Training Kitty to Walk on a Cat Harness


Cats are known for many things, but training them to walk on a cat harness is not one of them. In fact, most people think that cats can’t be trained! January is Walk Your Pet month, though, and since we’ve already talked about training your dog this month, it’s time to turn our attention to our feline friends.

Hundreds of websites will tell you: cats are relatively easily trained. But you have to keep in mind that they won’t respond to the same methods your dog does. Your dog wants to work with you and get praise. Your cat? Your cat is motivated by his belly. A simple web search of “cat training” yields thousands of hits, most of them with fairly consistent advice: use positive reinforcement, reward with treats (good ones), and be consistent. Also, be patient… really patient.


There are lots of reasons to train your cat, including reinforcing the bond between the two of you and providing mental stimulation, which can reduce boredom-related behavior problems. When that training involves walking on a cat harness and leash, there are added benefits of obesity reduction, easier vet visits and easier car travel (no carrier!).


It’s supposed to be easiest to train kittens (like Lilith in the picture up top!), but all the information I found said that any age cat can be trained. Armed with the information I found, I decided to train a couple of my cats to walk on a harness and leash. One of them (The Dude, 7 years old) has always loved going outside, even though he isn’t supposed to do it. Another (Zeke, 1 year old) is a rescued bottle-fed kitty who I hoped would train easily because we’re already well-bonded.

Zeke wearing a cat harness.


Zeke models his new cat harness.

Step 1: getting the appropriate supplies. All the advice was very clear: GET A CAT HARNESS. Don’t attach a leash to a cat’s collar. I got two cat harnesses, one from PetSafe (red straps with bungee leash) and one from Coastal Pet (black mesh, leash is separate).


Step 2: figuring out what kinds of treats motivate my kitties. Zeke is easy; he likes all treats. Greenies it is. The Dude is harder… he doesn’t like treats. Since he really likes to be brushed (especially his face), I decided to use his favorite brush as his reward.

Step 3: introducing the kitties to the cat harness. The idea is that they get used to wearing the cat harness before attaching a leash. Then they’re supposed to get used to walking with the harness and leash INSIDE before venturing outdoors.

Dude walks comfortably around the house in his cat harness.


The Dude walks comfortably around the house in his cat harness.

So I introduced them to their cat harness… At first, they were intrigued, and Zeke thought it was a toy. Their attitudes changed when I put it on them, though! Happily, rewards (treats and face brushing) led to better harness behavior and (grudging) acceptance.


Step 4: Attach the leash! Attaching the leash led to somewhat different reactions… Zeke decided it needed to be eaten. Dude tried to run away from it. This behavior has continued for the last few weeks with Zeke, though he’s getting better with continued rewards during training. Dude, on the other hand, has finally gotten to his real reward: outside. According to all the information about training cats, the different reactions are to be expected.

Dude wearing his cat harness outside. No, Dude, you can’t go over the garden wall.


The Dude wearing his cat harness outside. No, Dude, you can’t go over the garden wall.

Step 5: Go Outside! Another important thing: walking a cat outside isn’t like walking a dog. While a dog might be content to walk with you, when a cat walks, you are walking with the cat. For a cat like The Dude, this can come as a rude shock. His excitement at being carried out the door (already harnessed and leashed) turned to mild irritation when he discovered he couldn’t go wherever he wanted. His only outside session so far was about 10 minutes.


When he started to get agitated, we went back inside. It’s important to take it slow and make sure your cat is comfortable. Hopefully after a few weeks walking in the courtyard, The Dude and I will be able to venture further afield. Maybe we’ll even get Zeke out there on a cat harness, too.
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