by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

As the air turns crisp and brilliant leaves carpet Wisconsin’s walking paths, it’s a great time to hit the trail and walk the dog to enjoy leaf peeping in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine and Waukesha Counties. Why not take kitty along as your walking buddy? You can train her to walk on a leash like a dog and enjoy the outdoors with you, too.

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Don’t lace up your walking shoes yet. You’re not ready to be a cat walker. You need the right gear for his safety and comfort. Houdini had nothing on cats’ ability to wrangle out of restraints, so don’t use just a collar. Buy a good-fitting cat harness and lightweight lead, not a heavy dog leash. Before you even put it on him, let your cat get used to the new equipment by placing it in his favorite sleeping area or near his bowls. Cats’ sense of smell is very important to their perception of the world.

Once he feels good about these new objects, drape the harness on his back during his meal, but don’t buckle it. Praise him and remove it. Repeat this step until he seems okay with the harness touching his fur.

At first, place the harness on him for a few minutes when you put down his food. Don’t snap on the leash yet. Gradually increase the time he wears the harness until he becomes accustomed to it. For safety, don’t ever leave a cat wearing a harness unsupervised.

Once he’s comfortable, try attaching the leash and follow him around. Continue this step until he accepts the leash. Eventually, you’ll direct where he goes. Talk to him and reward him for staying with you. Do not drag him; gently guide him.

Make sure your cat’s up-to-date on flea and tick medication and shots before you take him outside.

For your first outdoor “adventure,” restrict him to your patio or fenced yard. Keep ¬†outside visits brief and let him sniff around at his own pace you hold the leash. Offer treats and dangle a favorite toy to build a positive association in his mind.

As your cat becomes comfortable going for walks, keep it up. Regular walks can help improve his fitness as you explore Wisconsin’s walking paths. Let your pet sitter know that your cat can walk on a leash so that kitty gets his regular walks even when you’re away from home and the cat sitter drops by.

Pet walking doesn’t have to be only part of dog care. Cats, too, can enjoy walking on a leash.