I don’t post about That Cat of Ours too frequently, as Clover and Thyme is more of a garden and food blog. However, the Weekly Writing Challenge over at WordPress’ Daily Post got me thinking about a “cat post” idea I had back in the spring. I never followed through with it because I just didn’t think it would be relevant to the content of my blog. Today I decided to sit down and finally tackle my idea.
You see, our family has leash trained our cat. It was during one of our strolls around the backyard with Fluffernutter that I thought it might be fun to write a mini-tutorial on leash training your own feline. Please note that I’m not a vet. I’m just sharing our family’s experience in this leash training adventure. So without further ado, here’s something completely different: Leash Train Your Cat in 7 Excruciating Steps.
Why Leash Train?
In a word – safety. Conventional veterinary wisdom states that indoor cats live almost twice as long as their outdoor counterparts. Makes sense when you consider all the hazards an indoor cat avoids – no cars to run them over, no wild animals to maul them, and no brawls with the cat down the street. But there is one obvious drawback to an indoor cat. Simply put, cats love the outdoors. Most cats who have had a taste of the great outdoors (like our ex-stray) will do whatever they can to breach the confines of their plush cage we call a home to get out and have a sweet romp in the grass. Leash training your cat allows your beloved feline to have the best of both worlds. They can enjoy the safety of indoor life with supervised field trips outdoors.
But take heed! Venturing outside with a leashed cat cannot be rushed. Cats are creatures of habit and if you rock their world with too much leash training too soon, the fur will fly. Here are the steps we took to adjust our street savvy kitty to life on a leash.
Step 1: Choose The Leash
It’s important to note that you can’t put Fido’s leash on your cat. Cats don’t behave on leashes the way dogs do (more on that later,) and as such, your cat will need a harness designed just for them. Most pet stores carry cat harnesses in a variety of sizes and shapes. The important feature to look for in a harness is restraint that is distributed across both the cat’s neck and chest. Cats run a risk of neck injury (even strangulation) if they are on a leash that only hooks around their neck. Some harnesses, like the one we have, feature two straps that clip around the cat’s neck and chest and then connect across the back. The leash you hold then clips onto a hook on the cat’s back. Other harnesses are more vest-like. Pick which ever one you think you and your cat can handle with as little wrestling as possible. I loved the look of the vests, but given our cat’s temper, I knew three quick clicks was going to be A LOT easier (and safer for me) than wrangling our cat into a vest. If your cat is more easy going, a vest might be a great option.
Step 2: Allow the Cat to Adjust to the Leash Indoors
Our family lovingly refers to this step of our cat’s leash training as the “salamander” stage. Cats do strange things when placed in a harness for the first time. It’s best to let them adjust to the harness indoors before you add all the chaotic stimuli of the great wide open. This step will take at least a week, maybe longer depending on your cat. Be patient and let your cat wear the harness (without the leash attached) indoors for about an hour or so each day. Praise them up, down and sideways as they get used to how the harness feels on their furry body. You can be almost guaranteed your cat will exhibit one or all of the following:
- “The Choke” Your cat will pretend they are choking. They will do their best fur-ball gag routine to get you to remove the harness. Lovingly check to make sure the harness really isn’t too tight and if it isn’t, leave the harness on.
- “The Dead Drop” This one is very entertaining. Your cat will sit quite still and then suddenly fall over sideways, or they will slowly drift sideways until they are lying down. It’s really quite funny to watch. You may be tempted to remove the harness so your cat will stop acting like a drunk. Don’t. Just have a hardy chuckle and leave the harness on.
- “The Salamander” Even if your cat doesn’t act like the harness is sucking out its life breath, kitty will likely walk a little funny as he adjusts. This slinky gait is characterized by your cat slithering close to the floor, low and sneaky like a little ninja kitty spy. It’s also quite entertaining to watch. Leave the harness on and let Ninja Kitty do his thing.
Fluffernutter did all three of these tricks his first few times in his harness. But within a week, he had moved past all but “the salamander.” We then decided it was safe to move on to…
Step 3: Get Your Cat Used to Being With You Outside
If your cat had a taste of the outdoors in the past, as ours did, being outside with you following along on his tail as a chaperone can be the ultimate insult. Cats aren’t stupid. They know they are now restrained and this will stress them out initially. If your cat has never been outside, they might not be insulted, but they will definitely be stressed. All the bells, whistles and barks of the outdoors will take some adjustment. Fluffers continued his salamander ways for a while after going outside with us. Where he used to prance around like he owned the place, now he slithered around, hopping at every sudden noise because he knew he was restrained. If your cat does the same, take heart. This lessens over time. Fluffers gradually progressed from frantic bewilderment to ticked off resignation to acceptance pretty quickly. Once the cat is resigned to having you as their wingman it’s time to…
Step 4: Determine The Boundaries
Curiosity killed the cat. With that in mind, determine just how much leeway you want to give your furry friend. We live in a suburban neighborhood so our choices were limited. Letting Fluffers have the run of the neighborhood while we trailed along behind him trespassing on our neighbors’ property wasn’t an option. Sooo, we could either keep him in our yard, or get him to walk along the sidewalk. We tried both. We learned the next step the hard way.
Step 5: Don’t Expect Walks
Cats are not dogs. They kind of pride themselves on that. While some cats have been known to walk along the sidewalk on a given route, most cats (including ours) will not. Fluffers would happily walk away from our house, but getting him to turn around (or even loop around the block) to come home without a myriad of detours was next to impossible. We quickly discovered that Fluffers was (mostly) happy to just browse around our yard, sniffing, stalking, and rolling around within the bounds of our property line. He still tests the boundaries regularly, but there is usually plenty going on in our own yard to keep him entertained.
Step 6: Expect the Unexpected
Did I mention that cats are not dogs? Your cat may do any number of funny, unexpected things while outside with you (which is another great reason to keep your cat close to home.) Our cat has been known to climb trees (we unhook his harness when he gets the “I’m about to climb a tree” look,) stalk birds (we don’t unhook the harness for this,) and often he just stretches out and takes a nap while we sit and contemplate life beside him. But don’t get complacent! Cats can keep you on your toes. Stay alert and have fun exploring the yard “cat style.”
Step 7: Be Patient, Consistent, and Ignore the Stares
Fluffers has a bit of a temper and he will sometimes growl under his breath when we start moving him toward the door to come back inside. We make sure to reward him with a generous helping of catnip every time he comes in from a growl-free adventure outdoors. If your cat has a rough time of it now and then, be patient. They will soon realize how fun it is to go out exploring with you and they will hop at the chance to join you for a field trip. All we have to do is grab the leash and say, “go outside??” and Fluffernutter is at the door waiting. If he doesn’t go out regularly, though, he gets grumpy and whiney. So make sure you are willing to take your kitty out on a regular basis if you decide to undertake this endeavor.
Lastly, be warned. You will get stares and comments. One little girl asked me, “Aren’t cats just supposed to run free outside?” Sadly, this is the opinion of most. Just tilt your head and smile, and tell them you are keeping your cat safe and sound so he can be a part of your family for many years to come. Tell them the fringe benefit is that your cat won’t be digging in their garden or making out with their cat or better yet, beating up their dog. That should satisfy them.
So I hope you enjoyed my little detour from gardens and recipes. Our cat is a wonderful part of our family, fur-balls, temper, and all. If you own a cat, I hope you might find this post helpful. Perhaps you will even find that getting your cat outdoors the safe way isn’t that excruciating after all.