7 Surprising Facts About Harness and Leash Training Your Cat

I love being able to walk on a harness and leash! I get so happy when my human puts them on that I immediately head for the nearest door. And because I’m so good at walking on a leash, I get to go places like pet shops, stores, and events. That’s a lot more fun and freedom than most cats get to have!

So I think harness and leash training your cat is awesome, and most people should at least give it try! It could open up a whole new world for your kitty — outdoor exploration, travel, maybe even hiking. (My human is not very outdoorsy, which is why I don’t include it in my activities.)

If you have thought about teaching your cat to walk on a leash but haven’t tried yet, you may have some questions. Probably a lot of them! And while I won’t be able to answer all of them here, I do have some facts about harness and leash training a cat that may surprise you!

A cat can be harness and leash trained at any age.
I always like to remind people that Binga learned how to walk on a leash when she was well over 15. She learned from watching me! But even if your senior cat doesn’t have an example to learn from, you can still teach them.

Of course, teaching them as kittens is always best. Kittens haven’t settled into their routines yet and are still curious about new and novel things. But if you approach teaching an older cat at a slower pace, you may find they wind up really liking it.

How you teach a cat to walk with a harness depends on the cat’s personality.

There are loads of great articles online about how to harness and leash train cats. But not every suggestion will work for your cat. Your approach to training will be very specific to your own cat. So if something you’ve read isn’t working for you, think about what may work better for your cat instead.

For example, a lot of experts tell you to introduce the harness slowly, inching closer to getting it on the cat step-by-step. But I was never bothered or suspicious about it. My human was able to put the harness on me pretty quickly! I just didn’t care. In less than a month, I was going to the Feline Film Festival, a big outdoor event!

Your cat will probably learn more slowly. Maybe even more slowly than most other cats. That’s okay. Just keep giving them rewards and approval for hanging in there with you. But if your cat wants to jump ahead like I did, let them give it a try.

Puppy harnesses are usually poor choices for cats.
Dogs are built differently from cats, and they walk on a leash different from cats. Cats need a harness that can be fitted snugly around both the neck and shoulder area and the torso under their front legs. And the D ring — the metal ring where the leash attaches — should be between the shoulders. Most dog harnesses have their D ring farther down the back. And the straps for a dog’s sturdier anatomy are often wider and stiffer than a cat harness.

Fortunately there are way more harnesses designed especially for cats than there were when I was a kitten. So you have a lot of good choices and should never have to resort to a puppy harness.

Don’t use retractable leashes.
This goes especially if you take your cat outside for walks. Retractable leashes with their narrower straps could cause all sorts of trouble if your cat decides to dash into some bushes or leap up a tree. Cats can get tangled and harm themselves very badly. If they get tangled and panic, it could also traumatize them. And you can get hurt badly too if the leash winds around your fingers or wrist.

So don’t use them. Yes, some cats like to be able to run more freely, but it’s just safer to have them tethered to a standard leash. You as the human have more control, and you will want that control if your and your cat encounter something hazardous.

There is no such thing as an escape proof harness.
I’m reluctant to include this fact in the list because it’s so frightening for humans to hear. But it is true. Cats are able to squeeze in and out of surprisingly small spaces. We’re just built that way. And no matter how secure a harness is, if we are determined and very frightened, we can wriggle out of any harness just like Houdini in a straight jacket.

Should this stop you from ever harness and leash training your cat? No! It does mean that the harness should be fitted snugly and securely. (Use the two-finger under the harness rule — it should be snug, not at all loose against those fingers.) It means mean that you and your cat should both be comfortable with the harness and leash before venturing outside. And it means that when you do first venture out, do it cautiously, and let your cat (and you) adjust at whatever pace is comfortable.

The whole point is to reduce the likelihood of your cat panicking and trying to struggle out of the harness to begin with. If the harness is properly fitted, it can handle anything less than that.

You aren’t walking your cat, your cat is walking you.
The main reason to get your cat used to leash walking is to broaden their world and allow them to explore safely. Unlike dogs, who should be trained to “heel,” “leave it,” and other commands when on a walk, cats are the ones in control. You’re just there to keep an eye on them and keep them from wandering too far, or getting into something they shouldn’t.

So what should you do as a human while your cat is enjoying themselves? How about sharing in their wonder and curiosity? Looking at the world through your cats eyes will bring you closer together.

That said, cats can be trained to walk on a leash like a dog.
I do! This won’t apply to every cat. It depends on the cat, and the cat’s relationship to you. I often walk alongside my human when we’re in hotels or on therapy cat visits because I trust her and understand she know best where to go.

Yes, of course, I will veer left when she wants me to go right sometimes. And sometimes I get stubborn and she has to pick me up and carry me to our destination. And when we are outside, she usually allows me to explore as I want. So I think I have the best of both worlds.

If you want to try training your cat to walk alongside you, it helps a lot if they are treat or toy motivated. With toys, it especially helps if they will follow laser pointers. Just get them to follow the treat or the toy (or laser) as you walk with them. Eventually, if they are inclined to walk with you, you will both fall into a rhythm that suits you both.

Did you find these facts helpful? Were you especially surprised by any of these facts? Let me know in the comments.

For more about harness and leash training cats:

Why Your Cat Falls Over in a Harness (or Clothes), Plus Solution!
5 Cat Leash Training Tips for Total Beginners
How to Harness and Leash Train Your Human, Part 2: Wearing the Harness

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