Although, sometimes, domestic cats do walk behind their owners for a relatively short distance (a behaviour characteristic that I explain below), in general, it is fundamentally alien to domestic cats to walk with their owner on a lead like a dog on those nice country walks in the park. If you could talk to them, they’d find the suggestion inexplicable.
And the reason can be found in their wild cat character and lifestyle. Whenever the domestic cat goes for a walk as in hunting, they do it alone. They don’t indulge in communal walking or pack hunting. There are essentially solitary creatures in this aspect of their lives.
This, of course, is in complete contrast to the domestic dog which is a domesticated gray wolf, a pack animal which lives in a cooperative group. That’s why dogs follow their owner’s on a lead. They are participating in group living.
This reason for the aversion by domestic cats to walking on a lead with their owner is an aspect of their behaviour which is rarely discussed. However, we do see the occasional domestic cat enjoying trekking with their American owner in glorious, mountainous countryside from time to time. America has some fabulous landscapes.
This can be made possible because of short walk mentioned in the first para becomes something much more profound through gradual training and simply doing it a lot (see below).
There are other issues with respect to walking with your cat on a lead. You can’t use an ordinary collar and harness because the cat will slip out of it when agitated.
You’ve got to use a full harness which wraps around the torso. This induces what I call the ‘Thundershirt Phenomenon’.
You may know that you can buy a product on Amazon called the Thundershirt. It is mainly for dogs but can be used by cats too. It keeps them calm when otherwise they might be agitated.
The manufacturers don’t explain how it works. For me it works because the compression on the sides of the body triggers a mentality which I believe is a throwback to when they were puppies.
That aside, the key point to make here is that cats walk alone. I’m reminded of the well-used saying of Kipling, “The cat that walked by himself”. It’s true.
Cat follows owner
If, as my cat does, a cat follows you down the sidewalk for about a hundred yards when you buy the newspaper, it is because they are enacting what they did when they were kittens living with their mother in their den/nest.
At that stage in their lives, they are not fully independent but they are mobile. They follow their mother out of the den on short trips and she will go at a slow pace to keep an eye on them.
Because the relationship between the human caregiver and the domestic cat is identical in the minds of cats to the mother kitten relationship described, they might follow their owner down the road.
Certainly, sometimes, they follow their owner all over the house. It depends on the connection between human and cat but very often you see remarks on the internet, sometimes complaints, by owners saying that their cat follows them around the house too much and it has become irritating.
The underlying reason for this is as described.
It is possible to leash train i.e. the cat accepts the leash, and then walking for a short distance but the difficulty is in achieving long walks like a dog.
A lot of domestic cat behavior can be explained by reference to the relics of kittenhood.
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