Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Summer is quickly approaching us and since we have all been stuck inside, there is no better time to start harness training your cat! We have all been itching to get outside but before you venture out with your cat remember to put on some Frontline or flea and tick treatment of your choice to protect your kitties too!
First you’ll want to find a safe and comfortable harness for your cat. We recommend the Surfer Cat harness and leash. We have tried these on our own cats and find them safe, comfortable for the cat, and easy to put on. It's important for your harness to meet these requirements. If you have trouble putting the harness on your cat at first, practice on a stuffed animal so that you can put the harness on your cat quickly and easily the first time. Measure your cat and check the size specifications before buying. Too small will be uncomfortable for your cat and too loose will allow them to escape from it.
Now that you have a harness and leash picked out that you both like, here are our CatBoss tips to get your cat started on his or her new life filled with adventure!
Its important that your cat has built up a positive association with the harness first. You don't want to rush things and immediately put it on your cat, especially if your cat tends to be a little hesitant or resistant to new things. Simply laying the harness next to your cat while they are eating can be a great first step. Get your cats feedback by taking that first step and if you're ready to try it on, make sure that you have their meal, treats, and/or favorite toys ready!
Begin by placing the harness on your cat and make sure that it is loose fitting at first. Some people make the mistake of putting the harness on too tight at first, causing the cat to fall over when they try to walk or hunker down low. If this happens make sure to NOT LAUGH at your cat. Believe it or not, laughing can embarrass them and reinforce bad behavior! So make sure to just smile at them and go help them out. Be their biggest cheerleader here. This is a new experience for them and we want to start it off positively from the get go! If necessary, loosen the harness and help them by lifting them up a little bit showing them that it is ok and that they can walk normal. The key is to get them moving like normal. This may take some time but eventually, they'll get the hang of it. Once they are comfortable moving in it, you’re ready for the next step!
Once the harness is on, feed your cat their meal or favorite treats while in the harness. Tossing treats and playing a game of chase is especially helpful to get them used to the feel of the harness all while building a positive association with it. All good things come when the harness goes on!
Now that your cat has mastered the indoor harness training you are ready to add the leash! But beware the WORST thing you can do is to let the leash drag behind your cat or pull them along. Prepare your treats again and with your cat on your side and while holding the leash loosely, show your cat that you have the treats and lure them forward to get the treat. If they don’t like taking the treat from your hand you can place it on the ground. The idea is to get them moving forward on their own accord, not by pulling or dragging. Repeat this until your cat catches on that movement forward gets the reward.
You can begin fading the treat out by only rewarding for the behavior ever other time or get them used to targeting to your finger. You can do this by holding your finger out and when your cat comes to investigate your finger, then reward them! The idea is that they learn to follow your finger target to move forward. The other method is you can purchase a target stick and teach them to target their nose to it and hold the target stick out in front of your cat so that they learn to move forward to the target. Again you’ll be fading the use of the target stick once your cat has mastered the movement forward.
You can practice the action down a hallway against the wall so that you’re limiting your cats choice for movement. You can even place their bowl of food down the hallway so that they have to drive forward towards the bowl or treat!
After you have completed these steps you may be ready to venture outdoors. As a precaution, bring your cats crate or back pack with you. You’ll want to have an emergency plan ready should your cat get loose or an unfriendly dog or animal should approach. I don't want to scare you and its unlikely that your cat will get loose but its better to be safe then sorry! Having a place for your cat to retreat too can be very helpful. If they do choose to do that, kindly wait for your cat to come back out or lure them with a treat for extra encouragement.
I also highly recommend recall training your cat to the clicker as well so that your cat learns to come back to the clicker when called! Again clicker recall training is an extra layer for safety. I also like to teach my cats to jump in my backpack on command which can be helpful in an emergency situation.
Start in your back yard or somewhere where your cat is familiar with, you don’t want to overwhelm them on their first time out on the harness and leash. Start with short visits outside and ALWAYS end on a good note. Five minutes is all you need to do to introduce harness training to your cat.
If you have a dog as well they can be a good companion on walks to teach your cat to keep up with the pack. Again, back packs come in handy here. You can keep your cat in the backpack until you get to a place where your cat and dog can safely get out to explore together.
Harness training can be a great gift that you can give to your cat to enhance their enrichment or just to improve their quality of life and happiness. Chasing bugs or watching birds fly by can help your cat fulfill their natural instincts all while strengthening your bond with your cat!
Comment below if you have any questions about harness and leash training moving forward! We are always happy to help no matter how far along in your journey >^^<