So, you've got your new kitten home with you and you're very excited to start doing all of the fun things that attracted you to bengals in the first place: taking him on car rides, and out for walks on his leash! There are some important steps to follow prior to attempting these activities. You can "make" or "break" your kitten's fondness for his harness and for these activities, depending on how you undertake his introduction to them.
Wearing the Harness
If you adopted your kitten from our cattery, you know that we send all our kittens home with a kitten sized harness (made by Copper Paw Designs). This is to encourage you to take your kitten out for some adventure and exercise. If this is done early on and often, your kitten will enjoy outdoor walks for a lifetime.
There is definitely a procedure to follow however, to ensure that he takes kindly to the harness right from the start. The first step is to train your kitten to feel comfortable in his harness in the comfort of your home. This is done by placing the harness securely on your kitten and supervising him as he wanders around the house and gets used to the feel of it. At first he may seem wary, may try to struggle out of it, and may even "tip" over, appearing to be immobilized by it! This is completely normal - it feels weird to him - almost like he's been put into a straight jacket. Give him time to get used to the feel of it. The best way to do this is to distract him with play - wave his feather teaser wand and encourage him to walk and play while wearing the harness as he normally would. Once he begins to play he will soon forget that he is even wearing the harness. Leave the harness on him for about a half an hour at a time - while he is closely supervised. This should be done a couple of times a day over the course of a few days prior to attaching the leash and venturing out of doors with it.
Once he is comfortable, you will know the time is right to take the next step.
Time to head out the door!
The first rule for heading outdoors with your kitten is always carry the kitten out the door rather than walk him out. Walking the kitten out through the door teaches him how to walk out and may encourage escape attempts. Hold your kitten close with his harness fitted securely on him and his leash held firmly in your free hand. Pet and talk to him and cuddle him as you walk out the door with him. This will offer him encouragement and help him to feel secure. When you get outside with him crouch down to his level and allow him to leave your arms rather than you setting him down. This will help him build up his confidence and not feel like you are deserting him. He needs your reassurance that it's safe and fun and nothing scary is going to happen.
Let him sniff and explore while you simply focus on keeping him untangled (!). We recommend a retractable leash to allow for some length of leash for free roaming during this first phase of leash training. After a few exploratory trips out of doors, you can embark on attempting to train your kitten to walk along side of you, but this will be the topic of another post. For the moment the goal is to focus on getting your kitten outside for some exploration and perhaps ready to travel in the car to more exciting locations for walks.
Often times a car ride is necessary in order to get to a location where you can walk your kitten - a park, or a pet friendly neighbourhood with lots of walking paths, etc. You've probably had the chance to get a good feel for how your kitten reacts to car rides from your initial car ride home from our house when you came to pick him up! If your kitten was ok with the car ride (ie did not screech or cry the whole ride home) then congratulations, you are blessed and will have a much easier time teaching him to enjoy travelling than is typical. The more typical scenario is that your kitten probably cried during the entire car ride home and you had to talk him through the adventure and provide lots of distraction and reassurance the entire trip. This is all completely normal. It will take many car rides with your kitten to desensitize him to the unusual stress of it. Always keep the harness and leash on your kitten while in the car (if he is not otherwise safely contained in his pet carrier) and have a second person riding in the car with you who is free to supervise the kitten and help him feel comfortable during the ride. This will help ensure that he doesn't get underfoot - talk about distracted driving!!!
There are also some other things you can try which will help alleviate his stress during the car ride. One of those things is the use of an all natural product called Zylkene. You can pick this up from your vet or on Amazon. It's usually a little bit less expensive at the vet and the vet can ensure you are giving a correct dosage. Give this to him for the first little while during the car training endeavor as it will help to alleviate some of his stress and allow him to more calmly take in the adventure and fun of the car ride. Bengals are by nature open to new and exciting adventures and once your kitten's stress level is lowered, this will allow his natural sense of adventure to kick in so he can enjoy the process more.
Zylkene is an all natural milk protein and is not harmful or addictive in any way - it's more like a supplement. It helps a TON. We use it for airline travelling and car trips with our cats when we go to shows or on vacation with them. It's also useful for transitioning kittens to new homes. It will lessen his anxiety and help his true personality to show through during the transition until he's settled in and familiar with everyone and everything, including car rides.
Remember that harnesses, walks and car rides are all new to him. Everything - even your home and family - are new to him so it's understandably a very stressful time. You should start by just letting him adjust to his safe room and then get used to your house before rushing into taking him out for walks or in the car. Baby steps with your new baby will ensure a balanced and well adjusted cat down the road.
Carmen Klassen, Owner of Jewelspride Bengals