An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Harnessing Facts (Indoors or Out Series 3)

For most of us, getting used to a harness is a BIG step. Frankly at first, it might feel like you've become a pack horse from the weight. Your purrsons will be amazed as you slink down to the ground or fall over on your side. They may even laugh. And if they do, they should imagine someone suddenly putting a sack of 30 bricks on their back and see how it feels! Better still, sneak into the gym the next time they workout and watch them trying to stay upright on a balance ball. That should tickle your whiskers.

Along with you, your purrson will have to get used to the process of getting you in and out of the thing. It will take a while for it to become part of your daily routine. But the bottom line is this: Wearing a harness may be the first step to going safely outdoors. So I recommend you try it.

There are several styles of harness to choose from:

1) An H-shaped Harness which has a collar attached to a waist belt by a piece of material. Many of your humans may find it is safer because there is more control over the size of the collar and the belt and thus less chance of your escaping from it. Measurement is important; that link also has a video, How to Measure Your Cat for a Harness, and it's worth watching before you make a purchase.

2) A Figure 8 Harness which is in one continuous, looped piece; your head fits through one loop and your body through the other (check out the information below the photo on the link for detailed instructions). I am so eager to go outside that having to wait any longer than is absolutely necessary sends me into a frenzy of meowing. So I prefurr this type of harness because it is easy to slip on (and out of) and is easily adjusted. Thanks to my colleague, Nuit, who no longer needed her apparatus, I was the lucky recipient of this version.

3) a V-shaped Harness (‘Come With Me Kitty’) in which the connecting piece - between the part that goes around your neck and the part that goes around your chest - is through the sternum (i.e., your chest) rather than along your back. That way you will never choke on it. The link shows magnificent felines sporting this get-up and has an Instruction Guide and FAQs (at the left of the photos). This is a harness specifically designed for our species. It is NOT to be used for tethering; it is a walking harness only.

4) a Walking Jacket, which is as the word implies – similar to the H-shaped version but made of material. Check out Cat Walking Jackets and Met Pet Jackets (instructions, too), along with  Safety Katz which have velcro tabs rather than straps with buckles. I'm not sure if these are suited for tethering (rather than walking) so you will need to check that out.

Most styles are available at pet supply stores (or via the web); so choose what will suit you best.

Adapting to the Apparatus

No matter which style you choose, the basic rule to follow is simply this: Get used to the apparatus s-l-o-w-l-y. Being feline, anything this novel is likely to be met with apprehension. And should your excited human try to put it on you, you are likely to squirm and then collapse as if a sack of potatoes has been put on your back. Fear not! Just remember: Slow and steady wins the race.

The wise human will first put the harness on the floor to let you sniff it. And if there is Feliway spray  on the premises, giving the harness a spritz a few minutes before putting it within your grasp would be even better. The patient human will allow you to explore the collar for up to a few minutes, up to several times a day (or until you lose interest). Alternatively, your purrson may leave it where you sleep so you can cover it in your scent and make it part of your territory. After all, familiarity IS contentment to a cat.

Once you have mastered the sniff test, you are ready for the next step – draping the harness over your body for a few seconds. No you are not yet ready for prime time, so do not attempt to have the harness fastened. Just have your human drape it over you for a few seconds and then have it removed. And over the period of several days, the amount of time it is draped on you should increase incrementally (that is, in small bits), until you adjust. Smart humans reward you with food treats if you accept the draping. Such humans will not reward you for any sign of intolerance or distress because they don’t want to give you a mixed message.

So you’ve mastered draping. Congratulations!

Now it’s time to fasten that harness. A good fit one in which your human is able to get two fingers under the collar and under the waist belt when they are fastened (if using an H-shaped harness). If your human is careful, s/he will read the instructions that come with the apparatus so make sure you are fitted properly. In any event, make sure your purrson ensures that your regular collar and tags are not caught because this will be uncomfortable. If you are like most of us, the first time you wear the harness you will immediately lie down as if under a pressing weight. We’re not used to having anything on our backs, thank you very much! Again the patient human will remove your harness after less than one minute and then refasten it on you a few times a day – and over a many weeks, gradually extend the time you wear it until you a level of comfort with it.

Even if you are wearing the harness with a view to being tethered outside, it would be wise for your purrson to attach the leash and take you for a walk IN your home. Now most humans think they are walking a dog and so they will attempt to take the lead. Fat chance! The smart human will go where want to go, at your pace. A small but very delicious food treat placed about a foot in front of you will encourage you to walk there and get it.

In case your purrsons need it, I've listed some video resources at the end of this entry that might help them help you.

Once this has been accomplished you are ready to try it outdoors.

If you are being tethered, then a brief outdoor period accompanied by your purrson is a start. Work up to being outside, tethered and with your purrson for longer periods (like 10 minutes or so); then right after such a session, try short periods without your purrson (like 1 or 2 minutes) if your purrson plans to be leaving you on your own and work up to a 5 to 10-minute segment on your own gradually. For tethering, that's about all you need to practice.

Should your humans so require it, here are some resources to help the process:
The article, Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash is reasonably clear and complete.

Of course, some of your purrsons will prefurr the show-and-tell approach of the video. Herself and I poured over 50+ such entries from You Tube and were unpleasantly surprised at much of what was submitted. There were submissions that were too grainy or dark to be useful but these weren't the one that got my ears to fold back. It was the rather large number of submissions dealing with dragging the cat around the floor or the pavement, on leash and harness - with no attempt to assist the cat and usually accompanied by gales of laughter. I can only hope that the cats in question poop in their purrsons' shoes! We also saw entries in which the cat was obviously frightened by the process (and the people didn't have a clue), one in which the cat was incited to aggression by the whole process, and several where the people in question were just mean-spirited. It's situations like these that make me despair of the human race. Hisses and hairballs to all of them!

Here are my picks for video entries that may be useful to you:

Teach Your Cat to Walk on a Leash Tutorial by FBBMyspace. Click on the Cat Walking Tutorial to see the best video, by far. The purrson stresses the importance of patience and the length of time involved (about 2 to 3 months of training) and the demonstrations are clear and careful. The cat wears a walking jacket, so it's a good demo of how that works, too.

Exercise for Cats: Getting A Harness on Your Cat. Dr. Adrienne Mulligan, a vet, does the demonstration and it will give you some idea of what is involved. She has another video called Exercise for Cats:  How to Harness A Difficult Cat. I don't like Dr. Mulligan's assertion that the Siamese in question is spoiled, but there is useful information in this video. This episode demonstrates the use of treats to encourage walking.

Now are you eady for a walk? Then stay tuned for the next installment.