white cat in harness on leash

6 Steps to Leash Training Your Cat

Leash training your cat is a great way to provide enrichment, especially for an indoor cat. Here are 6 steps to leash training your cat, which I’m currently using with my cat Sophie.

6 steps to leash training your cat graphic

This post is sponsored by Sleepypod because they believe enrichment for cats is important.

Disclosure: We are being compensated for this educational post. All opinions stated here are our own. Three Chatty Cats only shares information we feel would be relevant to our readers. Disclaimer: I am not a professional cat trainer. These are simply the steps I’m using with my own cat. They may or may not be right for you and your cat.

Step 1: Set a goal for leash training your cat

While it may sound odd, it’s a good idea to have a goal in mind for what you want out of leash training – both for you and your cat.

  • Are you envisioning long walks or hikes through the woods?
  • Do you see yourself going to a park and just hanging out?
  • Or is a quick outing around the neighborhood your plan?

Knowing your end goal will inform your training and if it’s reasonable to expect success with your particular cat.

white cat wearing harness for leash training
What’s our goal? Long walks on the beach? ~Sophie

Our goal: Knowing my cat Sophie, she would not do well on a long walk or hike. My goal is to be able to take her to a big grassy area and let her see the sights, smell the smells, and roll around in the grass with the bugs.

Step 2: Select a proper harness

You can’t leash train your cat without having them wear a harness. And while countless dog harnesses are available to pet parents, you will want a cat-specific harness for your feline friend.

You will want to assess your cat and its harness for fit, comfort and safety. Cats are notorious for being able to slip in and out of small spaces. And a harness is no different if it’s not properly fitted to your cat – they could wiggle right out of it.

Sleepypod Martingale Cat Harness
Sleepypod Martingale Cat Harness (Black, Large | Midnight Blue, Medium)

We’ve had a few cat harnesses over the years, and the one we currently use is the Martingale Cat Harness from Sleepypod.

I do not suggest attaching a leash to your cat’s collar. Always use a well-fitted harness.

Step 3: Familiarize your cat with the harness

Some cats may be fine with wearing a harness right away. And you’ll likely know if your cat is one of those cats. But you’ll want to introduce the harness slowly if they’re not.

There are a number of resources out there on how to do that. We recommend checking out a 6-part video series from our friends at Kitty Cat Go. (Spoiler alert: go slow and offer lots of treats and praise!)

Fortunately, Sophie is good in a harness and has no issues wearing one. She’s worn one on and off throughout the years. So, I slipped a harness right on her for leash training.

Step 4: Select a good leash

Unlike the harness you select, the leash doesn’t need to be cat-specific. But you still want to consider a few things when selecting a leash.

  • If you want more control over your cat, select a shorter leash.
  • Select a longer leash if you want to allow your cat to roam a bit more freely (we wouldn’t recommend a retractable leash, though).
  • For a cat, you’ll generally want to choose a lighter-weight leash.
  • Don’t use a chain leash; the jingling noise may scare your cat.
  • Check to make sure the leash is chew-proof!

You may start out with a shorter leash. But as you and your cat become more comfortable with leash training, you may work up to a longer one.

We use the Sleepypod Slim Leash. It’s six feet long, heavy-duty but lightweight.

Sleepypod Slim Leash
Sleepypod Slim Leash (Pink Peony | Charcoal)

Step 5: Start slowly with the leash in familiar settings

Your cat is now comfortable in their harness, and you have your leash selected. You’re ready to start the actual leash training part.

Although it may sound silly, you can start by simply walking your cat around your house on a leash. Here are some things to consider:

  • Some cats will initially lie down in their harness. Encourage them to walk by placing a treat a foot or two in front of them.
  • Keep the leash slack when starting with it, so they don’t even realize it’s attached.
  • When the cat starts to walk, give praise and another treat.
  • When the cat seems comfortable walking with the slack leash, you can add some tension to it. Because once you’re outside, your cat may dart forward and will need to be used to feeling the tension.

Step 6: Continue the leash training outdoors

Once your cat has walked with the leash attached inside, and you’re both comfortable, try moving to a relatively safe outdoor area. If you have a backyard or enclosed patio, that’s perfect. Things to consider:

  • Always attach the harness and leash before heading outside.
  • You may also want to carry your cat outside, so it doesn’t associate trying to dash out the door when it’s not wearing a harness. Outside time should be associated with wearing the harness and being carried outside.
  • Once outside, if your cat is a bit hesitant to walk, repeat the same steps as inside (use treats, keep the leash slack, etc.)
white cat in harness with leash attached
Sophie and the leash with plenty of slack.

Sophie is used to being in our patio but inside a catio. So for our leash training, we started in that same patio area. When I set her down, I tossed some treats in front of her and she started waddling walking along.

cat in harness eating a treat
Sophie enjoys a treat while leash training.

Once you’re confident that your cat is comfortable in that initial outdoor space, you can move to another setting that you’d like to explore.

When you decide to go on an outing farther away from your house, consider bringing a cat backpack or cat stroller (if you have one) for the first outing or two. If the cat gets scared or tired, you can carry them the rest of the way. If you don’t have anything like that, just be sure to watch your cat for signs of fear or stress, and go at their pace. Once you’ve made your first few trips, you’ll know how your cat is on the longer outings.

Enjoy your new adventures!

We hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Remember, the important thing is to let your cat take the lead. Don’t rush or push them too quickly if they’re initially uncomfortable. And you may realize that your cat just isn’t cut out for walking on a leash, which is okay too!

Check back in with us later to see how Sophie did overall with leash training.

white cat walking on a leash in a grassy area
I’m off on an adventure! ~Sophie

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  1. Except for maybe Morgan (and that’s a big maybe) I can’t imagine mine being calm or accommodating with a harness. They’ve never worn a collar so it would be new. I’m also not sure I want them to “want” to go outdoors. I envision them trying to sneak out when the door is open. Maybe our area isn’t safe enough for my comfort. Sophie looks so sweet in her harness.

  2. I have been walking Frankie on a harness for about 9 years. The first harness was hard to put on and Frankie resisted heavily. I found a harness that velcros around the neck and belly and that made all the difference because it was quick and easy to put on.

  3. About 50 years ago, TW tried leash training their first cat Faith. She didn’t have any of these tips so after a few tries when she carried Faith outside and Faith just laid down and wouldn’t move, she gave up.

  4. Sophie looks cute in her harness. I don’t think Flynn would have been happy with one, but he was the good boy and did walk by my side around the fields. Eric was so laid back he would probably have thought whatever, and if treats were involved that would have been better still.

  5. Those were really good tips, we’ve just never bothered with leash training here as everyone associates outside with scary things, like mowers and other loud noises.

  6. Teddy is leash trained but these days our only walks are around our big yard or in our own woods so no more leashes or harnesses – somehow our boy learned his boundaries and now we walk without “restriction”. LOL A good harness and leash are important to have when going to the vet or somewhere OTHER than “home base”. Sophie looks fabulous in her gear. Great info for those who are looking to leash train their cats!

    Hugs, Pam

  7. We tried once but used a retractable leash – bad idea. Next time we’ll come here for all the right ways to do it. Right now in Texas it is way too hot to take a kitty outside, maybe this fall. Thanks for the wonderful advice and hooray for Sophie the Explorer!