Cat Training: How to Leash Train a Cat

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 6/7/2024
Cat wearing a red leash sits patiently at its owner’s feet

Have you thought about taking your cat on a walk? There are many benefits to doing so. When cats can explore the outdoors safely, it can open up a whole new world of delight and possibility. Doing so safely is a priority, though, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Fortunately, walking a cat is a common and acceptable form of exercise and stimulation for domestic housecats. If you decide to pursue this activity with your cat, you will need time to learn how and practice leash training with your cat. This article contains helpful tips and advice for how you can start leash training with your cat.

Should You Take Your Cat on a Walk?

If you’re wondering, Should I walk my cat?, the simple answer is it’s up to you. Not every cat needs to spend time outdoors. Many cats prefer indoor living and get plenty of exercise in home. But if you want or need to give your cat more ways to engage with the world around them, there are many benefits to walking a cat. It’s exercise for their bodies and minds. Everything from rustling tree leaves to chirping birds provide an extraordinary amount of stimulation, and you can rest assured knowing they’re safe thanks to a leash and harness.

How Long Does it Take to Leash Train a Cat?

Walking a cat on a harness takes patience and practice. Know that it may take days or even several weeks for your cat to feel comfortable in a harness and on a leash. Remember to not rush the process and avoid getting frustrated with your cat. While exploring the outside world may be a natural behavior, pet cats may feel a lot less natural wearing a harness. Cats need time to adjust and feel comfortable walking with a harness and leash. It’s also a good idea to start leash training when a cat is young, as they’re more likely to be flexible and adaptable to new experiences.

How to Train a Cat to Walk on a Leash

If you decide you want to give a cat walk a try, there are a few steps worth following. However, before reading through the steps, remember that walking a cat on a leash is an entirely different experience than walking a dog. Cat walking is much slower. Don’t expect to exert a lot of energy or see your heart rate increase like you might with a dog. A cat is more likely to pause from time to time to inspect a bug or bask in the sun. They may even decide to break into a sprint. 

1. Purchase the Proper Equipment

A special cat harness is the first item to purchase, along with a cat leash. Make sure the fit of the harness is right. Try to fit one or two fingers between the harness and your cat. This amount of space allows for the harness to fit snugly without being too tight.

2. Introduce Your Cat to the Harness

Once you’ve purchased the harness and leash, the real process for how to harness train a cat begins. Remember that a harness isn’t likely to be on your cat’s list of favorite things to wear. For the first try-on, quickly pop the harness on for a moment. Give them a treat while it’s on, and then take it off. It is important to strengthen the positive association – “something nice (e.g., a treat) will happen when I wear the harness.” If your cat freezes in motion during that try-on, don’t worry. It may feel odd to them at first, but they’ll gradually adjust with good training.

3. Gradually Build the Amount of Time Your Cat Wears the Harness

Little by little, extend the amount of time that your cat wears the harness. Carefully look for signs of whether your cat is liking or disliking the harness. If they seem content, leave the harness on a little longer. If they seem agitated, give them a treat and remove the harness.

4. Attach the Leash

When you reach the point where your cat feels comfortable in the harness and pays little attention to it, it’s time to attach the leash. With the leash attached, you can walk your cat around your house. Allow them to set the pace and lead the way. You can either loosely hold the leash or let it drag on the floor behind them. Some cats will want to play with the leash or get scared of it if dragged behind them, so adjust as needed.

5. Take Your Cat Outside

The last step in learning how to train your cat to walk on a leash is to take them outside with their harness and leash in place. If going outside for the first time, stay close to home. Exploring the front yard is a perfectly fine place to start. The sights, sounds and smells of your front yard alone are enough to pique their interest and tickle their senses.

Continue to let them wander at their own pace, and experiment with getting them to move in the direction you want to go by using treats. When they follow, be sure to give praise and a treat to reward the good behavior.

Eventually, you can push beyond the boundaries of the front yard and even venture into taking your cat into public once you both feel comfortable. Just be sure to avoid busy roads or areas that tend to be populated with dogs. Safety should always be a priority, and these types of environments can easily scare a cat.

Walking a cat on a harness is not necessarily easy. It takes time and patience on the owner’s part and a lot of adjustment on the cat’s part. Moreover, some cats never get used to leash training. Senior cats can have a hard time with leash training and exposure to the outdoors. The best cat leash training advice is to give it a try and take it slowly. Your cat will surely let you know when they do or don’t feel comfortable.

For more expert tips on training your cat, explore our cat training page. And to explore cat training even further, get all the tips right on your phone by downloading the myPurina app


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