Last updated: December 3, 2016
Cats are not like dogs. Duh! Of course, they’re not! This may seem self-evident, but dogs have been around humans for many thousands of years and been co-opted into service for us in many different ways. Their sociable nature just lends itself to that. Try getting a cat to be a watch-cat, seeing-eye cat, rescue cat or drug-sniffing cat. Never going to happen, is it? That’s because cats have only been around us for 10,000 years and haven’t quite lost their predatory natures. A cat can quite easily survive unaided outside the domestic setting by catching and killing its own prey. A cat’s natural element is The Great Outdoors – so why do so many cat parents like to keep them indoors? I tried that with mine once. It lasted about four hours before he made a bid for freedom – and succeeded! If you want to train a cat to go outside – read on!
I Want to Get Out!
Some cats get absolutely claustrophobic when kept in the house; others get sick – yes, really! Imagine someone kept you inside the house for a week and suddenly you could get out, sniff the fresh air and feel the sun on your face – oh, the relief! Your cat needs grass for his digestion and sunshine for making Vitamin D, and he can use trees for scratching posts, just as he would in nature. Being outside is mentally stimulating too – a cat is naturally curious and exploring his territory will stave off boredom and entertain him for hours! Anyway – there might be interlopers out there trying to muscle in on his “patch!” Constant vigilance is required!
Before venturing outside, as a responsible pet parent, you should first make sure that your little darling is definitely vaccinated and hopefully microchipped too. My cat is terrified to go out of the garden gates but a lot of furry felines aren’t! The hazards out there are many and varied if you’re only eighteen inches tall. Rats, stray dogs, other cats, cars and unpleasant people can all run your precious pet’s day! So when introducing your indoor cat to the big wide world it’s best to take it little by little.
The best way to train kitty to go outside is to first use a harness. As with most training, it’s easiest to do this when your cat is a kitten, but adult cats can adapt to it as well. Since cats are not as biddable as dogs and this will probably come as quite a shock to the poor guy’s system, it’s best to do this little by little with plenty of rewards – remember that cats neither understand nor respond to punishment, so the carrot is always better than the stick!
Using a Harness
During the first few sessions put the harness on for a short while at a time. If you do this just before dinner or when you’re playing with him, he’ll link it in his mind to something fun. (“Yay! Every time she puts this thing on me I get lovely, yummy food!”) If you do it again and again the little guy will begin to ignore it because he’s so accustomed to it, and that’s when you clip on the lead. Let him run about with it for a few days, keeping a close eye on him to make sure he doesn’t catch it on something and strangle himself with it! Then take the lead and walk behind him (if you can – mine sleeps about ninety percent of the day!) He will become accustomed to you being behind him, then in a few days, (hopefully) he’ll begin to accept you giving him gentle instruction. When I say instruction “I don’t mean sit, stay, lie down, good boy.” Just make sure you’re going at the same pace to the same place!
When he’s ready, go to a quiet area for a short play session. Little treats now and again are appropriate, but brief is better the first few times, and preferably on your own garden to start with. Afterward, if you’re being very brave and taking him out on the street or a park, look out for bikes, cars, dogs and other hazards. If this really scares him it’s best to keep him on your own property. Don’t take an aggressive cat out, since he will only try to run away and pick fights with other cats, and don’t take him out in dusk or darkness or when there are fireworks about. This is plain cruelty. Don’t let him out if there are dangerous animals about or heavy traffic.
Another way to let your cat go outdoors in perfect safety is to have an indoor/ outdoor structure, or catio, with a roof on it and walls made of wire netting or something similar. This lets the fresh air in but keeps kitty from running all over the garden, and it can be as big as you like! Because cats are famous (or notorious!) climbers, it needs to have a sturdy and waterproof roof on it. It also needs to have a patch of shade for hot days, a tree or large scratching post, and planters of wheatgrass or a similar plant for him to nibble on. If you think kitty is going to get lonely without you I’ve seen people who move in sofas, TVs and even computers in their catios, and a cat flap or small window can be installed for easy access to the house. Not sure if anyone sleeps in theirs but I’m sure there are Crazy Cat Ladies who do! One more advantage – if you have a bored D.I.Y. fundi who’s between projects (I share your pain!) designing and building one of these will keep them busy for a week or two.
My garden has a six-feet high wall enclosed by a cat proof fence, which gives him free rein to run around the garden and is a slightly cheaper option that a catio. Cats will only jump on something that looks strong, so if it’s made of light but strong wire mesh they won’t even try.
All these methods work well for different people with different lifestyles. There are just as many cats who prefer being indoors and don’t ever want to go out as those who just can’t wait to feel the sun on their whiskers. It’s just a question of finding out what’s right for you and your cat. And if you love him, and he loves you, you’ll always do the right thing!