How to Train Your Kitten
These videos show you principles in action and show you Maneki's (a kitten) progress. They are great as they really show what training looks like and how fun it can be.
Kitsune & Maneki's mom shared her thoughts on training your kitten.
Get to Know Your Kitten
When considering training your cat, remember that like humans, every kitten has a unique personality and will learn at their own pace. Some will take to things immediately, like they have been doing it their whole lives, while others will take some time to slowly get used to new experiences, while others still may never learn to enjoy a certain experience.
It is critical to know your cat and pay attention to their needs, so you can determine if they need more practice or if there’s something that they are just never going to be excited about.
The Right Equipment
Before you do any training, you have to make sure you have the right equipment.
A catexplorer must have a good harness and a leash. Collars are not appropriate for walking cats as their necks are not strong enough to handle possible tugging from you or your pet.
Highly recommended, but optional, is a pet carrier backpack. The backpack style of carrier is perfect for adventuring and can give your cat a place to hide or take a break while you’re outside and it is convenient to carry on your back.
When you get anything new for your kitten, show it to them, let them sniff it and investigate it so they can learn that it is a good thing and not a threat. Create positive associations with the new equipment by using praise, petting, and treats.
Introducing the Cat Harness
Your kitten must get used to using their equipment, starting with the harness.
Ensure proper fitment, the harness needs to be tight enough that your kitten can’t wiggle out of it yet loose enough that it is not cutting off their circulation or ability to move. If you can fit two fingers between your cat’s body and the harness, this is a good measure that the harness has been adjusted to properly fit your kitten.
Check for proper fitment often, kittens grow quite fast, so this needs to be verified at least once a week until they reach about 1 – 2 years of age, depending on the breed and their typical growth patterns.
When you first put the harness on your kitten, they will just need to get used to wearing it and moving around in it.
Some kittens may try to bite the harness off or thrash around, others may flop down on the ground and refuse to move, while others may move normally and act as if nothing was different.
With our cats, it only took Maneki a couple days before she was good with the harness, but Kitsune took at least a week of wearing the harness every day before she was comfortable. Some cats may take even longer, but about a week is a good estimation for this phase.
Create a positive association with the harness for your kitten by giving them treats, praise, and by petting them. Play can also be used as positive reinforcement if that is something your kitten responds well to. Playing also will help them get used to the feeling of the harness on their body.
Once your kitten seems comfortable with the harness, they need to learn to walk on a leash.
With our experience, this part takes longer than harness training as cats prefer to do what they want and are not accustomed to being directed to walk a certain way.
Attach the leash to the harness and begin walking around in doors.
To avoid injuring your kitten, do not intentionally pull hard on the leash. A very soft tug that shows your kitten which direction you want to go can help encourage them to follow you, but never pull enough to physically move or drag a kitten on a leash.
You can also encourage them with treats, praise, and play. Treats can also be used to lead your kitten along and teach them to heel (walk in line with you). With the leash, the kitten needs to learn they only have a certain distance they can get away from you and to follow their owner’s lead.
You should also practice allowing your kitten to take the lead with you following and directing them when they might want to go somewhere inappropriate like hiding under a car.
Walk your kitten on a leash every day until they are comfortable both with leading and being led.
Make sure they have the basics down while you’re indoors before taking them outdoors to train.
With Kitsune, we had her trained pretty well before we started taking her outside, and it took several months before she was comfortable enough in the yard that we could take her away from home. Maneki, on the other hand, had a desire to go outside even before she was harness and leash trained. The first chance she got, she strolled right out onto our porch to explore the world with much confidence and curiosity. She was ready to see it all and did not desire to retreat into the house and was comfortable with being in the yard almost immediately.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Inevitably, if you are outside, there will be something that suddenly frightens your cat whether it is actually a danger or not. Often, they will try to run in the opposite direction at full speed to get away, which can lead to a sharp tug once they reach the end of the leash and can give them the “clothesline” effect or whiplash.
Try to anticipate when your cat might get spooked and know how they like to be consoled so you can control them before they freak out in order to avoid injury from tugging on the leash.
With our cats, we either put them in the backpack to ride around for a bit, or we hug them on our lap while petting them and reminding them we are there to protect them and they are not in danger.
Many catexplorers prefer to use bungee type leashes or retractable ones to provide some slack in case the cat tugs to minimize injuries. We recommend the bungee leashes, we also recommend what we typically use for Kitsune, a 50-foot paracord on a spindle that allows us to release some slack when needed.
After your kitten is trained on wearing a harness and walking on a leash, they should get used to their surroundings.
If you have a yard or open space near your home, use that as their daily training area. Even strolling around your neighborhood is a great idea and you will probably have a lot of curious and impressed neighbors!
When it appears your kitten is now the ruler of their little home kingdom, you are ready to go on adventures away from home. Start slow on your trips and go for short distances. As your kitten gets used to new environments, increase the distance of your walks to build up their stamina.
Remember for all steps in your training to go at your cat’s learning pace, but also encourage them to step out of their comfort zone to make progress.
Establish positive reinforcement for all steps of training using treats, praise, petting, play, or anything else that your kitten responds to.
Consistency is also key, if you can train every day, even if it is just for a few minutes, that will be more helpful than longer, less frequent training. If something happens that leads to a pause in your training for several days or more, you may experience your cat’s progress takes a step back. This is okay, they just need a transitionary period to get back their confidence.
Last but not least, remember to make training fun for both you and your kitten.
How did you train your kitten to walk on a harness and leash?