February 12, 2018

Over the past few years, more people have embraced the idea that cats can be trained. Therefore, more cat owners are likely to come looking in your store for leashes, collars and harnesses—equipment that was previously more commonly sought after by dog owners. Pet retailers who understand how this equipment is used are better positioned to assist their cat-owning customers in making educated purchases.

Owners should purchase a leash meant for cats, meaning one that is lightweight and strong. While there is nothing wrong with a flat or rolled collar for a cat’s tags, collars are not the best choice for taking kitty for a walk. Most cats can slip out of a collar if they become frightened or startled. What’s more, even if the collar is somehow so tight the cat can’t escape, they can easily injure themselves in the attempt.

I recommend an owner looking to walk a cat to do so with a harness. Harnesses come in several types. One type, which is often called a “lead harness,” is fairly minimal with a collar attached to a strap that is connected to another strap that fits around the cat’s body. This allows for even distribution of pressure when attached to a leash. The “walking vest” harness is more substantial, fitting the cat much like a vest.

Teaching a cat to walk on a harness and leash is pretty straightforward and simple, provided it is done in steps. An owner should start by showing the collar or harness to the cat. After the cat sniffs it, ignores it or just looks at it, the pet should be fed a special treat. After a few days of this, the cat will likely be calm and/or happy when seeing the harness. Owners won’t use the leash for a few weeks, but it should be kept around the cat so the pet will associate it with positive things.

Next, owners don’t need to use the Velcro or snaps, but the cat should get used to the sound of them. The owners should reward the cat’s calmness with small treats.

After a few days, it’s time to put the harness on the cat. This should be first attempted indoors with no chance of the pet escaping outside. The cat should see the harness, being rewarded with a treat for being calm, at which point it should be gently placed on the pet. Many cats will freeze at this point, but owners should continue to praise and reward calm behavior. It should be taken off the cat after approximately 30 seconds. Owners should repeat this a few times a day.

Many owners find an easy way to accomplish this is to put the harness on at feeding time. This allows the cat to engage in an activity most enjoy while wearing a harness. Cats that aren’t food motivated can wear the harness during indoor play times. At this point, owners can snap or Velcro the harness closed.

Once the cat is used to wearing the harness, the next step is to attach the leash. When owners do this for the first few times, it needs to be indoors and in a room where the cat isn’t likely to get the leash tangled in furniture or other objects. The best way to put the leash on the first few times is to have one person feeding the cat while another clips on the leash. Most cats won’t care, while those that do should quickly get used to dragging it around for a minute.

After a few days of this, increase the amount of time the cat wears the leash. Owners holding a leash should encourage their cat to walk with them. Food lures are an outstanding way to accomplish this, as are holding toys if the cat isn’t food motivated. Owners should avoid pulling the cat in an attempt to get it to walk. This can create stress and fear as most cats will resist being pulled. After the cat gets used to walking around the house on a leash, the world beckons.

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