Liberation Training: A New Leash On Life for Cats

When you live in North Texas, “varmints” are a part of life. In the best of all possible worlds it would be safe for my cat Seren to explore the rose garden and hunt butterflies and munch grass. But our 13 acres are also home to a variety of wildlife, and we’ve routinely had visits from bunnies, skunks and raccoons—and even cat-munching coyotes—right outside the back door. That means Seren-kitty ONLY goes outside when safely on a halter and leash. I began leash training—what I call “liberation training”—when Seren was a baby. Liberation training gives cats the freedom to safely travel out the back door, or to Grandma’s house or—for some motivated felines—to the mall where they can wow everyone with their confident behavior. A halter and leash also gives both the owner and the cat a feeling of security during trips to the vet.

Leash Me Alone!

Kittens are the easiest of all to leash train because they’re so young they just don’t know any better. When I was on tour to cat shelters across the country, I’d meet young kittens and introduce them to a halter and leash, and they’d be happily walking on TV for their close up within ten minutes of training. Adult cats take a bit more patience, though. To an adult cat, anything outside of the ordinary is a potential hazard. This “stranger danger” instinct actually keeps cats safe, as a healthy suspicion prevents them from walking up to a strange (and hungry!) coyote, for example. Anything new, like leash training, must be done slowly and carefully.

How To Leash Train Your Kitty

  • Leave the halter and leash on the floor for your cat to find. Some fraidy cats may act shy and avoid them while more confident felines might sniff or just ignore the equipment.
  • Once the halter and leash become part of the normal décor, just like part of the furniture, sit on the floor and turn the leash into a cat toy by dragging it around. It’s impossible for a cat to be scared of something if he’s having fun chasing and play-attacking the item.
  • Cats also use scent to mark their territory as safe, with cheek-rubs. To make the halter less scary, pet your cat with it so it smells like him.
  • Put the halter on him. Kittens couldn’t care less and usually won’t slow down at all. But adult cats often flop on the floor in shock, and imitate a stuffed toy. The key is to get them moving to prove to the cat that he’s NOT paralyzed and the halter doesn’t interfere with movement. Immediately engage him in a “chase” game with a feather or the end of the leash. That also associates something fun with wearing the halter. After five minutes, take off the halter.
  • With each session, leave the halter on a little longer so that bit-by-bit Kitty won’t notice the increased training session and his tolerance level increases. Offering the cat a special treat or toy/game during and after these training sessions helps your cat associate “good stuff” with the aggravation. Before long, he’ll figure out that “halter and leash” means something good for him.
  • It may take a week or longer for adult cats to stop lamenting their loss of freedom. But once the caterwauls stop and the cat moves around on his own while wearing the halter, just clip on the leash and let him lead you. Don’t pull the leash; just use a cat tease toy to encourage him to follow. A halter and leash gives you both a safe and controlled outdoor experience whether you’re exploring the back yard, riding in the car or visiting the veterinarian. Once your cat accepts liberation training, the world—and even the rose garden—opens up to you both.
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