Walking on a Harness is Fun!
Training your cat to wear a harness can be a great way to exercise your cat and allow them to experience the outdoors. Harness training may also be utilized for people who want to train therapy cats, service cats, and nursing home cats. The way that you approach training and teaching them to accept the harness is key for long term success. It is always ideal to start the training as young as possible.
Introducing The Harness
You first want to introduce the cat to the harness so that he makes a positive connection with it. Start by leaving the harness near the food dish, on or near his bed, and other favorite areas. You want to allow the cat to sniff the harness and be around it.
You can also hold out the harness so that he can sniff it. Give the cat a treat for each time that he approaches it or sniffs it as a reward. You can even give him canned food where the harness is.
I like to have a pen or clicker device that you can press each time he sniffs or approaches it. A pen or clicker noise confirms that he is doing what you want, which is immediately followed by the treat. It is best to do this for one to two weeks.
Trying The Harness On
Now you want to place the harness on him so he can get used to it being on his body. Do not yet fasten the harness just yet as this will be done later.
I like to put the harness on right before play time so that he can be distracted from the fact he is wearing a harness. Do a normal play session of 15 minutes then follow up with a canned cat food meal or treat at the end. Click here to read about proper play therapy for cats. The canned food or treat is a reward for wearing the harness and a message to him that he has successfully finished the hunt.
If you cannot do play time or if he is not interested, simply place the harness on your cat right before every meal time. The cat will be so focused on the food that he will not notice the harness. I like to stick with canned cat food for training or baby food without onion as this is the most desirable. Use this method for about one week then see if he is dong good enough to progress to the next level.
Fasten the harness on and practice adjusting it to fit your cat once he is more comfortable with the harness. Ensure that you can fit two fingers beneath the harness but no more than two fingers. Cats can back out of a harness quite easily if they become frightened so you want to have it adjusted properly.
Do play time followed by treats and meal times like before and continually reassure him that the harness is safe. Utilize clicker training to speed up the process and drill the concept. Slowly reduce the amount of distraction that you implement so you can see how he is does without. Leave the harness on for longer durations of time each session that you have with the cat. Slip the harness off and provide a treat or canned food if he does get upset or frustrated.
Cats may refuse to walk with the harness on or freeze up for the first few times that they wear a harness. This is likely the first time your cat has had the feeling or sensation of having something on his back. It is going to take some time for your cat to adjust to this.
Attaching the Leash
It can take weeks to a month for your cat to get comfortable with the harness which is normal. Shy or fearful cats will take longer than fully socialized cats. The next step can be followed once your cat becomes comfortable with walking while the harness is on.
Take your cat into a room where he is unlikely to snag his leash or escape. The dragging leash may be a little alarming at first for fearful cats. I like to hold the leash for fearful cats so they do not make a negative association with the harness.
Follow the cat around and continue to supply treats and praise during his adventure. The next step will be learning to guide your cat.
Apply some pressure on the leash and call your cat by his name. Reward with a treat once your cat comes to you. Reinforce with the clicker to show him that this is the desired behavior. So when the cat comes over, hit the clicker and give him a treat. Repeat this until he performs the behavior reliably.
Avoid placing too much pressure on the leash as this can have a negative impact on his experience. Do this for 5 days to a week for best results.
Take things slowly and reduce any escape routes that they can use at first. I like to start in the backyard so that he can get acclimated to his home before he is introduced to new places. A fenced in yard will work best for introducing them to the outdoors if they have never been outdoors.
Pick up the harnessed cat and carry them outside so that they do not learn that it is okay for them to walk outside on their own accord. Stay behind the cat at all times but do not force him to travel somewhere if he is not yet confident enough to.
Until the cat is clearly comfortable outside, always prepare for the possibility that your cat could freak out and become frightened. It is best to bring a towel that can be used to wrap up a scared cat so you can avoid being bitten.
Do know that walking a cat is much different than walking a dog. Your cat might be content with simply sniffing around the yard or laying in the yard so he can absorb sunlight. Some cats may hike or travel with you to and from the park. It will depend on your cat’s preference and personality.
It is always important to pay the utmost amount of attention to your cat and what he is acceptable with. Always allow your cat to choose what his comfort zone is. Your cat will be the one deciding what he is ready for or not ready for.
I like to have a designated pet carrier or box outside that the cat can use for an escape route. We want the cat to know that he has somewhere to escape to if he feels threatened. Just the fact that he has an escape route will give him more confidence.
As previously stated, avoid allowing your cat to travel outside on his own accord. This may teach the cat that it is okay to door dash.
Always watch your cat when he is outside as you never know what can happen in just a few minutes.
Never tie your cat’s leash to an object such as a fence or chair. The cat can become easily tangled and injure himself in the process. Your cat will also be unable to escape from wildlife or other predators.