Harness training cats to be ready to go on adventures can be an adventure all by itself! Some take to a harness and leash easily, while others have all kinds of complaints, or even collapse to the floor like a wet noddle and refuse to move. If your cat is in the first category – Congratulations – you are ready to take the next steps (indoor adventure with toys or treats) and can skip the rest of this article!!
If, however, you’re looking cross-eyed at the other end of the spectrum, or more likely hovering somewhere in between, there’s still LOTS you can do to help your cat get over its fears and get outdoors for some sunshine and good health. It’s really a matter of breaking down the harness training (and then leash training) into smaller steps that they can become comfortable with a little at a time, rather than doing too much at once and setting off their catly ‘No way, no how!’ instincts.
Cats are very much creatures of habit and are also super territorial about objects that they regularly see in their environment. Take advantage of that! A harness or leash that is recognized as part of your sweetheart’s territory is much more acceptable than one that only comes out of the drawer a minute before it’s dropped over their head for the first time. This post contains affililate links. I get commissions for purchases made through the links in this post, which helps to support the blog.
First Harness Training Steps
After trying (and rejecting) an entire pile of different harness styles, over many months, I finally settled on the Gooby Choke-Free X Harness. Choosing the right harness for your cat is a very personal question - every cat's needs are different. I hope to get a post written soon to cover that topic better, but in the mean time suffice it to say that this harness has stayed on both of my squirmy cats in every circumstance that I've thrown at them over the past year, and I never worry about crushing their fragile throats. And that said - on to the training...
The very first step that I took when I began seriously training Haku to go outside was to leave his new harness next to his food dish. This was only six months ago (he’s come a LONG way since then), and he was a little over 2 years old at the time. He was worried about it at first, so I had it about a foot away, then slowly moved it closer over about three days until it was actually touching his food dish while he was eating.
Next, I started feeding Haku his favorite treats while I held the harness close to his head. By the time a few more days had passed doing this, I had the harness draping over his back or head or tail while he gobbled down even more treats. (Do you see a bit of a food pattern here? You would be SO right… The easiest way to Haku’s heart is definitely through his stomach!)
Putting on the Harness
The next step after that was a little trickier – I would stick my fingers (with the treat!) through the neck hole in the harness, so that he had to eat the treat while pushing his head a little way into the harness. That one took some patience, on his part as well as mine since I was ridiculously clumsy with it. But, eventually he passed that step with flying colors too. It was finally time to put the harness on!
For now, keep in mind that a great way to start is to have your cat backed up to you (furry bum touching you, head facing away). Keep your hands away from the nose and eyes – the sides of their face are definitely less problem-triggering when you slip the harness over that somewhat reluctant head. And when the harness is buckled or velcro-ed behind the front legs, make sure that you can slip two fingers under it, but NOT more. Otherwise you risk having a Houdini-minded cat slip out of its harness at absolutely the most inconvenient moment possible.
And then – INDOOR adventure! Really – give your cat several days of wearing the harness off and on before you try going outside. Same thing goes for the leash. Remember, familiarity breeds comfort in cats. The Great Outdoors is likely to be scary already the first few times that you go out, so having your kitty familiar with what she or he is wearing is the first step to having ameowzing adventures that will keep your best friend fit and happy.
Harness Training Summed Up:
Make that new harness part of your cat’s list of possessions. Placing it next to the food dish is a great place to start.
Give treats (LOTS of treats!) to your cat while draping the harness all over them. Do this treat/harness introduction in as many different locations around your house as you can manage. The idea is to make that harness completely harmless and commonplace in your cat’s otherwise ornery mind.
Make sure your cat partner’s back is facing you when you put the harness on – it keeps them from backing away from the harness, and helps them to feel more secure at the same time. Make sure that the adjustment behind the front legs has about two fingers-worth of space between it and the cat.
Hold on to your impatience and give your cat a few more days of getting used to wearing the harness/ attaching the leash before you head out for your first adventure.
Be patient – and have lots of fun!
Have any questions? Feel free to ask, and I’ll do my best to help😊
🐾💖🐾 We're so glad to see you here! Haku and ShiShi love sharing snippets of their lives with you on Instagram, but this is where you can find the real shenanigans! (And all the training that happens 'Behind the Scenes') ~ Love ShiShi, Haku and Mira💖