Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Teach a Cat to Walk on the Leash in a City

Taking photos with a tablet PC is harder than it looks. But Pepper does stay still enough most of the time. Once I get the dongle in the mail I should get more photos of her playing and exploring, and some video. Anyhow, onto today's topic!

The first step, one that is easier for dogs, is trust. The cat must trust you enough, they need to understand that when you tell them to do something, or not to do something, it is for their best interest only. This does require a bit of spoiling them, but for most cat friendly humans this is what we do anyway.

To know when they are ready watch for a few behaviors. The first is that they will start to walk with you through the house or apartment, matching your pace and darting ahead less often unless they know where you are going. This is the most prominent behavior to look for, it's a sign that they know you well enough to understand your intentions.

Another behavior is the lap time. When they try to cuddle on your lap at every opportunity they are showing trust, they know they are very safe. Not all cats like laps though, body heat can make them feel too hot or they just can't get comfortable. Instead they will often lay right up against you if there is room, the contact is the real sign to look for.

There are many other behaviors that are less common, some very rare, you will have to know your cat well to spot them so I will not cover them here. Once these behaviors become so regular that you expect them, your cat is ready for the lessons.

The trick is not to train them, but to teach. As with all animals, you must be patient and allow them to move at their own pace. Never punish, but reward good behavior. For cats the ignoring technique is pretty effective at getting them to learn a particular behavior is bad. I will detail this technique a bit more in another blog as it is not useful here.

So, you put the harness on them, you can be firm but always be gentle, if they squirm too much then set the harness out so they can look at it and wait for another day. Laying the harness in the open and encouraging them to sniff, even play with, it will help them figure out that it's harmless. Once the harness is on them, they will most likely resent it at first.

This is typical, just watch closely and make sure they don't hurt themselves trying to get it off. Perseverance is your best friend here. You may need to repeat this many times, leaving it on them for short times until they finally stop panicking. Not all cats will do this though, many just get angry at you for putting it on them.

The anger response is easier to overcome, but takes a but longer. They think it's a trap or cage of some sort, so you have to let them be angry for a while until they realize they are not bound by the harness itself. Once they get use to it they will begin to act like it's not even there, though they may still squirm a little when you put it on.

The harness is the hardest part, if they are not use to it, the harness will make them uncomfortable for a long time. On the bright side, once they get their first trip outside they forget all about it.

So onto the leash part, this is easiest for calm cats. For playful cats they will try to play with the leash once it's attached. Let them. Attach the leash while inside, let go of the handle and allow the cat to claw and play with the leash. You have to watch them closely when this is happening or they could catch it on something and get hurt.

Caution is all you need for the playful cat to get bored. The calm cat will, worst case, get angry for a short time and likely not walk right away. This is okay, because your first few minutes outside you want to carry them only a few feet away and reassure them with lots of pets. The playful one will most likely be ready when the door opens.

For the cautiously curious, or angry cat, carrying them until they calm down will do wonders. This is one of the reasons they have to trust that you will protect them. If you feel they are not yet ready, take them back inside and remove the leash, then try again another day. Treats are important at this stage, make sure you have them ready for key events, like when you remove the leash after returning home.

So now your cat is outside, on the leash, probably looking at you and wondering what's next. Start walking, but don't force them. If they choose to go somewhere that's safe, let them lead. The only time you should take command for now is when you need to protect them. They have to know that the leash is freedom, not a cage, or they will never want to go for more walks.

Try to talk to them a lot, using the same words and tones for certain events and actions will help them better understand your needs and wishes. This sounds like common sense to cat friends, but it is easy to get shy when in public. Don't worry, everyone talks to other animals all the time, and everyone talks to themselves more often than that.

Never yank, pull, or drag. If you must, pick them up. They may dig their claws into you, but that's something we accept when we decide to include a feline companion into our lives. You should be use to the claws by now anyway. If there is a strange animal and your cat or the other animal seems nervous, pick them up right away, do not wait for the reaction because if they pull the leash tight too quickly it can still hurt them, and they will no longer want to go on walks.

Some words of advice on all walks. Do not allow them to get into any trash, try to call them away from it, or stand fast and not allow them close enough. If they choose to walk away from it after that, give them a treat. If they don't walk away from it when they can't get closer, pick them up and carry them away but offer no treat. They will eventually figure out that it's for their own safety.

If they can't bury their feces, like dog walkers, you do have to clean it up. So bring small plastic baggies just in case. Sandwich bags work well in a pinch. Reward them after they do go to the bathroom, it seems odd but it will reduce any stress they may feel about doing it someplace unfamiliar so they will be more likely to warn you instead of waiting until they can't hold it.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. This is particularly important in places with lots of people. Other people may not be watching their step, and if they step on your cat it cab do serious damage to them. Try to avoid large crowds, or carry your cat through them. It is also good to avoid construction sites as much as possible, the machines will always hurt their senses, even as far away as a full city block. Carry them in parking garages or areas where cars can drive until they understand the walking zones and crossing lights well enough to avoid the cars without nudging.

Just remember, the leash is not for you, it's so your feline friend has a chance to see, hear, and smell new things. So allow them to explore when it's possible and safe, taking them to parks is a better idea. But walking them to and from the park will also help them better understand the leash and harness' purpose. If a park with grass is nearby, they love grass, bring a toy too and they will wear themselves, and you, out.

I hope this helps some people who have considered this for their feline friends. Remember, they are your best friends for life if you treat them well.

No comments:

Post a Comment