Should I Leash Train My Kitten, or Will He Start to Run Outside All the Time?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses whether training cats to walk on a leash encourages them to dart out the front door whenever possible.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

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Q: We are bringing a new Bengal kitten into our home. I want to train him to wear a harness and walk on a leash so we can help him enjoy the outdoors safely. We were warned, however, that this could turn him into a "door dasher” who tries to escape when we aren't looking. Someone said if cats never go outside they will not want to "door dash," so she discouraged harness training.

Is there a way I can train my cat that will discourage door dashing? Maybe putting the harness on my cat inside then carrying him outside before setting him down to walk so doesn’t walk through the door himself?

A: Taking cats for walks is becoming more popular with some cat parents. One of the reasons for this trend is that more people are not allowing their cats outside. Even though they understand the benefits for keeping cats indoors, some people mistakenly think that cats need to experience the great outdoors in order to be happy. Taking their cats for walks is their solution. Another reason people walk their cats is to show them off to the neighbors. Stunning looking cats, such as Bengals and Savannahs, are examples of breeds that people want to walk.  

I agree with the person who advised you against taking your new Bengal kitten on walks. In addition to door darting, many other problems can result from taking cats and kittens on walks.

Walking cats can be stressful for cats because the environment is impossible to control. Startling sounds, strange smells, fast movements and unfamiliar sights exist outdoors. Honking horns, barking dogs and unexpected movements in the environment frighten and stress cats. Surprise visits from other animals or people can cause unwanted stress as well. I know of cats who, when frightened, have slipped out of their harnesses and walking jackets and have run away; other cats, when frightened, have reacted by biting or scratching their people.

In addition to rushing doors in their effort to go outside, some cats who are walked develop the unpleasant habit of yowling and vocalizing at the windows in their attempts to influence their people to take them outside for walks. Another factor to consider is parasites. Often cats who are outside pick up unwanted hitchhikers such as fleas or other parasites.

Putting the harness on the kitten inside your house and then carrying him outside will not keep him from door darting. Nor will it eliminate unexpected outside events that can stress the kitten. If you want your new kitten to experience the great outdoors, consider building him an outdoor cat enclosure or installing a (non-electric) cat fence. Cat fences keep cats in, and other animals out of, the yard.
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Should I Leash Train My Kitten, or Will He Start to Run Outside All the Time?

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Reader Comments

Robyn    Houston, TX

3/17/2012 1:15:55 PM

I couldn't have read this at a better time as my husband & I just bought a harness for our cats to try. I've never wanted my kitties to go outside AT ALL before, but lately I've just thought it would be nice to give them some fresh air, albeit safely. The first cat we tried has seemed to take to it nicely but I've noticed that she is definitely trying to door dart now. I even said to my husband the other day that maybe this wasn't a good idea after all. I think it may be better to wait until we have either a fenced yard to take them out in or an enclosure, which I can't wait to get for them! Thank you for this article & for all the comments, it was very helpful.

Alaina    Orangevale, CA

3/10/2012 4:12:47 PM

My cat is a Siamese/Tabby who we rescued. We were told to never let him outside, but I taught him to walk on a leash around our 1/3 acre backyard. He loves it and is really good about the door. If he wants to go outside, he just meows.

Portia    St.David, AZ, AZ

3/9/2012 2:07:21 PM

I took in a strat kitten a few years ago who lived outside for at least six weeks before becomming my best indoor only friend. She missed the outside so I tried a harness and leash for deck sitting. She loved it but got a terrible case of ear mites and when I saw a cayote eyeing her I ended that. Bought a good quality pet stroller which I never hear mentiioned by Cat Fancy and would like to know how other people have done with same; anyway, cat loves her stroller but when we get home she wails for a while as though she wants to go out. She does not door dart but I always worry about it. I live on monastery grounds in a somewhat wild area so feel this is the best I can do for her even though it does not give her the exercise walking on a leash would.

Joyce    Indianapolis, IN

3/9/2012 10:04:05 AM

The first cat I leash trained was a Siamese, and she was very easy to train, and I NEVER had a problem with her wanting to dart out the door. The cat I have now, which is a Weegie has been leash trained since she was 4 months old. She is even better than my Siamese was, if there is such a thing. She looks in her basket where her leash is kept if she wants to go and will look in the basket and meow at me. We will walk along with other dogs that are our neighbors. She is totally awsome to walk. I guess it's all in how they are raised and their temperment. I strongly advise giving it a try. At least when they are outside you are with them and know what they are doing and into, so much safer. My vet totally believes in her being leash trained, and we have been doing it for 7 years now with my Weegie. I am proud that she has taken to it and does it so easily.

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