Updated: Mar 10
Our first journey together, like many others, began when Tomo was placed into her cat carrier at the shelter, and off we went together into the car, bringing her to her new home.
Needless to say, Tomo was scared and confused, but relatively complacent other than some intermittent meows throughout the ride home. I feel that many of you may relate to having a similar experience when transporting your kitty for their maiden voyage home, to the vet, or anywhere else.
When a cat isn’t used to being in a carrier, being in a car, or being outside at all, they will definitely be stressed out from the experience! However, as an adventure kitty, an integral part of exploration training is the cat backpack or carrier experience.
When I’m taking Tomo on our adventures, we’re often going to new places, meeting new people, and just experiencing many new things overall. New stimuli like these do make Tomo cautious, and maybe even a little stressed at times. So what helps Tomo cope in situations like these is having a familiar component that grounds her experience. And those 2 things would be 1. Myself, Cat Mom, and 2. Her cat backpack.
Now an adventure kitty backpack is not just a means of transportation, but rather, a safe, familiar haven for your cat to rest, retreat, and relax.
While some cats may be able to walk kilometers on end and not tire, Tomo usually will walk up to 2 km before she’s really starting to drag her paws and needs to rest in her backpack.
If we’re in a place with a lot of people, or there are potentially dogs, in particular, off-leash dogs, the backpack is Tomo’s place for retreat and protection. She knows that she is safe from these external “threats”, and likes to have the higher vantage point that it affords as well.
Some days Tomo just isn’t quite up for walking, or if we’re going up a trail that is more challenging, we’ll let Tomo lounge in the backpack to just sit back and enjoy the view.
So how we trained Tomo to be comfortable with her cat backpack was much in the same way for how we harness trained her: slow introduction and creating a positive association with the backpack.
1. Some cats naturally like going into boxes or bags, however, Tomo is a bit of a strange kitty and doesn’t quite like these types of things. So, to introduce her to the backpack, we first laid the backpack out in an open area, with the top and front flaps open, and put some treats near the bag entrances to pique her interest. Tomo did get curious about the bag, and of course, the treats, and took a sniff around the bag and stuck her head inside briefly to grab the treats.
2. By day 2, we started to put the treats a little further into her bag, to encourage Tomo to go into the bag a bit further. I also started to notice that Tomo would go and check back at the bag to see if more treats were there throughout the day.
3. On day 3, I closed the front entrance to the backpack, keeping the top entrance open while having the bag laying flat on the floor still, and put the treats at the farthest point from the entrance. This made it so Tomo had to fit most of her body inside the bag to get to the treats. I kept at this stage for about 2 days, during which I noticed that Tomo started to turn around inside the bag instead of just backing out, and would peer out from the bag for a short while after eating her treats before leaving.
4. By day 6, at times, Tomo was sitting inside her bag for periods of 10+ minutes, whether it was after fetching her treats, or just after she’d gone inside to check for treats. So at this point, I decided to throw a treat into the backpack to distract Tomo, zip up the top entrance to the bag, and see how Tomo would react. After Tomo finished her treat, she didn’t seem stressed nor trying to get out, so I observed her for a few minutes, and then opened the bag back up, and gave her another treat. Surprisingly, she didn’t immediately leave the bag, but waited another minute or so before she decided to leave.
5. I repeated step 4 with Tomo for a few days, leaving the top closed for a little longer each time. Tomo never seemed stressed or trying to escape during this process, so I continued on with the training. Had I seen her trying to go out, I would have let her out immediately so that she wouldn’t develop a negative association with the backpack.
6. About 1.5 weeks after we started training, I decided to put on the backpack, and went for a short walk around my apartment. Tomo did seem a little surprised when I did this, but had no outward complaints otherwise. As I went for progressively longer walks, Tomo seemed pretty curious and did shift around in the bag to scan her environment. I always gave her treats before closing the bag, and after opening the bag again to keep the positive association constant.
7. 2 weeks into training, I started taking Tomo outdoors in the bag. We had already been harness training for a while outside, so Tomo was pretty used to the being outside aspect. I would go for a short walk outside with Tomo in her backpack, then open up the front flap, and give her the choice of staying in the bag, or hopping out.
8. After a while, Tomo seemed pretty comfortable with going for walks in her bag. As well, she would often voluntarily go into her bag (which I always leave out as a “bed” for her now) at home to take naps in. At this point, I could tell that she considered this a safe space where she felt relaxed and had a positive association with.
9. Up until then, Tomo had been on some car rides with us, but these had been somewhat stressful experiences. I began to use the backpack for car rides to act as a carrier for the trip, and she definitely seemed much less stressed, and stopped “complaining” as well (when she’s unhappy in the car, she meows loudly).
And that’s pretty much it for Tomo’s backpack training journey! We always bring Tomo’s backpack with us for any longer walks, or anywhere she isn’t familiar. We also use it as her primary carrier for car rides, trips to family/friend’s houses, trips to the vet, etc. By creating this positive association with the carrier, it really helps Tomo to feel safe and enjoy the journeys that we take. I find that she’s even become more relaxed at the vet, which is often a stressful place for many furry friends, as she knows that she has her safe space to retreat to.
I would highly recommend anyone, regardless of whether their cat is an adventure cat, to backpack/carrier train their kitties with the positive association method. This makes life a lot easier for both you and kitty, in facing the very realistic obstacles that every cat will inevitably encounter in their life. And if they like using their carrier as a sleeping area, well, that’s one less cat bed you’ll have to buy!
Our backpack: morpilot Backpack from Amazon
This is a decent starting backpack as it has good visibility on all sides. My one criticism about this bag would be that the top collapses easily if Tomo is sitting on the top/shoulder riding.
DISCLAIMER: We are not sponsored in any way by morpilot, this is just our personal, honest feedback on this product!