Updated: Mar 10
Let’s talk about adventuring outside! You may have read in my previous post on Harness & Leash Training some of the steps Tomo and I went through to go from inside harness training to actually going outside.
Today, I’d like to go into a bit more detail about our journey to adventuring outside, some of the challenges we faced, and some tips! I’ll be breaking down our process into 3 sections: 1. “Outside” Practice, 2. For Real Outside, and 3. Walking on Paths/Trails.
1. “Outside” Practice
After Tomo had become comfortable wearing her harness and walking around with it on indoors, I took Tomo out onto our balcony to have some exposure to being outside in a more enclosed, controlled environment. Prior to this, from what I know, since Tomo was adopted as an adult cat, she hadn’t really been outside before other than going to and from the car for vet vists, etc.
If your cat has been an indoor kitty for majority of their life, this is an important first step to get them acclimated to the outdoors, instead of just throwing them off the deep end all at once. I would definitely recommend this step if your cat is more introverted, cautious, or if they’re starting this training as an adult cat.
Not all homes have a balcony, so some other areas you can try for first steps outside is a small, enclosed deck or yard, or the hallway/lobby outside of your unit if you live in an apartment. Tomo and I also did hallway exposure training, as passing through the hallway was a crucial step before heading outdoors, so I wanted to familiarise her with this path as well.
Much like introducing Tomo to anything new, I would take her out to the balcony/hallway for a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time spent outside.
2. For Real Outside
Part of Tomo’s hallway training involved going closer and closer to the exit each time. When we finally went through the door, Tomo was definitely quite overwhelmed from all the new stimuli of the outdoors, as she was very alert and skittish. We only stayed outside for a few minutes each time, gradually increasing the timing and distance travelled.
If possible, letting your cat get used to the outdoors in a quieter, more enclosed area first is ideal. If there are a lot of people, traffic, sounds, or just being in a very large and open area, this can be super intimidating for most cats! We are lucky that we have a courtyard area that is relatively quiet, but there definitely are still neighbours coming and going, and oftentimes dogs going for walks here as well.
Understanding your cat’s body language and comfort level in these situations is key. If your cat isn’t bothered by the stimuli, then that’s excellent! But don’t ever pull or force your cat towards things that are clearly causing them distress.
For Tomo, especially if we’re exploring a new area, she will stop frequently and for long periods of time to smell her environment and look around (or just stop to sharpen her claws). This was definitely super frustrating at times, because it felt like it would take 10 minutes to cover 2 meters of distance. Developing patience and understanding towards Tomo’s comfort level, pace, and habits was the most challenging aspect of learning how to adventure together.
Don’t be discouraged if you are experiencing the above with your kitty. It does get better with time and patience! For some cats, they may get used to things quite quickly. With other cats, like Tomo, this process of her becoming comfortable in her environment took an entire summer of adventuring outside frequently. Even today, she still needs a reacclimation period if we haven’t been outside for a while, or if she’s exploring unfamiliar areas.
3. Walking on Paths/Trails
How we trained Tomo to follow paths/trails is that we started in our courtyard, which has some paths branching out into different areas. It really helped Tomo to have a well-defined path to follow, rather than trying to walk through open areas (which to this day she still tends to avoid as they make her feel less secure). It also helped when someone she knew, like Cat Dad, would walk in front of us on the path so that Tomo would have someone to “follow”.
I’ve also seen some Cat Parents have success with using a lure on their kitty’s leash (however, keep in mind that putting the leash in a forward position can allow for the cat the back out of their harness easily, depending on harness type and fit), or just luring their cat forward with treats!
Unfortunately, Tomo is not very food-driven, so I’ve never been able to coax her forward with treats when we are outdoors. If you cat also isn’t very food-driven, you can try coaxing them with toys, or with yourself (your cat may find security with staying close to a certain person).
Once you have explored outside with you cat enough, you will have a better gauge of how far they are able to walk before they start getting tired and dragging their paws, or even refusing to walk. Of course, as you adventure more, your cat will surely build up their stamina as well, but pay attention to their physical limitations and body language. Some days, even if we haven’t walked very far at all, Tomo will just not be up for walking much. Just like humans, cats can have their lazy or off days as well where they just want to be a couch potato.
For Tomo, the longest she has walked without having a rest in her backpack is probably only 2km. However, we have taken her on longer trails that are about 5km, but with plenty of rest in her backpack and intermittent walking. For other cats, I’ve heard stories of them going on 10km+ walks without rest, which is incredible (even from a human perspective because I’m not very fit either, haha)!
I hope this has helped share some insights about adventuring outside from the perspective of starting training as an adult cat! This journey is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and takes a lot of commitment, patience, and empathy between you and your cat to be able to build up positive experiences with adventuring outside. Your hard work and dedication will pay off after figuring out what works for you and your cat, and what ways they like to adventure best!
I would love to connect with you all through this platform if you’d like to leave a comment, or feel free to reach out anytime on Instagram (@tomo.mittens) if you have adventuring questions, feedback, or just to chat! In the meantime, happy adventuring!