If you think that you have the ultimate bond with your cat, you haven't really tested it until you've taught them to walk with you on a leash. This is an unnatural thing for your cat to do, and you'll both need to be trained. If you think that you and your cat are up to the challenge, here's the information you need to get started.
Walking a Dog Versus a Cat
Dogs will put up with hours of training for a few treats and a pat on the head. They easily learn to stay by your side while walking on a leash, and can even learn to resist their instincts, such as running after a squirrel. Your cat may look at the leash and harness and then look at you as if asking, "Just what do you think you're going to do with that?" The key to training a cat is to make them think that it's their idea.
It's Important to Be Safe
Make sure that your cat is up-to-date on their vaccinations, and visit a vet's office, such as Armory Dog & Cat Hospital, for booster shots if your cat's are out of date. If the cat should happen to get away from you outside, even casual contact with another cat that has an illness can be hazardous to your cat.
You'll need a harness for your cat because they can easily get out of a collar. When your vet stops laughing when you tell them what you're trying to do, ask them to help fit your cat with a harness. Make sure you understand how to put the harness on properly so your cat can't slip out of it and it is comfortable for your cat. Buy a leash that doesn't look too much like a cat string toy and you're ready to go to work.
Training Your Cat
You train a cat by making small, incremental progress with whatever the task is at hand. Remember this rule: small step, praise, praise, praise, treat. This reinforces to the cat that what they just did was a good thing. Don't expect too much, but praise your cat for even the smallest step.
Another rule is that when your cat has lost interest, you're done for the day. It's unlikely you'll get their attention back for the same task for awhile. This is why you should plan on several weeks of training before you take that first walk in the neighborhood with your cat on a leash.
Your Training Program
Make sure your cat is comfortable with each of the following steps before moving onto the next:
1. Getting accustomed to having the harness put on and taken off.
2. Coming to you while wearing the harness.
3. Following you through the house with the harness on.
4. Walking through the house with the leash attached to the harness.
5. Walking through the house with you lightly holding the leash.
6. Responding to your guidance on the leash while walking through the house.
The next step is to go outside. Do not attempt this until your cat is comfortable with each of these actions, and does them without resistance.
Take your cat into your backyard, and practice leading them around. While they may be comfortable with all of the steps they've learned, being outdoors tests their instincts to explore and react to noises, wildlife and other people. If you see signs of stress in your cat, pick them up, praise them and take them inside. Try again the next day.
Continue this until you can walk together in the backyard without the cat pulling at the leash and without them getting fussy when you pull them back from something. When you both are comfortable walking together in the backyard, it's time for the next step: a walk in the park.
A World of Distractions
This is the ultimate test because your cat will be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment full of strange noises and smells. Find the most quiet place in the park to practice. It will be helpful to bring your cat in their carrier to the park. Sit the carrier on the ground, and begin walking in small circles around the carrier with your cat. If your cat becomes stressed, bring them back to the carrier for a break. If they calm down, try walking with them again. If they stay stressed, quit for the day and try again tomorrow.
If you're willing to have the patience of a monk, and an endless supply of treats and praise, you can teach your feline companion the joys of walking with you on a leash outside. Be prepared to get stared at by people not expecting to see someone walking their cat on a leash. Just smile back as if it was no problem at all. They don't need to know the truth!