How to harness train your cat

CAN CATS BE TRAINED TO WEAR A HARNESS?

By Catnips – London cat care, mobile cat grooming and feline behaviour advice : http://www.catnips.co.uk

Can cats be trained to walk on a lead?

Yes

How do I know?

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Zaza on holiday with us at Wasdale, Lake District

Because I have trained my two cats to go out with me on a harness.

I won’t say it’s easy but with patience, perseverance and lots of understanding you can train a kitten to become accustomed to wearing a harness. I would say the older the cat is the harder to achieve so always try to start as young as possible. It took me 6/8 weeks to slowly introduce the process.

Obviously cats have different personalities so if you feel your cat would hate to go out on a harness or if your cat shows any signs of major distress  STOP – AND LISTEN. This is not about you .. it’s about what’s best for your cat.

Now… here’s how to do it:

  • Buy a kitten/cat harness from your local pet shop
  • Throw in with kitty’s toys so that they familiarise themselves with it. Play with them and the harness’s everyday for a least two weeks.

Now comes the hard part! Without putting the main lead in, try putting the harness on the kitten before his/her main meal time. Always associate this with meal times or treats so that the kitten associates putting on the harness with something nice. At first there will be a struggle but the motto here is try try try again. Never give up!

Walking in all weathers. Norwegian Forest cats have thick water proof coats and fur tufts between the pads on their paws so they are well protected against the snow

Walking in all weathers. Norwegian Forest cats have thick water proof coats and fur tufts between the pads on their paws so they are well protected against the snow

Start with 5 minutes a day congratulating them and reassuring them every step of the way. They will soon realise that the harness leads to treats and cuddles and all good things. This part of the training takes the longest so be very patient. As you see your kitten getting more comfortable with wearing the harness extend the time that it is on. Soon they will be playing totally unaware that they are strapped up in a strange gizmo and you can give yourself a pat on the back that the hardest part has been conquered!

  • Make sure you leave enough space around the neck of the harness so that it is comfortable and not too tight. Test this by putting 2 fingers between the neck of your kitten and the harness. This applies to the body of the harness too. NEVER EVER leave your kitten unattended wearing the harness as it could get caught up on anything during playtime and lead to strangulation!
  • Once you can see that your kitten has adapted to this strange looking thing around it’s body then you are ready for the next step, attaching the lead. Do this process slowly. Remember small steps will eventually lead to major leaps! Let your kitten walk along at it’s leisure with the lead dragging along. Don’t attempt to lead the walk, as it will never work! Even when you get to the stage where you go out with your kitten on a harness you will never be leading, they will!
Kiki and Zaza, as kittens, playing with their harness

Kiki and Zaza, as kittens, playing with their harness

 

  • My kittens tended to play with each others leads and not much walking was done so I tried to separate them first which they didn’t really like so I quickly had to jump onto the next stage, taking them out, so that they understood what the lead was for. It’s difficult to know where to go that is A: quiet and B: dog free. One great place I have found is my local cemetery which says no dogs allowed. Doesn’t say cats!!! ;-). It helps if your road is quiet but if it’s a busy road try taking them out at night.

 

  • Make sure the harness is on secure. Be patient and always offer words of encouragement and reassurance. Make sure you attach the lead BEFORE they take their first steps out into the big world. My kittens made my job easier at this stage as they really enjoyed being outside and, although nervous at first, they soon had a ball sniffing the grass, chasing butterflies and climbing trees! If your kitten does go to climb a tree that’s great but don’t let them go to high. Always be in control and hold that lead TIGHT!
    This is a retractable lead which attaches easily to a harness. It gives more freedom on walks and is the best lead for your cat

    This is a retractable lead which attaches easily to a harness. It gives more freedom on walks and is the best lead for your cat

    When you are both relaxed at this you can buy a small puppy extendable lead which will give kitty more freedom to run along and chase things. It is never going to be like walking a dog. They go where they want to and when they want to so you just have to let them be cats and enjoy watching them lead YOU all over the place.

    DSCF7235

    Me with both cats in Lake District. The loved the mountains and watching sheep at a distance

 

  • Please be aware of dogs and foxes in your surroundings!

Most dog owners have sense and will cross the road with their dog when they see you have a kitten/cat on a lead. Don’t panic as this just strikes fear into your cat. Be observant and if you feel uncomfortable about a particular breed of dog, not on a lead, pick your cat up and turn your back on the approaching dog.

Happy walking folks. Please let me know how you get on.

Catnips – London cat sitting and mobile cat grooming

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About Anita Kelsey - Cat Behaviour Consultant

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Anita's debut book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer is published by John Blake Publishers and is out on 7th September 2017 (available for pre-orders on Amazon UK)
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One Response to How to harness train your cat

  1. Sarah says:

    I am training my Siamese to go on the lead. I would suggest that, depending on where you live and where there are good walking areas, it is worth training the cat to go in the car after the initial outdoor trips close to the house. That way you can transport them to a place where you can feel confident with them (like your cemetery!).I have been getting someone to take me in the car about half a mile to a fishing lake, which Emily seems to enjoy. Rather than using the cat basket, I hold her in the car, and she is fascinated by the scenery – her eyes swivel all round!

    She is in fact an outdoor cat, but I do think it really useful to be able to take your cat other places, such as you taking yours on holiday.

    Like

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