Updated: Nov 10, 2018
NOTE: I began training Gloria to walk on leash at the end of September 2018. This diary was started around 6 weeks into her training program. For more information on the early stages of the process, read The Zen of Cat Walking.
I didn't think I'd be back with part 2 of this series so soon, but today was a "bad" day. Now don't get me wrong, as I state in my book on cat walking, there are NO bad days. Each time you take your cat out on a walk, it experiences something different, and a lot of stuff similar to what it experienced on the last trip. The more times your cat experiences a smell, sound, or sight, the closer it gets to habituating on it. So today, when Gloria began to pull and show evidence of stress, I couldn't help feeling we'd taken a big step backwards...even though I know better. I reminded myself that a harnessed cat loses it's most important defense: escape. So when your cat stops walking or begins to pull away, take a breath and look around to see if you can identify the source of its fear. It's not doing this to spite you, to be stubborn, or to exact revenge for making it walk. It's doing this because it senses something isn't right. Give it time. Stand still, but don't give in. Let your cat pull for a minute or two and often if will realize it can't go in that direction and there's really nothing to fear. But be consistent. If you see your cat moving toward something it wants to investigate, change you direction to accommodate it, but don't do so once it's started pulling; when that happens, it's too late. Don't give in. If you do, the the cat will feel like it's in control and in no time, it will be. Don't give up your control. Be alert.
A cat that stops or pulls may have been frightened by a leaf skittering across its path, the smell of territorial dominance forming a scent-line it doesn't feel safe crossing. Or it could be something it heard, like the laughter of distant children, heavy machinery, hammering, or any number of audio nuisances.
These stressors usually resolve themselves if given a little time. And then your cat will move on. If it doesn't, simply pick it up and carry it a few feet and then set it down and try again. If it still doesn't want to follow your lead, pick it up and try again.
So how long do you wait before picking it up? If you can identify the stressor, like a stranger walking toward the cat, pick it up without fanfare and continue on in the intended direction. If not, if the source of your cat's angst is invisible to you, give it one to two minutes, depending on the circumstances, before picking it up and continuing on.
A minute or two isn't long at all, unless you're standing there, holding a leash, and waiting for your cat to realize it's safe.
In that case, it's an awful long time.
But time is relative and today, when my cat refused to move, it hit me. One of my favorite games on my phone is called Wordament. It's basically a tournament version of the word game Boggle. The puzzle is presented and you have two minutes to tap out as many words as you can. Everyone who's playing at the same time you are are you opponents. So in effect, you're playing against 100s or 1000s of people. At the end of the two minutes, your score and everyone else's are tabulated and ranked. A wonderful time-waster.
While I don't generally suggest taking your eyes off your cat for any appreciable time, if you begin by examining the environment, it should be fine. So today, after a couple incidents where Gloria refused to move, I picked her up and carried on. But the third time she stopped in as many minutes, I decided I'd better let her figure out that there were no dangers around. So I waited, mentally tapping my toes. That's when I remembered Wordament. So. when Gloria stopped again, I pulled out my phone and launched Wordament. I tapped away as Gloria pulled at the leash, and just like magic, even before the 2 minute game was complete, she began to move. I put my phone away and led her again. The next time she stopped, I pulled out my phone again, and began a game already in progress. By the time I finished the game and before the next round, she began to move forward again. A new, amazing tool for my arsenal, and one that's always at hand. Wordament, originally a Windows Phone exclusive, is now also available in the Android and iOS app stores.