Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

So you’ve already gotten your cat used to a harness and leash. Now you’re ready to head outside for walks! Read this guide for tips and considerations on how to train your cat to go on walks.

Disclaimer: All cats are different and individuals, so what works for one cat may not work for another cat. This guide is just a list of ideas to try, but its up to you (the owner who knows the cat the best) to decide which methods will work for your cat.

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Before heading out for your first walk, make sure you have everything prepared. The worst thing to do would be to be unprepared, scare your cat, and have to spend the next few months re-training them.

1. Leash and Harness

Read the guide here (Leash and Harness training) and ensure that your cat has fully accepted the harness and leash, and won’t try to escape from it.

Make sure that the harness you are using fits correctly, and you are fairly confident that they won’t escape from it (Harness Recommendations here).

2. Backpack or carrier

Bring along a backpack or carrier that they are used to, so they have somewhere to retreat to if they feel a little overwhelmed. Also, make sure you are allowing them to come out when they feel ready, and not forcing them by pulling them out. (Backpack Reviews here)

3. Microchip

The microchip is a small implant that cats generally get along with their spay / neuter surgery. The microchip is not a tracking device, but it will allow a scanner to read information about ownership and contact information. Sometimes, people find a cat, and don’t know that it already has owners. It is highly recommended to get your cats microchipped so it is indisputable that the cat belongs to you.

4. Tracker (optional)

A tracking device is a good idea as a backup plan if you accidentally let go of the leash. Attaching the device to the collar will also be a backup in case they escape the harness. (Teddy uses the Apple Airtag: Review here)

5. Flea & Tick medication (optional)

Flea and Tick medication is a good idea especially if you live in a temperate climate. The medication usually also covers other parasites such as heartworm as well. Discuss with your vet which medication is the best for your geographical location.

6. Pet Insurance (optional)

Pet insurance is also a good idea in case of unforeseen circumstances. There are some extra risks with bringing your cat outdoors and Pet Insurance can give you some ease of mind in case anything happens.

Where to Bring Your Cat

Here are some ideas for where to bring a “beginner” adventure cat. In general, its best to go with areas which are close to home, and quiet.

1. Neighbourhood

For a beginner cat walker, exploring the neighbourhood close to home is a great idea. Cats are generally territorial and feel safer in their home territory. This also allows them to turn around and go home if they feel overwhelmed.

Getting familiar with the neighbourhood is also a good idea for if they ever escape. They will know how to find their way back home.

Teddy’s first neighbourhood walk

2. Hallways or common areas

If you live in an apartment, the hallways or common areas like the lobby is a good starting area. Since these areas are also indoors, there is less of a transition between home and the outdoors. It’s also less of a risk if they slip the harness, because they are still within an enclosed area.

You can also use hallways to see if your cat knows to follow you! Try to hide behind a corner, and see if your cat knows to run back to you.

3. A small, quiet park

Another option would be if you have a small, quiet park nearby, without other people or dogs around. If its a short 5-10 minute drive away, that’s good too! You’ll be able to train them to accept the car at the same time. Since the car rides will always take them somewhere fun, they’ll eventually learn to love it.

4. Elsewhere, in the backpack

If you don’t have anything suitable to the options above, you can always let them stay in the backpack, while exposing them to the outdoors. Just make sure its somewhere as quiet as possible, for the first few outings. Even just watching, smelling, and hearing the surroundings is great stimulation for the cats. They will eventually learn to be comfortable with the outdoors, and don’t force them, but they may even venture out by themselves.

Teddy’s backpack ride

Encouraging Cats to Walk

Manage your expectations when trying to walk a cat. Although it may seem on social media that cats will happily trot alongside their humans, in reality, they may only be doing this for a few seconds at a time, and these were the few seconds that were filmed and shown to you. Do not expect a cat to follow you around obediently (though in some rare cases they might). Cats are territorial animals, and instinctively they want to explore a small area rather than cover vast distances. They are more likely to spend the majority of the time hunting birds, eating grass, or just sitting and watching the world.

1. Have someone they know walk ahead

One of the best methods is if the cat has two guardians – one walking ahead, and one walking behind. The cat will feel safe in between the two people. The person in front can walk a little ahead and call to the cat, and the person behind can hold the leash. The cat should naturally want to follow the person walking ahead.

2. Well defined paths or board walks

Cats like to stick to the edge of things, so narrow paths work better than large open spaces. If the path has bushes or fences on both sides, the only way they can go is forwards. Boardwalks work very well, especially if there is a handrail for them to walk along. Cats naturally like to walk along fallen logs, and boardwalks are made of wood, so cats should feel like they should follow boardwalks.

Boardwalk handrails

3. Use the leash

Use the leash to gently correct the cat if they wander off the path. Don’t pull hard enough to lift the front paws off the ground – just hold the leash in place to prevent the cat from walking any further, and they should eventually head back to the path.

4. Teach Recall

Recall is explained in detail here (Recall and Offleash in Cats). This method can be used instead of #1, when you don’t have a second person walking with the cat. You can walk a little ahead, and call your cat to come. Then, you keep calling them to come as you walk down a trail. Eventually, they should learn to stay with you.

5. Hold a treat in your hand, or use a toy

If your cat is more food motivated, use treats to encourage them to come to you. If your cat likes to play, use a stick, a feather toy, or a string, to drag on the ground behind you. This should encourage them to run after the toy.

6. Have patience

If your cat prefers to spend 10 minutes sniffing a bush, then that’s what they want to do. Cat walking is about giving your cat a good time, and exposing them to a variety of environments in a positive way. Its fine to have a destination, but its also fine to let your cat wander and do their thing.

Teddy contemplating his choices

Here are the same tips in video format:

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