Walking the Cat - more

Or: The psychology of cats

Over the years I have owned many cats - almost all of which we have been able to take for walks. There seems to be something much more rewarding, in my mind, about walking a cat rather than walking a dog, but most people think it is not quite so simple. One of the reasons we like walking the cat is that you meet far more people: dogs are far too common. A cat with you, on or off the lead, is a far better conversation piece than is a dog! Also a dog on a walk tends to dominate you. With a cat, if you want to stop to photograph a flower, that's fine by the cat, but a dog is likely to come and chivvy you up! Also a cat on a walk will generally tend to stay quite close to you. Dogs usually do not!

Cats - Solitary or pack animals?

Cats are solitary pack animals - in the wild they would tend to live in groups, move house as a pack and separate to hunt individually. A pack of wild cats would probably be like a pride of lions - mostly female, with the males being a lot more independent. But a neutered male will act more like the female and will ted to be more part of the pack.

It is this pack behaviour which allows cats to bond to humans, and to include the humans - and the family dog - into their pack. But cats vary significantly in their need to bond with humans: some form better bonds than others!

A pack of wild cats would find a suitable area where hunting was good, and individual cats would layer up semi-independently. When hunting became poor, the pack would move together to fresh hunting grounds. So if your cat follows you on a walk, it may well go off and hunt when, for instance, you stop fo a picnic! Don't try and catch it - walk away, calling your cat. When it realises you (the pack) are leaving, it will soon follow.

Choosing a kitten to walk

So how do you choose a kitten that will enjoy coming for walks with you? You need to chose one that is a "person cat" - one that enjoys human company and gets on well with humans. There are many cats like this and you may well be lucky with a moggy. However cats of the Siamese group are renowned for their intelligence and their need for human company. If you want to walk your can, one of these is ideal. But remember that their need of company is such that it isn't good to leave them on their own.

If you aren't going for a Siamese type cat, than choose a kitten that clearly enjoys being handled. But, trained right, almost all cats will learn to walk with you. I have walked Siamese and moggies of no particular breed. In fact, the only two cats that have failed have been a Bengal and a halh-Bengal! The Bengal loved walking but was fartoo independant and would try to go off on her own into any wood and would not follow us. The other was a half-Bengal. A very timid cat that simply did not know what to do and sat where we put her, showing no tendency to follow us!

How do you train a cat to walk? You don't - the cat trains you! If you read the whole of this and Walking your cat, you wil have a good idea of the pussychology involved. Using this, you can get almost any kitten to learn to walk with you, but maybe not very close. Walking to heel is a little more difficult - time will tell.! The first cat I walked was Zanna - the link tells her story, with some pictures.

Walking off the lead

One problem is that you will have the kitten on a lead and harness. So it will feel connected to you. It's likely to feel safe from this, so won't follow you closely. But take the kitten somewhere, such as an open wood, where you can see them at a distance, and let them of the lead. They won't feel so safe so are likely to keep a bit closer to you! Remember that cats distance sight is not like yours, so they may not recognise you if you get too far away. You may need voice to let the kitten know you are there and are their owner - call them by name and wave your arms. My cat, Candy, taught me much of this. The link is to her story and some lovely pictures.

Fear or excitement

When is an experience frightening, and when is it exciting? Kittens in this respect are very similar to children. A walk with their human is exciting! But excitement can turn rapidly to fear. A frightened cat tends to run and hide. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In cats, as in humans, there appear to be three things which can arouse fear:

Thus as humans, we can cope with strange places easier if in the company of familiar friends. Meeting a stranger in a strange place is more stressful than would be meeting that same stranger in the familiarity of our own homes. And what do airlines do - their passengers are, for the most part, amongst strangers in a strange situation. So the airlines keep us plied with food so we can engage in the very familiar (and therefore comforting) action of eating. Seems to me that cats are no different to humans in their feelings about strange people/places/situations - though they do show it differently! So a cat who is bonded to and trusts its human owners is going to be much more adventurous than is one without such trust!

Cats are hunters. Although territorial, they enjoy exploring. I also suspect strongly that the cats ancestors were to some extent pack animal, perhaps living in a pride as do female lions. Certainly almost all cats will bond to a human family and will learn to enjoy going places with the family. Almost every cat I have known has had no trouble settling down on a long journey with the family! A cat in a cat on a long journey is the best pacifier of children I have known. They also, as a result, de-stress the adults!

Atmosphere

Cats seem to be very sensitive to humans, in a similar way to dogs. If the human is on edge, the cat will catch the tension just as will a dog. So if you take your cat in the car. expecting them to misbehave, they are likely to catch this tension and they will then misbehave! Any animal trainer will tell you that, to train an animal, you must be relaxed and confident at all times.

Trained correctly, almost all cats will walk and enjoy doing it!

The cat's potentials.

Cats have a high curiosity. But they are also intrinsically territorial - so they have a fear of strange places, which will balance their curiosity. Ameliorating the fear is their bonding to and trust in their owner. A cat that has a trusting and loving relationship with their owner is easier able to take the stresses of strange places and situations in their stride.

Cats are however strongly creatures of instinct: almost all of them are semi-nocturnal, and do not like open places. So a cat is more at home in a wood, or on well-hedged path, than in an open field. So - get any cat near a dense thicket and they are going to want to disappear into the undergrowth! But it can be very trying if your cat is on a long lead and the lead gets tangled in bushes - or up a tree. You can absolutely guarantee that the cat will never come out the same way it went in!

Equipment

You will need:

Walking the cat

Once the cat is used to the car, the harness, and investigating new places with you, now comes the harrowing bit (harrowing for you, not the cat!). For the easiest way to train a cat to walk on a lead it to first get it to follow you, off the lead!

If you take your cat to a new place, and let it explore - it will wander off and gradually explore the new place, but staying near enough to you for its own comfort. You may not know where moggie is, but as long as you don't move, the cat will knowing where you are, and won't go too far away.

So take the cat out enough and you will get to know the sort of places that interest it, and the sort of places that scare it silly, and the sort of places where it is not sure whether to be interested, or scared! Remember that a field walk, with a well defined path, may look open to you, but from a cat's perspective, it will be quite well covered.

To get you cat to walk with you, you need a place where it is not distressed, but not inclined to dive too far into the bushes to explore either. Somewhere where there are well defined paths and no people or dogs (depending on how you and your cat react to them!) or other distractions to scare the cat.

So your cat is on the lead, not following you, but investigating. Now take it off the lead, and walk away from it, calling it to follow. At some distance from you, the cat will realise that you are gone, and will start shouting for you. Probably this distance will be shorter than it was when the lead was present - the lead you have taken off made the car feel 'connected' to you. Off the lead, it will probably be less secure.

Once the cat is at its 'distress distance' - it will almost certainly follow you. However be aware that cats have long distance eye sight that is not as good as a human's - at its distress distance, it probably won't recognise you and you need to reassure it and call it with voice! You may find a rattle or dog training clicker or some mechanical device more effective: I have just trained a cat who, although she clearly responded to my voice, did not seem to realise from which direction it came, and who tended therefore to back-track over ground she knew, to where she last saw me. So you need a place sufficiently open, but not too open for the cat, and with well defined paths, where you can se her unless you choose to deliberately hide.

In UK, DEFRA have a series of environmental walks (now listed on Natural England www site) , many round farmland: I used one of these very successfully.

So training a cat to walk is not too difficult, depending on the cat, but you need to understand your cat! What places do they like too much, so won't follow you? What places scare them into hiding? What placed excite them just enough, with just enough fear factor so they follow you. Think like your cat!


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© 2006 Richard Torrens.
Page first published 5th July 2006.
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Last modified: 2018
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