WARNING – CONTENT UNDER REVIEW – WARNING
This article is being revised as to the vocabulary used. The advice given can be applied without any problems. Only some precise concepts need to be reviewed throughout the site, such as the territory (we will use the term “environment”), marking, pheromones and other specific concepts that have recently been the subjects of studies.
There is nothing funnier than seeing the reaction of people I meet on the sidewalk of my neighbourhood when they realize that it is not a dog that is at the end of my leash, but a beautiful Maine Coon, tail high and delighted to take his daily walk. Do you want to do the same? Well, here’s how.
IT’S GOOD FOR HIM
Letting your cat out freely in an urban setting presents enormous dangers to his physical and psychological health. So why not allow him to spend his energy with a leash walk? You can teach any cat of any age to do it, but the younger they are introduced to it, the easier it will be. It is important to note, however, that some cats may find this activity very scary at first; it will simply be a matter of proceeding very slowly.
If you have a dog your cat trusts, why not use your dog as a model for your cat and take your walk together?
But before you take your cat out, make sure he is well protected from diseases that he might catch when he is outside by making sure he has all the appropriate vaccines because, even if he is on a leash, the dangers to his health are the same as without his leash. Having a microchip implanted on your cat is also a great idea because you never know what can happen on a walk, especially since from now on, in all Quebec cities, microchipping will become mandatory.
A collar is not enough and could even hurt your cat. So you need a harness. Unfortunately, almost all cat harnesses are inadequate because they consist only of bands that go around the neck and belly and have only one strap on top on which to hook the leash. A good harness should have a band that reaches under the belly and between the cat’s legs to distribute the pressure if the leash is to be pulled and to prevent your cat from freeing himself from the harness if he is afraid and wants to escape.
A QUESTION OF HABIT
Many cats will instinctively think they are unable to move with a harness on their back, which is why they will flatten themselves to the ground without moving the first time they wear the harness. That’s why you have to start slowly and use treats and games in abundance to make them forget that they are wearing a harness. If they move their paw to catch a toy, they will find that they can move with the harness and will eventually get used to it.
Lock yourself in a small room with your cat. This way, if he panics when he wears the harness, he will not be able to injure himself by running frantically throughout the house. Before you even it on, make him smell the harness and give him his favourite treat at the same time, so as to create a positive association with the harness. Put the harness on him. If he flattens to the ground, try playing with him and give him treats. As soon as he manages to move a little or you see that he is starting to get used to the harness, remove it and finish the session by rewarding him. Proceed in short sessions and repeat this step until the cat is no longer bothered by the harness. If, after three to five sessions, your cat has made no progress and you see that, on the contrary, he becomes more and more anxious, stop and ask for the help of a Cat Educator.
When he is well accustomed to the harness, repeat the step 1 process but let the cat walk around the house. Again, the tests should be done over short periods, lasting up to 30 minutes, always giving him treats and playing with him. Then introduce the leash. Get him used to a constant distance between him and you, so he knows he can’t get further beyond that distance. Your cat should be no further than 1.83 metres from you because there are more risks to walking a cat than a dog on a leash outside, for example, if you encounter other cats of dogs. It is important to always monitor your pet and the surrounding environment and to stay away from potentially stressful situations such as the arrival of a dog.
It’s time to go outside. Your cat should never go out without a harness on his back and should always be in your arms. It’s quite possible that he loves going out for a walk. Therefore, if you let him walk through the door with his harness or without him being in your arms, he could quickly learn to get out on his own without a harness. If you always take him out in your arms and only put him on the floor once he gets on the sidewalk, he will learn that going out is only done this way.
The first time you take your cat out, don’t assume he’ll be curious. In fact, the majority of cats will be stressed. That’s why you have to go in stages, always with treats and play. Often, the first few times, only go out on the balcony without even putting your cat on the ground. Once you feel your cat is no longer anxious, go back inside, remove the harness and start again later. It is essential to wait until your cat regains his calm before bringing him in or else, he will understand that, as soon as he is anxious or frightened, he will be able to go back inside. Do this gradually and never take the next step until your cat is comfortable. Few cats will walk on their first outing, so be very patient.
There are two ways to walk with cats on a leash. The first is to be walked by your cat and the other to walk your cat. There is no right or wrong way. Letting your cat walk wherever he wants is much easier, but expect not to go very far. Avoid letting your cat smell something for too long. Some cats react poorly to the marking of other cats.
If you want to walk your cat like a dog, you should teach him to follow you from step 3, inside, before doing it outdoors. Take two steps forward and as soon as your cat walks towards you, reward him with a treat. Repeat until the behaviour is automatic. Then repeat but take four steps and reward him if he comes to you and so on until you can go where you want in the house. Then repeat this process outside by following the same steps. If you have a sidewalk in your neighbourhood, limit access to the sidewalk only and prevent your cat from exploring whenever he wants. Your cat must understand that he is not allowed to leave this surface and move forward if he wants to have his treat. Select one or two specific locations along your route, to make the walk even more enjoyable, which will always be the same, where your cat can satisfy his curiosity and hunt bugs This will even encourage him to go faster to get there.
But it will be much easier to get him to walk like a dog using a training method called the target.
The trick is to go gradually. Training a cat on a leash can take one to several months of daily training to manage to take walks. Also, remember that a cat does not have the stamina of a dog. Start with 30-minute walks and see if your cat can handle more.
Tip: Bring water and get your cat used to drinking in a portable bowl in the house before showing the bowl outside.