Training a cat to walk on a leash

To celebrate the one year anniversary of adopting Patton, I would like to take a moment to encourage cat owners everywhere to walk their cat. After a year of walking Patton, I have been able to get him to go up to 4 miles on a single walk.  I have come to believe that Patton often enjoys walking as sometimes he chooses to continue walking instead of stopping early.

The First Time Walking

When I first started trying to walk Patton I had found that there was an abundance of advice online about how to train a cat to walk on a leash.  I have come to think that with cats there might not be a single strategy that works (like there is with dogs) and I wouldn’t get discourage if the first thing that you try ends up failing. 

The first time that I put a harness on Patton, he was about 2 years old already and I had only adopted him a few weeks earlier.  (So he was doomed to walk on a leash from the start with me.)  Now, a lot of the advice that I found online talked about getting a cat used to the harness first. However, Patton really hates the harness, even after a year of using it he would just go pout if it was left on while he was inside.  So, instead of trying to get him used to the harness while indoors, I only ever use it while outside and the moment that we get back, I end up taking it off.  With this arrangement, Patton will even wait by the door right after getting back for me to take the harness off. 

The second trick to getting Patton to start walking was figuring out how to motivate walking while outside and on a leash.  What I eventually settled on was rewarding returning to my apartment with food.  This was fairly natural given the first few times that I tried to take Patton outside all he wanted to do was run back inside.  This meant that I would carry him outside some short distance and then let him run back (while still on the leash).  This means that these walks are really short on the matter of minutes where I would put the harness on, carry him a few feet from my door, let him run back, and then feed him. 

Extending the Distance

Once I had Patton doing short distances, the trick was then to being extending the walk into something more than just running back to my apartment.  This started as carrying him outside one way and then making him run back another way.  Essentially this was trying to close a loop so that it would begin to look more like a walk.  Now, this required a bit of handling on the leash to tug Patton along some alternate path.  During this time, I also planned goals during the walk which I began to associate with the food reward that Patton would get at the end of walking.  The goal that I started with was just walking around the perimeter of my apartment building.

What to Expect

Walking a cat is not like walking a dog.  When walking a dog, they will generally follow along after relatively minimal training. Cats are instead leading the walk. When I take Patton to a city park, he often want to spend a lot of time smelling all of the plants in an area or laying down in the bushes and take a nap instead of walking around. I have found this a good time to bring a book and catch up on reading.

While “slow” or relaxed walking is the norm inside of a city, I have found that when I take Patton on more isolated trails (less dogs) then he is more eager to walk. If there is a single obvious path to follow, then Patton is more than happy to take the lead in these cases and have been able to walk him up to 4 miles under these ideal circumstances.

Year in Review Composition

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