Training Your Kitten to Wear a Collar

If you want your kitten to wear a collar or a harness (if you want it to walk on a leash), it's best to start early. Choose a soft collar or harness with no pieces that the kitten can get itself tangled up in or in which it might tangle up its claws. Fit the collar properly. Leave it on for only a little while and don't leave the kitten unattended with it on. Distract it with play or food so that it almost doesn't notice it has the collar on. If it gets distressed it may almost turn itself inside out trying to get it off, so don't let it get frantic.

A few seconds may be enough at the beginning. Remember about latent learning and try again later - if the first time wasn't too bad it will react less next time... and so on. Gradually extend the period that the collar or harness is worn in the house, taking your cues from the kitten. You want the end result to be complete relaxation while wearing it. This may take some time to achieve.

Use a harness if you want to train the kitten to walk on a leash - the harness won't pull on its neck and, if the cat does panic, it won't strangle itself. Get it used to the harness in the same way as the collar. Once it has become used to the harness you can think about attaching the leash. Exercising a dog is not the same as walking a cat on a harness. With a dog you control where it goes; usually with a cat on a harness you follow the cat. I have seen people walking cats on leashes in some very public places such as parks, and the cats do seem to be going the same way as the person and not the other way around. So it is possible - though I suspect it takes quite an exceptional cat and some patient training. For most of us, just being able to give an indoor cat a stretch outside in the fresh air in safety is probably enough.

Remember, when a cat feels threatened, its automatic response is not to turn and fight but to get itself away from the situation as quickly as possible and without harm. If it is suddenly stopped from running, it may well panic and become very frightened. It needs to learn to accept the feeling of restraint and not to panic about it.

Getting your kitten used to being restricted must be done very carefully. Attach a lightweight piece of string or cord to the harness so that the kitten can get used to having something there. Hold the end gently and allow your kitten to walk a little - the best way is to tempt it with some food in your other hand. If the kitten moves away, follow it calmly. Never let the cord pull on the kitten - if it makes a sudden dash and you are not quick enough to follow, drop the cord. Don't let the kitten play with the other end. The kitten may wind it up, pull on the harness, and frighten itself as it becomes restricted.

Once the kitten is happy with the cord and you following, try attaching a lightweight leash - this will be heavier and will have a different feel on the harness. Again, short sessions aided by praise and reward for the kitten's relaxed demeanor are what you are looking for. Once you feel you have accomplished this you can think about going outside. Of course, you are not doing this with a very young kitten, so by the time you are ready for harness work outside your kitten will have been fully vaccinated.

Choose a quiet time and venture only into the yard. Ensure that the dog walker with the noisy terrier that lunges at everything as it passes has had its walk, and that next door's pushy tomcat is not hiding under the bush near the door. You want to avoid anything that will give the kitten a shock and make it want to run off. Going outside will be exciting enough. Again, short excursions every now and then will do the trick.

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