Catster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Cats’ Experience With Leash Training: Adventures, Challenges & More

Written by: Ingrid King

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a woman and her cat with harness and leash sitting on the bench at the park

Cats’ Experience With Leash Training: Adventures, Challenges & More

I previously introduced you to Laura Kicey, a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer, and artist living in the Philadelphia suburbs with her partner and their three cats. While not all of Laura’s creative work is about cats, most of it is, “and if it isn’t, it is in the service of cats one way or another,” she says

Rye and Fig, Laura’s two torties, recently started to venture outside and have turned into quite the adventure cats, which made them perfect candidates to test Sleepypod’s Martingale Harness and Slim Leash. I had a chance to ask Laura about how she got started with leash training and about her plans for her adventuresome torties.

yarn ball divider

Tell us a little bit about each of your cats.

Thank you, Ingrid, for inviting me and my girls to take part in this product spotlight; we had a lot of fun with it. I have three cats. From oldest to youngest, they are Olive (calico, about 8), Rye (tortie, about 7), and Fig (tortie, 4 as of April 21). Olive and Rye were adopted at the same time from PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society) in August 2014.

Fig was a PAWS foster kitten when I met her at Kittydelphia, a fundraising event I created and ran for a couple of years, in 2017. All of them have very big, different personalities and preferences, but they all get along quite well on the whole.

Olive and Fig

Olive is our alien cat. She rarely makes a sound but still manages to be very expressive and communicative with her body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Her favorite things are napping in sunspots, playing alone with crinkly foil balls, demanding chicken, enjoying silvervine, begging to go into the closet, and belly rubs.

She recently decided she likes going outside to birdwatch, though I don’t take her on “real” walks. She is on medication for seizures and asthma, and I don’t want to risk flea medicine interactions, so we stick to sitting on the deck and laps.


Rye is very social and affectionate and likes using everyone as her pillow. Her favorite things are food and trying to get in on whatever her sisters are enjoying! She also loves shoulder rides, hugs, snuggling with her sisters, chasing sparkly pompoms, and figuring out what humans find most annoying to help facilitate getting an early meal or treat.

Once she understood that Fig was going outside, she decided she wanted that more than just about anything else.


Fig is complicated, demanding, talkative, challenging, very active, and maybe the most intelligent cat I have ever met. She has always been very vocal since she was a kitten, but she definitely wasn’t just into making noise for noise’s sake; she has big ideas and complex requests.

Fig loves observing things carefully before deciding to make a move. We can play for hours on end with her stalking toys in obstacle courses I make around the house from boxes, towels, and paper.

She is in love with fabric and loves making it a part of her day-to-day activities, including incorporating it into her play-hunting and wearing clothing. She also gets bored quite easily, so she really needs a lot of enrichment options to keep her going.


3 cat face divider

When and why did you decide to leash train Rye and Fig?

A little over a year ago, I was beginning to recognize how much more time and attention Fig needed to keep her happy and active enough for her energy level. Even though she had never spent more than a single day of her life outside, I felt like going on walks would be great for her.

The house we lived in at the time was in a neighborhood with a very busy street right out front, lots of human and canine foot traffic, and there was nowhere to safely and quietly enjoy the outdoors. I considered a stroller, but as we moved into the pandemic, I was not overly keen on being out in my neighborhood because there were just too many people around who were not interested in wearing masks.

Back in August 2020, our then-landlord decided to sell the house where we (the three cats, myself, and my partner Michael) had lived for 10 years, forcing us to move. It was an extremely stressful transition, but ultimately, we found a place that was perfect for us all.

Moving gave me the chance to consider the space in terms of integrating human and cat comfort in a new way—which, during the pandemic, became extremely important for the sanity of us all. And we now had a fairly private back yard with no foot traffic at all; it’s the perfect place to experiment with the outdoors.

I had tried an old harness I had on Fig long before we moved, and because she already loved being covered in fabric and dressed in clothes to play, it didn’t bother her at all. I would put it on before a play session and she didn’t even seem to notice it unless we stopped playing, even then she wasn’t trying to get out of it.

After we moved, I got her a new harness and leash and took her out into the yard for brief periods while it was still warm. She loved it and wanted to spend more and more time outside. She was crying to go out every chance she got. Stalking birds, insects, and squirrels, lounging in the sun, smelling all the smells, and running after twigs and sticks I throw for her to chase are everyday tasks when she’s outside.

It was so much fun for me, too. Running around, playing with her, and challenging her kept me active and going outdoors when I needed it most. Rye didn’t start going out until later in March 2021. I hesitated to take her out at all because her microchip came out of her very early on after her adoption, and we never ended up going to get it replaced.

Plus, she seemed bent on backing out of a harness, which made me very nervous. She saw Fig and I walking outside one of the windows, and it clicked that we were doing something special, and she wanted to get in on it! She also started crying at the door until I eventually caved. The non-stop snowstorm-on-snowstorm action throughout this winter made it very hard to keep everyone happy, however.


cat + line divider

How did you go about training them? What were some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

When I started trying to get Rye used to a harness indoors before taking her out, she would walk for a bit and then collapse without warning, or she would try to jump and seemingly forget how her back legs worked. Toys were not enough distraction for her to start moving normally.

During her first few times outside in a harness, she would do the same thing she was inside—haphazard and unpredictable movement—plus she wanted to eat every plant in sight. I found she was excited to be outside but got overwhelmed and frustrated when she realized she couldn’t move and act as freely as she wanted to. She finds it comforting to be picked up and carried around and also enjoys sitting in a lap outdoors.

Rye and I are still working on how to navigate the outdoors together. She is much harder to anticipate than her sister, but we are progressing with practice. I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable taking her somewhere other than the backyard but never say never. Because both torties started going outdoors during the pandemic, they have no experience dealing with other humans in an outdoor context.

When it was colder out, Fig would start violently shivering when she saw any human nearby and would take off running to get back inside the house. I have taken her on a few excursions beyond the back yard to local parks. She doesn’t seem bothered by the presence of dogs but is still very wary of humans, especially fast-moving and noisy ones.

We have had a few backyard pandemic-time visitors, and I always encourage her to interact with them, but it has been tough, especially since she picks up on my own anxiety about seeing other people right now, even ones I like!

How often do you take them outside?

Fig wants to go out a LOT, but I try to take her out one to three times a day, depending on my work and the weather. On the weekends we sometimes spend hours at a time outside. I’m hoping the summer is mild enough that we can spend a lot of time outside.

Rye also wants to go out a lot but her stints are much shorter and I try to keep it to once a day because she doesn’t crave quite as much activity. Olive is still extremely new to the outdoors, and I take her out maybe once or twice a week.

cat face divider 2

What are your plans for future adventures?

I really believe in letting the cats guide me in telling me what they want. I don’t know if Rye or Olive need to have any big adventure beyond sitting in the yard. I don’t think every cat wants or needs to go mountain climbing, canoeing, ice skating, or whatever is most Instagrammable.

After spending a year living like an indoor cat, it feels nice to learn how to be in nature alongside them and appreciate all the little things that would go unnoticed if I hadn’t forced myself to slow down to their pace. Taking even two of the three outside at the same time requires more than one human cat-pilot, and our only test of this scenario left us with two torties who were both unimpressed that they had to share the outdoors with their sister.

My excursions with Fig away from the yard have been learning experiences for us both. She doesn’t walk the way one would think of walking a dog, so what I look for in a potential site to visit is not entirely clear-cut. She doesn’t like a lot of open space where she feels exposed; she prefers a narrow path with lots of plants and trees growing around it. Ideally, there would be some fallen trees for her to walk on because they are her favorite kind. She has no interest in vertical trees.

I have a backpack carrier, but she refuses to go in it. Even when she is tired of walking, she would rather I carry her over my shoulder. She is very bonded to me and trusts me to understand what she wants and needs, though she can be extremely stubborn when she wants to do a thing and I tell her she can’t.

While I wish I could do something like take them all camping with me, I think even going with just Fig would be chaotic and stressful for the human and the cat.


Putting the Sleepypod Martingale Harness and Slim Leash to the tortie test

The harnesses have a sturdy construction and have proven to be inescapable. When there is tension on the leash, it doesn’t pull at the neck, even when they bolt and come to the end of the leash abruptly. The mesh is breathable for warm weather and doesn’t weigh them down or hinder mobility. The leash is also very robust but lightweight and narrow, with a clip that isn’t clinking around as they move.

For more information about Sleepypod, please visit


For more information about Laura’s art, please visit her Etsy Shop or website. You can also find Olive and Rye on Facebook, and follow her cats’ account on Instagram.

Featured Image Credit: goldeneden, Shutterstock

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Catster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.