Harness Training A Cat: Easy Steps So Your Cat Will Actually Walk In One

Going for a walk with your cat? You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood!

Wearing a harness is the first step in getting your cat to walk on a leash. Your cat needs to feel completely comfortable in the harness which can be done using positive reinforcement clicker training.

Below I’ll show you what supplies you need and walk you through the steps for harness training a cat easily and successfully. By the end, your cat will actually want to walk in their harness instead of pretending that their legs don’t work.

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Training A Cat To Walk In A Harness (And Not Act Paralyzed)

First things first, you’ll need a harness. This isn’t as simple as going to the pet store and grabbing the first one you see.

In fact, many of the harnesses out there were originally made for dogs and then manufactured smaller to fit a cat. But with how flexible cats are, this is a recipe for disaster.

The last thing you want is for your cat to slip out of their harness while they’re outside. This is a dangerous situation where your cat could become injured or even killed.

So before you start with the training, please read my article about the Best Harnesses and Leashes for Cats to help you pick out a harness that is escape-proof for your furry friend.

If you’re new to clicker training, read about what positive reinforcement is, easy clicker training basics, and the tools I recommend before starting.

Supplies:

I prefer using a clicker/ target stick combo for cats since it’s easier to hold, but you can use a separate target stick if that works better for you.

Training Steps:

In order to harness train, your cat should already be trained to target. If yours isn’t, follow my steps for target training and harness training guide before continuing on.

  1. Place the harness on the ground in front of you. Whenever your cat positively interracts with teh harness, click and reward them with a treat.
  2. Hold the harness up and open it. Use the target stick to get your cat to stick their head halfway into the harness. Click and treat.
  3. Continue working on getting your cat’s head into the harness until they feel comfortable with their head all the way through. Click and give a treat each time.
  4. Next, work on slowly brining the harness between your cat’s legs and buckle it over their back. Click and give a treat. Go very slowly here so your cat isn’t afraid.
  5. Once the harness is completely buckled, use the target stick to coax your cat to move around, getting them used to moving in the harness. Click and treat.
  6. Work up to slowly tightening and and adjusting the harness to fit, making sure to click and treat throughout the process.
  7. Slowly build up the time your cat wears the harness. Focus on rewarding your cat whenever they’re in the harness.

Each cat harness is different so you may need to adjust the training to work for your particular harness.

Once your cat is comfortable wearing and walking around in a harness, continue on to the Training Your Cat To Walk On A Leash.

clicker training steps for training cat to wear a harness

This training came from my book, How To Clicker Train Your Cat. If you want more fun and easy tricks to train, you can check out the book here.


Why does my cat fall over when I put a harness on him?

If your cat falls over whenever you put a harness on them, it has likely triggered a response from when they were young. As a kitten, whenever their mother picked them up by their scruff, their body would go limp while being carried.

Often, a harness will put slight pressure on the same area behind your cat’s neck, which triggers this behavior. Another reason your cat falls over with the harness on could be that it restricts their movement and your cat would rather not move until you take it off.

For either of these scenarios, you can work with your cat using positive reinforcement training that’s fun and full of treats in order to get your cat used to the harness.

Stephanie Mantilla curiosity trained header logo holding black cat
Stephanie Mantilla

Positive Reinforcement Trainer & Enrichment Specialist

Stephanie has over 12 years of experience training and enriching exotic animals as a Zookeeper. During this time, she received a certificate in Behavioral Husbandry from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is an expert in animal behavior.
In her free time, she uses positive reinforcement to train her numerous pets at home and is always thinking up creative ways to prevent her pets from getting bored. On Curiosity Trained, Stephanie now helps people make their pets’ lives better by giving them easy to follow tips and science-backed information.

2 thoughts on “Harness Training A Cat: Easy Steps So Your Cat Will Actually Walk In One”

  1. Great article, thanks! I’ve trained my indoor one yr old cat to wear a harness and had him outside three times, however he has now started howling constantly to go out and scratching at the door, which he has never done before. I can’t let him out as I have no garden so not sure whether to stop the training or if the howling to go out will stop. Do you have any advice on this?

    1. Hi Susan,
      The howling could be due to your cat having so much fun outside they want to do it more. In this instance, to get it to stop, make sure you don’t accidentally reward or give the scratching/howling attention. You can also use a visual cue to let your cat know they’ll be getting to go outside. For example, if the harness is hung by the door in view all the time, you could instead put the harness into a drawer and only bring it out when you’re going outside with your cat.

      Another possibility is that your cat could want to go outside to meet other cats if they haven’t been spayed or neutered yet. If that’s the case, having the procedure done can change the behavior. If you think the howling may be medical-related, it’s always best to do a vet visit.

      Hope this helps.

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