More and more cat owners are curious about leash training their cats, especially as we learn about the risks of letting them roam freely. But, the big question is: how do you actually train harness your cat?
We don’t usually train cats like we do dogs, and the idea of walking a cat on a leash can seem a bit daunting. So, in response to what you’ve been asking, I’ve put together this easy guide to help you get your cat used to a harness and ready for outdoor adventures.
Getting ready to harness train your cat: What you’ll need
Before we start, let’s make sure you have everything. Here is a list we need to prepare for harness training your cats. Let’s dive into the detailed Checklist:
- Your Cat: Of course, the star of the show!
- Treats: Find treats that your cat can’t resist. These should be small (smaller than their nose) for easy consumption during training. If they’re not big fans of their regular kibble, pick something more enticing, like bits of cooked chicken or fish. The goal is to highly motivate them.
- Treat Storage: You can use your pocket, a ziplock bag, or a treat pouch. Just remember, mushy treats can be messy in pockets, and if your cat loves food, keep the treats on you to avoid distractions.
- Harness and Leash: Choose a harness specifically designed for cats. Cat harnesses are usually more lightweight and comfortable for their unique body structure compared to small dog harnesses. The leash should be lightweight too.
- Training Space: Pick a quiet, familiar area for your cat where they won’t be easily startled or distracted. This could be a certain room in your house where they spend a lot of time and feel secure.
- An Extra Pair of Hands (Sometimes): Sometimes, an extra pair of hands can make a big difference. Having someone to help can be great. Maybe thank them with a treat too (but not cat treats, of course).
- Patience: Patience is key in harness training. It’s a gradual process. Some cats might take to it quickly, while others need more time to get used to the idea. It’s important not to rush and to follow your cat’s pace.
A clicker can help, but it’s not a must
Teaching your cat to get used to a harness and leash can be done with or without a clicker. If your cat knows clicker training, awesome! Use it here. Whenever I talk about giving your cat a treat in this guide, you can just click and treat instead.
But don’t worry if you don’t use a clicker. You can still follow all the steps in this article. We’ll go through getting your cat comfortable with the harness and teaching them how to act with it. This involves gently introducing the harness and using treats to guide them into the behaviors we want, step by step.
Even though a clicker can help if your cat is used to it, it’s not a must-have. You can totally teach your cat to walk in a harness and leash without it!
Step 1: Getting your cat used to the harness
Start by showing your cat the harness and leash. Just let them be around, not doing anything scary. Put them on the floor where your cat can see them. This is way before you even think about putting the harness on your cat.
- If your cat looks scared or unsure about the harness (maybe they had a bad experience with one before), just leave it there. Let your cat understand that the harness being around doesn’t mean it will touch them. You might need to start by placing it quite far from your cat, and that’s totally okay. As your cat gets more okay with the harness being in the same room, you can slowly move it closer. Take your time with this, let it happen over days.
- Your goal is to reach a point where you can pick up the harness, move it around, and put it back without your cat getting upset. Remember, during this step, don’t try to put the harness on your cat or even bring it too close to them.
- If your cat seems cool with the harness (or if you’ve helped your nervous cat get comfy with it), then you can start encouraging your cat to check out the harness.
Ask yourself: Is my cat chilly when I bring out the harness?
If yes, you’re ready for Step 2.
If not, keep on with this gentle introduction until they are.
Step 2: Explore the harness and make it a treat time!
Get some yummy treats ready for your cat and place the harness on the floor near them.
- If your cat naturally checks out the harness, that’s awesome! Give them a treat as soon as they sniff or get near it.
- If your cat isn’t showing much interest in the harness, try placing treats on it. When they come over, give them even more treats.
Remember, doing this repeatedly is important. Once your cat interacts with the harness, either move it somewhere else and do it again or put it away and bring it back after a few hours.
- For cats with previous negative experiences with harnesses, start by placing treats near the harness. You can toss the treats to your cat from a distance, letting them move away if they want to after getting each treat. The aim is for your cat to learn that it’s okay to be near the harness – they need to trust you won’t force them into it.
Repeat this a few times daily for several days at least. When your cat starts eagerly searching the harness for treats, or quickly comes over when you bring it out (because they’ve learned the harness means treats are coming), you’re ready for the next step.
Ask yourself: Is my cat happy and willing to approach or play with the harness when it comes out?
If yes, it’s time for Step 3.
If not, keep rewarding your cat whenever they come near, sniff, or touch the harness.
Step 3: Teaching your cat to put on the harness by themselves
In this step, we aim to get your cat to willingly put on the neck part of the harness. This method is way better and creates happier feelings for your cat compared to forcing the harness on them. Remember, take it slow and let your cat set the pace based on how comfortable they are.
Begin by holding the harness with the neck opening ready, positioned around your cat’s head height. (Make sure to loosen the harness straps so there’s a big, easy opening – we’ll adjust it properly later). By now, your cat should be curious about the harness every time you bring it out. So keep giving them treats for sniffing or touching it while you’re holding it up.
Now, when your cat figures out that getting their head close to the loop means treats, don’t give treats for just sniffing anymore. Only give them a treat when they actually put their head in the middle of the loop or start poking their nose through it.
If your cat gets the hang of putting their head into the neck loop of the harness while you’re holding it, that’s awesome! But if they don’t do it by themselves, it’s totally okay to use a treat to help them along. Remember, don’t rush it. You shouldn’t expect your cat to wear the harness all the way the first time. Just let them start by getting a bit of their head through the loop, and then slowly encourage them to go further.
Tips: Oh, and if it’s hard to hold the harness and use a treat at the same time, getting someone to help can make a big difference.
This part might need you to do it over and over again. Once your cat is okay with putting their head all the way through the harness loop, it’s time to slowly stop using treats to make them do it. You want your cat to pop their head through the loop and stay there, waiting for their treat.
If your cat gets impatient – like pulling their head out and leaving – you might need to go back to using a treat but hold off a bit longer each time before giving it to them. This helps them learn to wait longer. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to let the loop just hang on your cat’s neck before you give them a treat at the end of this step.
Ask yourself: Is my cat cool with sticking their head through the harness and chilling there after you let go, without looking worried?
If yes, you’re ready for Step 4.
If not, keep giving your cat treats for even just getting their head a bit into the harness. Maybe try a yummier treat or make the harness looser.
Step 4: Buckling the harness
Now, it’s time to see if your cat is okay with you fastening the belly strap of the harness. Some cats don’t mind at all, especially if they’re already cool by putting their heads through the neck loop. But, there are some cats who might not like it when you snap the buckle under their belly.
- If your cat seems a bit unsure about you fiddling with the cat harness around their sides or snapping it under their belly, then you’ll need to gently get them used to it. Once the neck part of the harness is on and you’ve let go, keep giving them really tasty treats while you softly touch or adjust the sides of the harness. When they seem okay with that, you can start to lift them a bit and move the harness under them, but do it very slowly.
- Give them lots of treats during this step. Work up bit by bit until you can reach under them and click the belly strap together. (Having a friend help near the end can be a big help – they can give the treats while you handle the harness.)
- If your cat seems uncomfortable and tries to get out of the harness or leave, go back a few steps in your process and take it extra slow until they’re relaxed again.
- And if your cat is already fine with you doing up the rest of the harness right away, that’s awesome! Don’t forget to give them a treat after you’ve buckled it.
Ask yourself: Is my cat cool with you fastening the belly strap of the harness?
If they are, you’re good to go to Step 5.
If not, keep giving treats to your cat to let you mess with the straps around them. Then, slowly work towards getting the harness all the way closed.
Step 5: Getting used to moving in the harness
After you’ve managed to fully get the harness on your cat, don’t rush to adjust the straps right away. It’s more important that your cat gets comfy with just wearing it. By now, your cat should be okay chilling in the harnessed-up without panicking or trying to escape. So, turn the times they wear the harness into super fun times.
Each day, put the harness on your cat for a little while. During this time, give them all your attention. Cuddle them, stroke them, or throw some treats for them to chase.
Maybe bring out a new toy. You want to find activities that are fun (so they always associate the harness with good times) and also get your cat moving. This helps them get used to the feel of the harness moving on them.
When your cat seems fine with the harness, you can then adjust it to fit them properly. Some cats won’t mind you doing this, but others might need treats to stay still while you fiddle with the harness. If that’s the case, having someone else feed your cat while you adjust makes things way easier.
Start increasing how long your cat wears the harness bit by bit. You’re aiming for them to wear it so comfortably that they forget it’s there and just do their normal stuff.
(But don’t leave your cat alone in the harness, okay? If they get tangled up and panic, it’s dangerous and could wreck all the work you’ve done getting them used to the harness.)
Now, it’s time for the leash. Some cats might be cool with it right off the bat, but others might be a bit nervous. If your cat seems nervous, remember what we did in steps one and two of this guide. Get your cat to see the leash as a good thing, something they’re okay with touching.
Gradually work up clipping the leash to the harness and let your cat walk around inside with the leash trailing behind them.
That’s it! You’ve nailed it!
Now, your cat knows how to wear a harness! Once you’re sure the harness fits snugly and your cat is cool with the leash, grab the leash and let your cat check out the great outdoors!
But hey, getting your cat to actually walk with you, like on a proper walk, is a whole different thing. Cats usually like to wander and sniff around on their own, not walk next to you like dogs do. (Don’t worry, I’ll be sharing how to train your cat to walk where you want them to go in my next post!)
Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What type of harness is best for cats?
-A well-fitted, adjustable, and comfortable harness is ideal. Look for ones specifically designed for cats as they are tailored to fit their body shape. But a vest harness is best for cats.
What do I do if my cat refuses to move while in the harness?
-Give them time to adjust. Stay patient and keep the environment calm and positive. Encourage movement with treats or toys.
How long does it usually take to harness-train a cat?
-The time it takes can vary greatly depending on your cat’s personality and comfort level. Typically, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.