Updated: Jan 29, 2021
So, what exactly is an Adventure Cat?
Adventure Cat: A feline companion who is part of their human’s exploration of the world.
Let me tell you my ultimate dream with Archer! As an individual who enjoys nature by heart, I wanted Archer to participate on exciting trips and enjoy the wonders of world with me; either accompany me on small walks in the neighbourhood, longer hikes on a beautiful trail, or even road trips to another city. I just wanted him to be there with me every single mile of the journey!
Before you also make all these great plans with your feline companion, why don’t we talk about the training that is required, so they can be the perfect adventurer with you?
There are three foundational components that are required for adventure cat training.
Part 1: Harness
Part 2: Leash
Part 3: Outer Environment
Part 1 Harness Training
One of the most critical, perhaps challenging aspect of adventure cat training is the harness. Why? Because like any animals, cats are naturally resistant to constraints on their bodies. Just imagine if we had to wear full body harness and walk with it, how uncomfortable would that be?!
Therefore, your cat’s natural reaction to the harness is resistance or refusal to move.
I should’ve mentioned that the very FIRST time I put a harness on Archer, he flopped like a fish on the ground, and then just froze belly side up! I wish I had a video to share how dramatic and hilarious it was.
BUT It’s okay! That’s why we need to find a comfortable harness in the right size for them to ensure they can accept the constraint. At the same time, not feeling traumatized by their first harness experience.
I would recommend to start with an H style harness, so that the feeling of the harness is not too present. Also, it would be easier to put it on them without major hassle. I’ve heard from other adventure cats that the H style harness makes them feel complete at ease to the extent that it is almost non-existent!
Once you have successfully put on a harness, adjust it to the comfort of your cat’s body. The rule of thumb is check if you can fit a finger or so underneath the harness, and ensure that there is no cat fur stuck at the buckles.
Just remember that cats are natural escape artists as they have flexible joint, and can easily wiggle their way out of the harness.
Keep the harness on for about an hour during the initial training sessions, and then slowly increase the duration according to their comfort. Our ultimate goal is to make the harness integrated into your cat’s routines (i.e. eat, sleep, and play), so that they feel complete freedom while wearing it.
Archer’s first time wearing a harness was at 4 months old. He was so playful at the time, that I was able to help him forget about the harness by distracting him with a toy. I also let him wear the harness during his meals, and eventually he felt comfortable enough to even take a nap with it!
Here are some techniques to create a positive association with the harness.
Give lots of treats. Yes, your cat will associate harness training as an encouraging activity, and they would love to be rewarded for a positive behaviour.
Play with your cat. It sounds so easy right? Just take a wand and wave at your cat. It will redirect their direction from the harness to the wand, and slowly build comfort around the harness.
Integrate it to their small routines. Try to keep the harness on during meal time and potentially nap time. It would ensure that your cat feels complete freedom with it, and not restricted by the constraint.
I should also “secretly” tell you that the biggest mistake I have ever made during our very FIRST harness training session was progressing things too fast! Once I had the harness on Archer, I opened our backyard door, and it freaked him out! He dashed to the other side of house, and hid right underneath the couch. Ooops, I would never let it happen again!
Part 2: Leash Training
Once your cat is comfortable with the harness, let’s make sure that he/her can walk forward somewhere with the leash.
Keep in mind that your cat may not move forward right away while they are wearing the harness. As a result, do not tug or pull the leash to the direction you wish him/her to walk, as this could cause harness escape when your cat resists by pulling backwards.
To encourage the correct movement on the leash, here are some techniques I’ve tried with Archer.
Place tiny treats on the ground to pave a trail. As soon as Archer ate the first treat, his instinct was to go to the second one. This method provided him with the perfect incentive to move forward.
Stand a few feet away, and encourage your cat to walk towards the treat in your hand. Guess what? Those creamy treats are extremely effective that Archer would run miles for them! With this method, your cat will associate the instruction and the sound of your voice as a positive encouragement.
Once your cat is able to move forward easily, hold the leash while he/she tries to lead you in the direction of their choice to establish the correct behaviour. Basically, when you are outside exploring, your cat is walking YOU instead of you walking him/her!
Finally, contain the movement within the comfort of your home, so that your cat could focus on the direction they are heading without worrying about the new surroundings.
Part 3: Outer Environment Introduction
Now that you have mastered harness and leash training. It’s time to SLOWLY introduce the outside environment and comfort zone!
Start with the closest area near your home; whether it’s a front porch, backyard, or the balcony, make sure that your cat is accustomed to the outer air and noises.
I would recommend to keep your outside sessions short with 15 - 30 min durations to avoid traumatizing your cat. The last thing we want is a cat who is fearful of outside because everything was just too overwhelming!
I also helped Archer to get comfortable with the outer environment by establishing a safe space using a backpack or bag. I provided him with an enclosed space to make him feel protected from the outer environment; this helped him to associate the backpack as his safe haven which becomes extremely helpful in bigger adventures.
Once your cat is accustomed to some of the outdoor noises, try to start with a very quiet trail or local park. Take your time to let them slowly get comfortable with the strange scent and sound, and don’t forget to bring their pet backpack with you!
During Archer’s first experience at our local park, he chose to stay inside the backpack and was reluctant to pop his head out. Then, I placed the backpack on the grass, and left all the openings of the bag visible to encourage him voluntarily get out. It definitely took a few tries before Archer decided to come out of his safety net, aka the backpack, but once he did, it was a whole new world to him!
Continue to take your cat out to the same trail or local park with a regular cadence, and stay consistent with the frequency (i.e. once every 2-3 days). Eventually, increase the cadence according to your cat’s comfort level and until he/she is completely at ease with the particular area.
Don’t feel discouraged if your cat is initially feeling terrified of the outside scent or noises, but remember that every milestone counts!
I want to leave you with the MOST IMPORTANT message as an adventure cat trainer - stay persistent and never give up!
Every cat has their own pace and progress with training depending on their personality, limit, and comfort zone. Even if it is challenging for them during any of the steps above, continue trying and discover what works the best for them.
Now that you have started the fundamentals of adventure cat training, what are some of the essentials you will need as part of the journey? Stay tuned for my next post!
Have you tried any of the techniques in this post, or have a question? Let me know in the comments below!