First, we need to get one thing straight. Dog walking and cat walking are as different as dogs and cats. Dog walking is generally more aerobic while cat walking tends to be more meditative. Cats need to scope out their environment before they feel safe. Over time, your cat will spend less time assessing the situation and more time walking as they begin to habituate on many of the things that initially cause them to hesitate. While some will end up walking like a dog, the majority will still want to pause from time to time and take things in. Let them. And at the same time, do the same.
Cat walking can and should be enjoyable for both you and your cat. It really is about the journey and not the destination. If you find yourself in a hurry and trying to squeeze in a quick four-block walk before moving on to other tasks, you’re doing it wrong.
One of the many fallacies you’ll read about walking cats is that you need to go where the cat wants to go. The cat leads. I believe this fallacy is based on the simple fact that there’s a small subset of cats that take to walking on leash fairly quickly, and these cats make up the vast majority of leash-trained cats. Because they’re not so much trained as born that way, they never get the directed focus that trained cats get. As soon as your cat gets up the nerve to take its first few steps, it’s time to train it to follow. So what does that look like? As long as the cat is staying the course and moving in the same direction as you, you’re leading. When it’s time to turn a corner, turn the corner. At first your cat will balk and pull against the leash. Stop. Take a breath and wait it out. If, after a minute or two, your cat still refuses to budge, pick it up, carry it a few feet, and set it back down. If it tries to turn back in the previous direction, hold your ground. Pick it up again, move a few steps further, and set it down again. After a few times, your cat will get it and realize that it doesn’t pay to fight. After all, there are more things to explore. Over time your cat will not only follow your lead but come to expect it. So what do you do if you’re walking down a path and your cat spots a butterfly that’s off the beaten path? Change your direction so the cat can go after the prey (don’t worry, they rarely catch them). It’s important that you don’t let your cat lead you in these situations; anticipate these distractions and change your course before your cat begins to pull on its leash.
Remain in control of the walking at all times.=
Training a cat to walk on leash takes time. In most cases, quite a bit of time. Be patient. Be loving. And be prepared to change your cat’s life forever.
So why train a cat to walk on leash? While you probably gleaned much of it from the lengthy introduction, the reasons bare repeating.
Cat Walking Aids in Bonding With Your Cat
You and your cat likely get along famously. Part of the magic of sharing your home with a cat (you don’t really think you own your cat, do you? If so, we should talk) is that like the best human relationships, trust builds. And with that trust, love. Cats don’t give you their love; you earn it. And the more you earn, the more mistakes your cat will tolerate.
Training your cat to walk on leash takes a lot of time, a lot of love, and a lot of positive affirmations and treats. All the cuddles in the world can’t compare to the first time your cat chases a lizard while out on a walk with you. Cat walking is bonding on steroids.
It’s important to enrich your cat’s environment by adding a variety of toys and puzzles. But no toy or game can come close to the stimulation of making one’s way through the world or come close to emulating the smells and sights and sounds of nature. Part of that mental stimulation results in the conquering of certain fears. Remember, none of this stuff comes quickly, but it does come, and you’ll watch your cat become a happier, well-adjusted cat.
OK, this goes without saying. At the beginning of this article, I made a distinction between dog walking and cat walking. That’s not to say you can’t get a decent walk in, because you can, but it may be a little slower, and more time may be required to stop and smell the roses. If your cat appears to have gotten stuck in a particular spot, pick it up, walk a few steps, and then set it down again. Most time that’s all it takes to “unstick” a stuck cat. Believe it or not, some cats like to jog a bit. While walking your cat, slowly pick up the pace and see if it follows suit. You may just have a cat that enjoys picking up the pace. Walks exercise a cat’s body as well as its mind.
Safe Access to the Outdoors
You know, in the end, it doesn’t really matter if you live on a farm or in a major city; there are too many dangers to give your cat free access to the outdoors. I know, there are some potential exceptions to the rule, and often, a free-roaming cat can have a pretty wonderful life. Up to a point. Despite the exceptions, cats who have free reign statistically live shorter lives because of the inherent dangers.
So what are you waiting for? Join the small, but growing, community of cat walkers.
Clifford Brooks works as a documentation manager in the enterprise software security sector. In his spare time, he writes horror fiction, cat books, and blog posts. His most recent book, The Zen of Cat Walking, provides thorough information on teaching your cat to walk on leash. You can follow him on his cat walking adventures and share in the joy of cat ownership at CliffordBrooks.com.
Top photo: Cougar is practiced on the leash. Below, Gloria Vanderbilt enjoys her cat walks.
Main article photo by: Photos by Clifford Brooks