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7 Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat

Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat

Taking your cat for a walk would have earned you many strange looks a few years ago. Today, more and more people are taking their feline friends on walks, hikes, and other outdoor adventures! Harness training your cat will keep your kitty safe while allowing it to enjoy the great outdoors.

The 7 simple steps to harness-train your cat include:

  1. Choose the correct style and size harness
  2. Start indoors
  3. Reward often
  4. Transition outdoors in a safe place and start small
  5. Learn their fears
  6. Train them to listen
  7. Always have an escape plan

Below, we’ll review how to harness train your cat and how to make sure they stay safe while outside the house.

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Should You Harness Train Your Cat?

There’s a lot of talk out there that cats are safer and healthier if left indoors. According to the University of California Davis, indoor cats live an average of 10-15 years, while outdoor cats survive just 2-5 years.

One thing to take away from this is that taking your cat outside for a walk is different from having an outdoor cat. You are there to supervise your feline friend in case anything happens, which keeps your kitty safe.

Another myth out there is that you can’t harness-train an older cat. 

Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat G the furbag cat

I know from personal experience that this is also false. I started training my cats to use a harness when they were eight years old, and they both did great! That being said, training your cat from a kitten IS easier.

Training your cats on a harness is an excellent idea if you want to give them a taste of the outdoors or if you plan to travel with them. By the way, if you plan to hike with your dog as well, you can read about what to bring on a hike with your dog here!

How Long Does It Take To Harness Train A Cat?

It will take some time to harness-train your cat. It certainly won’t happen overnight! Plan on spending 3-6 months to really get your kitty trained safely on a harness.

With that in mind, every cat is different. Some breeds are more adaptable to an adventurous lifestyle, such as Maine Coons, Bengals, and the Turkish Van cat. However, any cat breed can be harness trained with enough time and patience!

7 Easy Steps To Harness Train Your Cat

Cats were once viewed as standoff-ish roommates that didn’t show affection like dogs. This myth has quickly been debunked by all the cat lovers out there who have a close relationship with their feline pals.

According to an article in the Journal of Animals, owners view their relationship with their cat as better than that with their dog. However, dogs come out as the winner when it comes to emotional closeness.

Another study from the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science asked 157 participants to answer a questionnaire, with almost all describing their cat as a family member, not a simple pet.

The point is, we love our cats! Understandably, we want to take them everywhere with us, including on walks, hikes, and other outdoor activities. Harness training should be your first step to go on adventures with your cat safely.

1. Choose The Right Harness

Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat

Just like dogs, cats come in all shapes and sizes. One type of harness is not going to fit every cat. So, the first step in your harness-training journey is choosing the right style and fit.

While harness shopping for your kitty, take into consideration the following:

  • Type of closure: Harnesses are usually either velcro or a clip. Some cats will fear the velcro sound, but you know your cat better than anyone! Think about what your cat will be most comfortable with.
  • Adjustability: I recommend buying an adjustable cat harness. This way, you know it will be tight enough that your cat can’t easily slip out.
  • Measure your cat: It’s super important to get the correct-sized harness. Take the time to measure your cat’s neck and chest to ensure you get the right size.
  • Leash attachment placement: Look for a harness with the leash attachment in the back. This makes it more difficult for the cat to slip out of the harness if they start to back up.
  • Harness style: The best harness for cats are ones where the harness places pressure on their shoulders and chest instead of their neck. This is the safest placement in case your cat tries to bolt.

Getting a snug harness on your cat might take a few tries. You may even purchase a harness for a small dog if you have a large cat. Ruffwear’s Front Range Dog Harness comes in an XXsmall, which fits a 13-17 inch chest measurement. 

You should only be able to squeeze two fingers between the cat harness and your cat’s body – that’s when you know it’s nice and secure!

2. Start Training Indoors

The Dirtbag walks his furbags, one a cat the other a three legged dong

Most cats will not like putting on a harness at first. It’s something new and constricting, and we all know how temperamental cats can be. That’s why it’s best to start harness training your cat indoors.

Your kitty is already comfortable inside your home. They will feel safer trying something new inside the house instead of being placed outdoors with a harness on.

Start by placing the harness on your cat. Start slow, and take your time. If you got a leash with your harness, leave it off for the first few weeks and simply allow your cat to walk around the house with the harness on.

The first time you put on your cat’s harness indoors, you should only leave it on for around ten minutes. Slowly build up until your kitty feels comfortable walking around with it on for more and more time. Eventually, you can add the leash to get them used to the extra weight.

For leashes, you want something light and strong. Ruffwear’s Hi & Light Lightweight Dog Leash is a great option. It’s 4.5 feet long, a good length for a cat leash. It’s also super light, which avoids weighing down your cat.

3. Reward Often

The last thing you want to do is get frustrated with your cat. If your cat progresses slower than anticipated, try not to get aggravated or impatient. Instead, reward your cat for every tiny paw step forward.

Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat Luna the Furbag cat

Rewards don’t always mean treats, but it’s a plus if your cat is food-motivated! Reward your cat with their favorite treat when you put the harness on. In the first few days, reward them for taking their first steps. Give them a big reward for jumping or playing with the harness on.

If your cat is not food motivated, don’t worry. There are other ways to reward your cat! Think about something they love. Do they have a favorite toy? Do they like it when you scratch behind their ears or talk to them? Whatever your cat loves, use that as a reward when training!

4. Start Small When Transitioning Outdoors

A woman walks her furbag cat named G in Goose Creek State Park North Carolina

When your cat is comfortable walking around the house in its harness, it’s time to slowly transition outdoors. If your cat has never been outdoors, this can overwhelm them for the first few times. That’s okay! That’s why we start small.

Begin by taking your cat just outside the door. If you have a porch, this is the perfect place to start. Otherwise, a backyard is an excellent place. Find somewhere quiet and fenced off. The less stimulation, the better. You want to get your cat used to the outdoors.

These first steps are the best time to start leash training. If your cat goes in a direction you don’t want them to go, firmly hold the lead so it cannot go that way, but do not pull on it. Instead, let your cat decide to go in the way you want them to, and then give them a big reward.

Always be careful with your cat around trees – they naturally want to climb them but may get stuck because of the leash.

After spending a little time outdoors, bring your cat back inside and reward them. Giving them a treat or showering them with affection will help your cat associate going outside with a harness as a positive experience.

5. Learn Their Fears

Most cats have a fear of one thing or another – cars, the sound of an engine, people, dogs, and high winds. 

Whatever your cat’s fears are, it’s best to learn them soon. This way, you will know when your cat will most likely try to bolt or get out of their harness.

A cat laying down near the pond after taking a hike with the humans.

Depending on the temperament of your cat, you can pick them up and hold them if something fearful comes near. Other cats will not let you hold them. In this case, it’s best to learn how to control your cat by holding its scruff or using the harness to hold them steady.

Some Harnesses will come with a strap at the top to pick the cat up. Others are minimalist designs but can still be grabbed from the top. Another option is to place your cat in a cat backpack when something fearful comes near. 

6. Train Your Cat To Listen To You

This step will only come with time. Once your cat gets comfortable with being outside on a harness and leash, you can train them to listen to you and come when called.

While walking your cat outside, it will start associating the freedom of outside with walking next to you. Once this gets ingrained in their brains, they will learn always to walk next to you when being outside. 

Simple Steps To Harness Train Your Cat

You can test this theory by walking away from your cat while outside and seeing if they follow you without you needing to use the leash. Once this happens, you can begin training your cat with commands. Yes, you can train your cat with commands just like a dog!

You can use whatever words you like, but stay consistent with the commands. Food-motivated cats will be easier to train, but showering them with affection is just as rewarding for some cats.

7. Always Have An Escape Plan

After your kitty is trained and comfortable on their harness in your yard, it’s time to start exploring the great outdoors with your feline friend. 

While your yard is a somewhat controlled environment, the outdoors is not. It’s always good to have an escape plan in case of emergencies.

For example, if you’re in a park that requires dogs to be on a leash, there may be an instance where someone doesn’t follow the rules and a dog is loose on the trail. What if your cat’s main fear is dogs?

Be prepared to have an escape plan with your cat. Here are a few suggestions for emergencies:

  • Off-leash dogs: Carry a backpack that you can place your cat in. Carry a towel to burrito your cat in to hold them without getting shredded.
  • People: If your cat fears other people, take your cat off the trail when people approach. Hold them so that they are facing away from the approaching hikers. 
  • Wild animals: If you encounter a wild animal, do not let your cat approach the animal. Keep them on the leash until the animal passes, or else place your cat in a backpack if the animal may be dangerous such as a coyote or bear.
  • Loud noises: Most hikes are peaceful, but some trails can bring you close to the road or be within earshot of hunting grounds. Always be aware of your surroundings and prepare for any unexpected noises. Never let go of your cat’s leash in case they hear a sudden loud noise and try to bolt.

Training your cat to be close to you on walks will help avoid situations where the cat bolts and continues running. If properly trained, the cat will try to get away from what scares them but still stay close to you.

A furbag sleeps on a hiking chair after a long hike!

That’s All For Now!

Move over dogs! Cats are entering the outdoor adventure scene! If you would enjoy taking your cat outside in your yard or on a hike, harness training is a way to keep them safe and secure while still appreciating the outdoors.

To recap, the 7 simple steps to harness-train your cat(s) are:

  1. Choose the correct style and size harness
  2. Start indoors
  3. Reward often
  4. Transition outdoors in a safe place and start small
  5. Learn their fears
  6. Train them to listen
  7. Always have an escape plan

It’s a little more complex than bringing your dog for a walk, but with a bit of time and patience, you and your feline friend will explore the world together, one paw step at a time!

Want to learn more about hiking with your furbags? Follow us on our hiking blog. Also let us know if you have any tips to harness training your cat. We would like to make it normal to walk your furbags on the trails!


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