Kitten Socialization: Training a Kitten to Wear a Harness

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By Dr. Sophia Yin

Everyone knows that if you have a dog you’ll take it on walks. But did you know you could also take your cat on walks?

 

 

Taking a cat on walks works best if you’ve socialized the cat at a young age to new environments so he’s comfortable in the places you plan to take him. Of course, you’ll also want to train your cat or kitten to love wearing a harness.

Start by placing your hand through the harness along with a treat. Here, I have a syringe with the end cut off and filled with canned cat food. I start by holding it out of the kitten’s range because I want to control the kitten’s access. Next, I place it down at the kitten’s level. You know you’ve placed your hand far enough through the harness if the kitten immediately goes for the food. Let the kitten eat for 5-10 seconds. Do not try to put the harness on or you may make the kitten pull away.
Then, before the kitten has a chance to pull away, remove the food and the harness simultaneously. By doing so, you help make it clear that harness equals treats and no harness equals no treats. The kitten should be looking hopefully for more treats when you’re holding the harness out of range. If she isn’t, then stop the session and start later on. Here, I repeat the procedure but this time my hand is further back so the kitten has to get closer to the harness. The kitten immediately goes for the treats.
Again, after 5-10 seconds, I make sure to remove the treat and harness simultaneously so that the kitten does not have a chance to pull away. In this way, the kitten learns to associate the harness with the food. The next step is to actually hold the treats far enough back so that the kitten has to push his way into the harness. Always let the kitten push his way into the harness during these training stages.
Here the kitten is clearly comfortable feeling the harness against his neck and chest. Here the kitten pushes even further through. When the kitten is at this stage, go ahead and clip the harness on.
Now clip the harness rib straps on while the kitten remains  focused on the food. The next step is to get the kitten to walk on leash. I start by giving treats for sitting—which the kitten is used to because I have already trained sit for treats as well as follow me and sit.
Then I walk away a few steps holding the treats down low so that the kitten follows. Since  I’ve trained these repeat sits in the past without the leash, this kitten learns especially fast. Once the kitten catches up, I reward him for sitting. If he has not already learned to sit, then I reward him even when he’s standing.

Now the kitten is ready to try the same thing outside. Practice a little each day. Before you know it. you will have a kitten that you can take on walks or on visits to new locations.

 


 

Download the Kitten Socialization Chart so you can make sure your kitten has positive experiences around many people and environments.

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2 responses to “Kitten Socialization: Training a Kitten to Wear a Harness

  1. Will this work with older cats? We just adopted a 5year old rescue British short hair and she has never been an outside cat but she is adjusting well and now keeps looking outside through the window. We want to take her out into our small back yard but worry about her running away.

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