How to Harness Train Your Cat
Mommy's Clingy Girl
Before we moved to our current home, the male cats, Underfoot and Peter were allowed outside on the back porch with my husband. They never tried to wander, both too old do do much then just enjoy the breeze and come back in when called.
I hate to do the my children/his children thing with our pets, but litter mates, Underfoot and Peter have known my husband since they were adopted at about three months.
Our little girl, Alessa on the other hand is MY cat. Mommy's girl that follows me relentlessly around the house since she was brought home from my husband's work as an abandoned kitten that barely had her eyes and ears open. Maybe it is because she was so young when she was adopted that she took to me as her human. Don't get me wrong that she doesn't also dote attention on my husband- but she knows she's my cat; which leads to problems when Mommy has to go work, or any errand that doesn't allow for furry tag-a-longs.
Nearly two years old, Alessa still acts out when I leave. Some of it post kittenhood energy built up, she can run laps playing with her toys all over the house until she gets bored and starts shredding toilet paper,throwing all the bedding on the floor, and scratching up the side of the couches, and pulling up the corners of the carpets.
When I lock the door behind me, she's instantly in the window, mewling and panicked. She knows that I will always come back, but it is painful to see my pet so upset.
After nearly two years of my cat's anxiety every time I leave her, I decided it was time to start harness training so I could expand her territory and let her see more of the world outside, and take her with me when I could.
Finding The Right Harness
Cats must be on harness and not a collar as they could easily get out of a collar or climb, jump, or get stuck and harm themselves as connected at the neck. Also having a harness, allows more control over the cat.
There are several styles of harnesses, so how to find the right style for your cat could be a little confusing.
Take into consideration the following:
The size and weight of your cat. Harness packages do consider the length and width of the body, but I tried to find one that spoke of average weights for the sizing.
Is this for a kitten or an adult cat?
Types of harness. Vest style or straps?
Strap style harnesses slip over the head or clip like a collar and then have a second strap that connects around the hind end of the cat. The leash that can either be connected to a D loop between the shoulder blades or at the neck. This is similar to most walking harness styles for dogs. A slider allows for the the straps to be tightened or loosened.
Some of these styles also have a mesh front like the model worn by Alessa, below where they are padded more to help distribute the pressure around a neck and body.
Vest style of harnesses are more similar to the type of coats worn by small dogs that are attached by Velcro underneath the cat and around the neck with a D ring that also secures the leash.
Consider what activity you want to engage in with your cat once they are used to their harness? Are they just being taken along for car rides or visits, or will they be walking and enjoying outdoor activities?
Ensuring A Perfect FIt
I decided upon the style of a mesh front harness with the straps as a good training harness for Alessa, as she is on the small side at only five pounds, but shes's very feisty so I worried that a vest style might be too big for her squirming body and she could slip out.
My husband held her while I slipped the mesh front over her head, and secured the straps around her hind end and moved around the slider to make sure she was secured in.
According the packaging and online research, just as a collar, one finger should fit between your pet's neck but be snug enough that they can't slip their head out. From the other straps follow the same step adjusting the slider so that one finger can fit between your pet's body and the harness.
Ensure that a finger can fit between the neck and the strap or vest so they are not too tight around the body.
Getting Your Cat Used To Their New Harness
Alessa doesn't do well with Halloween costumes, but she wears her collar with no fuss, so I thought coupled with her small size, the mesh front harness with the straps would work better for her than the walking vest.
Once we ensured a proper fit, I set her down watching her roll over and wriggle and she puffed up- clearly upset with me. She stared at me with her wide amber eyes and a pleading look as if to say "Mommy, there is something on me....Mommy is this because I ate the toilet paper when you went to grandmas? Is this because I threw your toothbrush in the toilet when you went to work Thursday?"
Alessa got done wriggling after awhile and started rubbing on everything. My husband says we should let her wear it a few days to get her used to it. This was similar to when we put a harness on our former Shepard Mix, Danny for the first time.
After about a day in her harness, Alessa wasn't reacting anymore to her harness except for occasionally remembering she is wearing it and started squirming and rubbing again.
I think she was almost ready to try walking on her leash.
Walking A Cat
Cats are usually treat motivated, Alessa is my sweet problem child and won't take the bait knowing that if I'm trying to get her to do something with a treat, it is problem something she doesn't want to do. Working with cats is all about doing things on their time.
Because she follows me around the house to begin with, I got Alessa used to walking around in her harness calling her room to room and prodding her along with throwing her favorite toys as if to illustrate the wearing of the harness has nothing to do with her movement.
Waving a cat nip mouse just out of her reach she would follow me. Then I tried with her laser pointer and was still getting the same result.
It was time to add the leash but I was afraid to take her outside in the case she either freaked out or got loose.
Steps online vary depending on now finicky your cat is, if they will be frightened by outside noises and freeze up or try to run. Try coaxing your pet along with rewards like small treats.
If your cat will walk outside, take care to not let them eat anything outside as grass may be chemically treated or other animals that have not been vaccinated may have been in the area.
We still haven't made it to the walking step.
With the leash attached, Mommy's clingy girl has realized that she can now follow me out the front door. Once outside though, she will freeze up but allows me to carry her around instead.
In the first few days of training, she has made the association with she can be carried around by me if she wears her harness and let's me put the leash on her.
Progress is different for all cats and as she is almost two instead of starting as a kitten, I'm happy with how well Alessa is doing.
I hope by summer I can get her to actually walk for me, but if it does not but allows me to carry her around- I'm OK with that. I just want her to understand that me leaving the house isn't scary as she can also leave the house with me now.