As creatures of habit, cats dislike change. Something as simple as moving their litter box can cause them to get anxious and start acting out. Now imagine how having to wear a harness feels, let alone being pushed to walk attached to a leash. Most cats would freak out or, at the very least, refuse to move.
This doesn’t mean you can’t train a cat to walk on a harness because you certainly can, and it’s worth a try! Harness training is a wonderful way to give your cat more freedom to explore the outside world.
But before the adventures can start, you need to invest time in helping your cat get used to wearing one. Keep reading for nine easy tips to do just that!
Our 9 Tips for Getting Your Cat Used to a Harness
1. Introduce the Harness Slowly
And we mean slowly. Start by placing the harness near their favorite sleeping or play area, allowing them to explore and become familiar with it over a few days. This helps transform the harness from a foreign object to a familiar and non-threatening item in their environment.
For example, if your cat loves sleeping in a specific corner or has a favorite toy, place the harness near these locations. Over time, you might find your cat sniffing or even playing with the harness, which indicates their curiosity and growing acceptance.
2. Reward and Praise
Positive reinforcement is key when helping your cat associate the harness with good things. Whenever they approach or investigate the harness, offer them treats and verbal praise.
Gradually increase the level of interaction with the harness, such as touching it to your cat’s body or draping it over their back. Shower them with attention and yummy morsels every single time. It won’t be long before they think harness = awesome.
3. Practice Putting on the Harness
For this part, choose a quiet spot to keep your cat relaxed and comfortable. This is exactly the mindset you want, so they don’t fight the harness as you’re putting it on.
Sit with them and let them sniff the harness again. Then slowly put the harness on, continuously praising and offering treats throughout the process. Remove the harness after a few seconds and repeat this exercise over several days to build positive associations with the harness.
4. Keep Sessions Short
Avoid overwhelming your cat with lengthy harness training sessions. Begin with just a few minutes per day and gradually increase the duration as they become more at ease with the harness.
Always end training sessions on a positive note, whether it’s with a treat, pets, or a play session, to maintain your cat’s interest and motivation.
5. Let Them Wear the Harness Indoors
Once your cat tolerates the harness, have them wear it around the house for short periods.
Encourage your cat to engage in normal activities like playing, eating, and sleeping with the harness on to further strengthen positive associations. The goal is to render the harness “invisible”, a normal part of their routine.
6. Attach the Leash
When your cat is comfortable wearing the harness indoors, start attaching the leash. Avoid pulling or tugging—let them explore and move around with the leash dragging behind them. This helps them get used to the extra weight and length of the leash.
Only put on the leash for a few minutes at a time, with several practice sessions throughout the day. Stay in this stage for about a week.
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7. Practice Gentle Leash Control
Once your cat is comfortable wearing both the harness and the leash, you can begin guiding them around the house. Hold the leash gently, avoiding any dragging or forcing them in any direction.
Instead, use treats to encourage your cat to move with you, helping them understand the concept of following your lead.
8. Transition to the Outdoors
Begin taking your cat outside by starting in a quiet, enclosed outdoor space such as a backyard or balcony. Hold the leash and let your cat explore at their own pace, offering treats and praise to make the experience enjoyable.
9. Gradually Increase Exposure
Over time, slowly introduce your cat to busier outdoor environments. Stay close to them and keep initial outings short. Be patient and attentive to their needs, monitoring their body language and reactions. If they seem scared or stressed, return inside and try again another day.
Again, don’t force them to stay on the leash longer than they like. Doing so can undo all your hard work! Let your cat dictate the pace, and respect their limits.
How to Pick the Right Harness for Your Cat
Don’t have a harness yet, or your current one doesn’t fit well? Follow these steps to pick out the perfect one:
Measure Your Cat
An ill-fitting harness isn’t just uncomfortable for your cat. It can also be dangerous because if it’s too loose, they may be able to escape the harness. If it’s too tight, it can irritate their skin or even cause injuries.
Don’t trust your best guess here! Get a tape measure for accuracy! Wrap it around your cat’s neck and chest, then note down the measurements. Be sure to measure snugly but not too tightly.
Pick the Harness Type
There are different types of harnesses you can buy: vest, H-style, and figure-eight. Your choice will depend on what you plan to do with your cat.
For instance, if your cat is an escape artist, an H-style harness with a figure-eight design will prevent them from slipping out. If you’re planning to take your cat for long walks or a hike, a vest harness with a padded chest plate can provide extra support and comfort.
Think About the Material
The harness material will impact your cat’s comfort and safety. As an example, nylon and mesh are light and breathable, but leather is more durable.
Look for Safety Features
The more safety features your cat’s harness has, the better. Look for things like reflective material or bright colors that will make your cat more visible to drivers and pedestrians, especially at night.
A harness with a sturdy D-ring or buckle will prevent your cat from breaking free or escaping while on walks. Velcro straps will make it easier to take it on and off your cat, especially if yours is fussy.
Getting your cat used to wearing a harness takes patience and work, but the results are so worth it! Imagine being able to take your buddy on hikes, on a walk along the neighborhood, or to the corner cafe so you two can relax outside. It can literally expand your cat’s world.
Before you start training them, however, be careful about picking their harness. You want it to be comfy, secure, and packed with safety features. Don’t forget to buy tons of cat treats while you’re shopping for their harness. You’re going to need it!
Featured Image Credit: Sari ONeal, Shutterstock
- Our 9 Tips for Getting Your Cat Used to a Harness
- 1. Introduce the Harness Slowly
- 2. Reward and Praise
- 3. Practice Putting on the Harness
- 4. Keep Sessions Short
- 5. Let Them Wear the Harness Indoors
- 6. Attach the Leash
- 7. Practice Gentle Leash Control
- 8. Transition to the Outdoors
- 9. Gradually Increase Exposure
- How to Pick the Right Harness for Your Cat