• Percy

Harness & Leash Training – How NOT to start off!

Updated: Mar 10


When I started to harness and leash train Percy a little over a year ago (age: 13 weeks), I basically had no idea what I was doing. I wish I would have had the help of at least one of those many great tutorials and blogs that I know about now, but back then many of them did not even exist yet, and those that did, sadly did not show up in my simple Google and YouTube searches. I did not do everything completely wrong, but I certainly rushed Percy into things way too fast. My reasons for that (besides my simple ignorance):

  1. I hoped to make as much as I could out of the last couple of weeks of that short period of his early kittenhood, during which I knew he would still be the most open to new experiences.

  2. My living situation (apartment complex in a busy residential area, second-floor apartment, no car…) made it practically impossible for me to provide Percy with the ideal environment for a beginner adventurecat.

  3. Percy’s bravery had completely blown me away when I adopted him! He had trusted me at once and was happily purring and napping in my lap right on our first day together. And when he first arrived at our apartment, Percy instantly began to confidently explore the entire place, played with me and my previous housemate, and was completely fine meeting two more of my friends that same evening. He just seemed so fearless and bold that I ended up seriously overestimating his confidence when it came to going outside.

The following is therefore not a simple guide for how to harness and leash train your cat, but rather an honest account of my personal experience with Percy, and what I have learned from it.

For general tips on how to find the right harness and reviews of harnesses that we've tried, see my blogpost: HARNESS TIPS & REVIEWS


The first harness I got for Percy, was the “Rabbitgoo Vest Harness for Kittens”, which I ordered from Amazon the day after I brought Percy home. I first put it on him at home and tried to help him get used to it by distracting him with play. (Note: What I SHOULD have done is introduced him to the harness slowly and in stages, and created positive associations with it by, for example, giving him treats while doing so.) Once Percy had realized that he could walk normally with the harness on – which, to his credit, took next to no time at all – I attached the leash and took him out onto our cat-proof balcony.

As soon as Percy had received his Rabies vaccine (less than two weeks after I adopted him), I took him all the way outside for the first time… and he panicked as soon as I put him down and tried to climb right back onto me.

Here is why:

  • I had not backpack or carrier trained him before taking him out (- more on this very important topic in the next blog post!). Instead, I had only taken a soft sling carrier, which Percy was not a fan of. He, therefore, had no safe place to retreat to, other than his mommy who had just taken him to this scary place to start with.

  • Since we live in a second-floor apartment, we do not have any direct outdoor access, through which I could have introduced Percy to the outside gradually and at his own pace by simply opening a door.

  • Once we were outside, I had put him down in the closest grassy spot in the courtyard in front of our building. There was nowhere for Percy to hide from passers-by, and that courtyard is surrounded by tall scary-looking brutalist concrete buildings.

  • I had not paid attention to the fact that it was extremely windy outside that day, which made everything even more scary for little Percy.

  • Although Percy could walk fine in his harness, he still hated it.

After this initial false start, I began to approach things at least a little more considered. I waited for a calmer day and then carried Percy all the way around our building, to a nice large grassy yard on the other side of it. (This place was and is still not ideal, but I don’t have a car, which I would need here to get to any better places). I put Percy down next to some trees, hoping he would feel more comfortable there. He was still very scared, but at least he did not panic the way he had done before. I carried him back inside after a couple of minutes and then rewarded him with a nice big treat.

From then on, I continued to take him outside once almost every day for only a few minutes at a time. I paid close attention to his body language and behavior, and began to offer him treats outdoors as well. Even though he continued to be quite nervous and scared (which I now know is a sign that I was still moving too fast), he also began to get curious. He gradually accepted the treats that I offered him, looked and walked around a little, and investigated smells. I tried to take some of his favorite toys along as well for distraction, but sadly Percy has never cared for toys outside.

The most important thing for me was that what I was doing was not affecting Percy’s wellbeing and happiness overall and that it did not damage his close bond with me. Even though I clearly pushed him too much in those early days, he always instantly reverted to his confident, sassy, happy, and affectionate self as soon as we got back home and he received his big treat reward. Had this ever not been the case, or had I ever noticed the slightest signs that he was becoming unhappy or even scared of me, I would have stopped at once, and reassessed what I was doing. But fortunately, Percy instead turned out to be an incredibly resilient and brave kitty!

After about two weeks of this, I got Percy a new harness, because I could tell that he was still not happy with the other one. It was the “PetSafe Come With Me Kitty” harness, which is a simple Y-style strap harness. Not only did Percy feel a lot more comfortable in it, but it also helped to instantly boost his confidence! The first time that I took him outside in this harness, was the first time that I saw Percy truly enjoying himself during our outing. He finally began to properly explore the place, discovered the joy of climbing trees, was happy to stay outdoors for a whole thirty minutes. From then on, it was frequently Percy himself who demanded one or two daily outings.


General conclusion:

If you are training your cat to be an adventurecat, and especially if you have never done this before, you are bound to make mistakes and have setbacks. Sometimes this might just be out of ignorance or inexperience, and sometimes circumstances put you in situations that even the best guides might not have prepared you for. The most important thing is to never blame your cat for not succeeding in what you would like them to do! It is up to us cat pawrents to realize and acknowledge that we may have approached things in a counterproductive way, to learn from mistakes, and ultimately to look for ways that make it easier for your unique cat to succeed in what you would like them to do. This can be a lengthy process of trial and error, and in some cases, you might even have to significantly reduce your goals. But if you are committed to it and keep your cat’s safety, wellbeing, and happiness in mind throughout, then it will be worth it in the end. This process alone will help you to learn so much more about your cat, teach you how to communicate with them better, and ultimately strengthen your bond.

Also: Make sure to find the right type of harness for your cat!

Follow Percy's adventures on Instagram: @percytheexplorercat

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