are not used to the feeling of a harness. Give them time!
Step 5: Put the leash on
Now its time to add the leash! With the harness on, simply attach the leash to the harness. Again, this is a different feeling for the cat, so they may start walking strangely. Similar to step 4, you can distract them with treats and toys, until they feel normal again.
Tip: I find that if I put on the leash and harness at home, Teddy will walk around strangely, but when we are outside he is too distracted by the outdoors and doesn’t care about the harness at all. So if they are not completely loving it at home, don’t worry too much!
And that’s basically it! Of course the harness and leash training is only a small first step of the adventure cat training. We haven’t even gone outside yet. But don’t worry, more guides will be coming out soon!
Are you just starting the leash training process?
If you already have a seasoned adventure cat, were your training steps similar?
6 thoughts on “Leash and Harness Training”
This was really great, thank you! Whenever I have friends who are interested in harness training their cats, I’ll send them this article 🙂 I wanted to add to your point on harness style. In my experience with training my adult cat, choosing the right style for your cat in the beginning helps a lot! Zara really hated the rabbitgoo harness with the thick chest piece and would flop over, but she immediately took to the strappier Come with me kitty harness (which still is safe and doesn’t apply pressure to the neck) and the SurferCat h-style harness (something I try not to use in new environments where she’d be pulling more).
Also, I love the point that you can train a kitty at any age. Looking forward to more of these didactic articles!
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Thank you so much for your comment! I totally agree, the strappier harnesses are easier to get used to, but not great for when they might pull.