Going out on a leash and harness accompanied by your valued purrson can be a fulfilling experience. It allows you to sniff the breezes and inhale the many scents wafting through the air, improve your birdwatching skills, not to mention chase the odd bug. Along with the environmental stimulation this can provide, going out will give you some badly-needed exercise (physical and intellectual) - to keep you in top shape.
But Is Walking on Leash and Harness Right For You?
In spite of all the benefits, not every cat likes to go outside on leash and harness. As with most things, we adapt better when we are kittens than when we are adults. And some, like those of us who cannot stand touch or are very anxious, may find that harness training just doesn’t cut it. There is no point in pursuing something that doesn’t suit you. But you might just want to give it a try first – before you dig your claws in and refuse to budge.
Of course to do so you will need the cooperation (and longer-term commitment) of your purrson, both to help you adapt and then to accompany you on excursions. The adaptation phase can take up to several months so make sure you choose the more patient human family member and enlist him or her in this process.
The biggest hurdle deals with the harness. Those of you in need of harness selection and adaptation can refer to Harness Facts (April 26/10).
It's likely that your folks will purchase a leash along with the harness. Basically there are two types of interest: one that is a fixed length and one that is flexible. I started with a fixed length lead first until I got more confident in exploring; then I graduated to a flexi-lead (also know as a retractable lead). Each of us is different and each of our folks is different too. The flexi-lead requires more control and vigilance on the part of your purrson (so that the lead doesn't suddenly snap back, for example). So make sure your purrson is well-trained in the fine art of lead management.
Leading Up To Your Walk
When your are comfortable in the harness, your purrson should 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.
Once this has been accomplished you are ready to try it outdoors. And by trying it outdoors, I mean going for a walk. Get fastened up - leash and human attached - and have a brief outdoor trip, starting with short periods of time and working to longer periods as you are able to tolerate it. Again your human will have to learn that you are NOT a dog and thus that you will set the pace and the direction for the walk. It may only be a few metres (yards in American), followed by a pause to sniff carefully and purrhaps reassess the situation. But so what? It will also be wise to start this at a quiet time of the day, when distractions (loud traffic, inquiring children, and bossy dogs are not about).
Thanks to the proper training of my humans, I now have leisurely strolls about the property and near neighbourhood, accompanied by my human. This version of going outside does have some advantages. First, I have whoever gets the honour of the moment all to myself. Second, I have the chance to instruct them on matters of importance, like that caragana bush the wild hare brushes past and the corner of my house that is marked by other cats. And third, I have someone to protect me should a growler come along.
And I have taught my humans very valuable lessons. They used to think they could multi-task while walking me. The minute Herself got her nose in her book while out with me, I leapt over the neighbour’s fence. Now she focuses on the details around me, watching for cues that I’m about to be up to no good. When I demand a walk she may moan about having to go outside, but once we are there she gives up all thought of the tasks she wanted to accomplish and plunges herself into the moment. I understand humans pay a lot to learn how to de-stress and focus on the present. You’d think she’d give me an extra helping of catnip for teaching her – for free!
Should your humans so require it, I've listed a few more resources to help the process. The first ones are those also mentioned in the entry Harness Facts. But there are several others which show cats in action - walking - and they are also worth a look.
The article, Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash (article available at http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?aid=104 ) is reasonably clear and complete.
Teach Your Cat to Walk on a Leash Tutorial by FBBMyspace. Click on the link 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.
Vega's Walk (Cat on a Walk) by IACBY. Vega's Walk has wonderful footage (or is it paw-age) of Vega the cat getting ready for then going on a walk. Vega ponders when the door is open, sizing up her options. She stops and starts depending on whim. It's real and it's obvious she has a caring purrson. Four paws up!
For those of you of the Oriental purrsuasion (Siamese, Tonkinese, Burmese, Abysinian), My Cat Walks (really, my cat runs or trots) and Kira Walks show another facet of the experience.
So if you are eager for outdoor experience, this is one option to try. I'll write later about cat enclosures and fences because, of course, we cats love choice!