[00:00:00] Naomi: The thing that blows people’s minds a little bit, is that when we’re talking about enrichment, we’re talking about species-typical behaviors, which also includes conflict resolution-based behaviors.
[00:00:14] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…
[00:00:32] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:33] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.
Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.
The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Naomi Rotenberg. Naomi Rotenberg, she her, is the owner of Praiseworthy Pets and focuses on the cat dog inner species, relationship.
She helps pet clients all over the world enjoy a household where the cats and dogs coexist safely and peacefully. She also provides coaching for other pet professionals who want another pair of eyes on their cat dog cases.
Naomi is a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner, and received her Master’s in Animal Behavior and Conservation from Hunter College. She is also a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator because in addition to cats and dogs, she likes human kids, too. She hosts her own podcast, It’s Training Cats and Dogs where she interviews other pet professionals about how they use their expertise to manage their own multi-species households.
She also answers cat dog related questions from her listeners. Naomi loves to bust myths about cats and dogs living together bringing awareness to the fact that a cat dog problem can’t always be resolved by just training the dog to leave the cat alone. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two human children, and two old, cranky, furry dudes, Rio, the domestic short hair, and Ori the mini–American Eskimo dog who have been coexisting since 2013.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Naomi for a few years through our Pro Campus program, and I just love every time that I get to talk with her. One of my favorite things about her is that she doesn’t accept the status quo and is constantly looking for ways to improve what she does and the industry as a whole.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Naomi talk about why a down stay is probably not the answer when your dog is chasing your cat, how to meet seemingly incompatible needs of dogs and cats in the same household, and when herding dogs have cats. All right, here it is, today’s episode, Naomi Rotenberg creating Harmonious Dog and Cat Households.
[00:03:04] Emily: All right. So, let’s get started by telling us your name, pronouns and pets.
[00:03:10] Naomi: So, my name is Naomi Rotenberg my pronouns are she her, and I have two pets. One is Ori he is a mini–American Eskimo dog, white fluffy thing. And he was actually the second acquisition, but I always start with him because he’s just the problem child. And he was adopted from a shelter in Brooklyn, and with a totally unknown history, he was dropped off at the shelter overnight in a duffle bag. And so, he was underweight, under socialized. So, he was like, baby trainer me, who said “Yay. Let’s do a project and, that’s fun.” Living in Brooklyn with a highly reactive, scaredy dog, that was great. He’s much happier now that I live in Philadelphia in the like suburban environment.
And he came to us about a year after I adopted Rio, who is a domestic short hair. He’s like a, he’s gray with some pretty cool swirls, like a, he looks like a diluted tuxedo kind of dude. He’s very distinguished and handsome and he knows it. And he was my companion when I was living by myself for a year in New Haven and I was like super depressed, and he was my emotional support cat.
Um, but interestingly, he was, my emotional support cat, but he wasn’t really. He was in a lot of pain, it turns out, because all of his teeth were rotten. The vet missed that when they did like his initial intake at the shelter, and then they had said, he’s vetted, so you don’t need to take him for another year.
And year goes by. And they’re like, “Oh, all his teeth are rotten.” So, they took out 11 teeth and he was like, “I’m so pleased. Yay. I’m happy. I’m cuddly.” It turns out he has like a degenerative teeth thing where his teeth just rot over the course of his life. So, he’s had a couple of surgeries since then.
The moral of the story is, when your animal is in pain, they’re cranky. They don’t wanna be pet. They don’t wanna meet new people. And so, we learned that about him. So he is, they’re both old men now. They’ve been with me about 10 and 11 years. So, a little less than that. So, they’re just hanging out here with me sleeping, which is their, most of their behavior repertoire at this point is just chilling out.
[00:05:31] Emily: I love your message that like, “Hey, let’s consider medical when something doesn’t seem right.” Because I feel like that’s something I harp on a lot as you probably know, and so it’s just good, for other people to say it
I like that a lot.
[00:05:45] Naomi: Ori has luxating patellas in his back knees, so I’m sure that the, some of the reactivity is just based on some pain as well. He’s but it. It’s a whole thing about do you get surgery that may or may not work for this small dog who is not exceedingly active anyway.
Right? So, like all of this stuff, you do have to consider it, but they’re pretty happy right now. So, status quo is the way we’re gonna do it. Cuz at this point it he’s been living it with it for a really long time.
[00:06:12] Emily: You have to balance, the ROI of something really invasive like that. Like what’s gonna be better over the long term for this individual. So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.
[00:06:23] Naomi: We can go as far back as my childhood in which I was obsessed with dogs but was not allowed to get one. For various reasons, my dad was bit by a dog when he was a kid, he was highly allergic to a lot of animals, and my parents both worked more than full time. And so they were like, hardcore, no, we can’t add responsibility that we probably would end up having to work on ourselves because when you have young children and they say, they’re gonna take care of their dog.
Sometimes they don’t. So anyway, but I, being the studious overachiever that I have always been was like, “I’m gonna go to the library, and I’m gonna memorize all of the dog books, and memorize all the breeds, and watch all the dog shows.” And like all the things that I could without actually having an animal.
So that kind of preceded a lot of like how I got into the profession because I’ve always been academic. And I started out, I graduated from college with a developmental cognitive science degree. So, I was gonna be doing like basic science working with kids and how they develop concepts and knowledge.
And that’s super cool, but I quickly realized that was not where my heart lay. But I had this like deep, psychological knowledge that had to go somewhere, and I was so used to academia. So, when I was like in that limbo time where you’re, whenever those times come where you’re like floating in the wind, that’s when everything magically coalesces.
But I had to pay my rent, and so I worked at a doggy daycare cuz I was like, “I like animals. What most am I gonna do for, you know, four months once I quit my program?” And objectively, not a good job in terms of the way we were treated. And the number of dogs, like the ratio of humans and all the hours, whatever the moral of the story is at the end of that stint, I still loved the dogs and I was still interested in learning about what they were, how they were behaving.
And so, I said, great. If I can still love the core of this, even though the experience was negative, I know I’ve got something. At that time, my then husband um, we had like, just got married. We moved to New York because of his, he was starting his residency, he’s a physician. And so, I was like, “What am I gonna do? I don’t know what I’m doing.” So, I applied, because again, I didn’t know what else to do school was my life. I applied to do the Master’s in Animal Behavior and Conservation at Hunter. And while I was doing that, because again, I’m not, I can’t just do one thing, I apprentice with a small company, shout out to Amanda Gagnon in the Upper West Side where I was like the first apprentice that they took on.
And so, I kind of, was the guinea pig on that, but was ended up working basically fulltime with them, doing in-home private sessions back in the day. No, it wasn’t that long ago. It was like a decade ago, right? We went into people’s houses and like day training was a big new thing.
That’s where we’re at timeline of the development of the pet training world. So, we were doing, I was doing a lot of day training stuff, really trying to bridge the gap between the stuff I knew in my brain box, and then stuff that I was learning how to do with my body. And that’s backwards from a lot of other trainers where they’ve grown up basically training dogs or training whatever animals they had, and then learned the theory on top of it.
And so, I think it’s interesting that, that was slightly off path. Off your typical path. And so, the question is how did I get to cats and dogs? We were a small company, and I was the only person in the company who had any cat experience at all. I had one but I also was volunteering in shelters and blah blah.
And so, whenever there was a cat in the home, even if it wasn’t like the reason that we were called, I was very much like I will take this case if it was within my ability. And I really just liked it from the beginning. I didn’t have, this idea of I’m gonna niche down for this. But as I moved, when we moved to Philadelphia, and I created my own company.
And just like you do when you’re a baby trainer, you take every case, you’re like, I need money. I need whatever comes to me, I mean, unless I was like grossly under qualified for it, then I would refer out. But I was just like, my brain was spread way too thin. I was coming up with like training plans, ad hoc.
I had a young child. I couldn’t do it anymore. So, I said, I need to niche down to something. What do I really enjoy doing? And what are the most common cases that I get called for? So, I did a spreadsheet cuz I’m like that. And of course, you’re gonna laugh because what I ended up choosing was not, by far not the niche that I get the called the most.
Like I usually got called for leash reactivity, but everyone else does that. And I’m like, I don’t wanna do that, like everyone else. And also, it’s really, that’s just difficult work when you’re in a city and the outcomes can be hit or miss. And so all the way down at the end of the list, where it said, you know, I’d gotten like over the last year, I’d gotten called for three cat dog cases.
I was like, “that!”
Potentially poor business decision, but it’s the best thing, because I’ve really been able to come up with frameworks that work for my clients. It works for me in terms of how I’m able to run my business. Like I work completely online, and even before Covid I was doing all of my cat cases online because, even more so with dogs when, than with dogs, when a person comes in their house, their behavior changes.
Like cats, I mean, you could come into their house, and you don’t see them the whole time. That’s not very useful for me, and so I was relying a lot on zoom and video, even before you, the world ended. And it was pretty easy for me to transition to everything, just being online. I really just went all in.
I was like, “I love doing these cases. No one else is doing this. It’s really important.” All the people that were coming to me were saying, there’s not enough information about like, it’s all just fix the dog, let the cat be, fix the dog. And that’s not working for me. So, all of my clients are people who have not all of them, but the majority of my clients are people who are really dedicated to their animals.
They’ve already done a lot of training with their dogs, and they’ve reached a plateau, or they’ve gotten nowhere. And they’re frustrated because they don’t know another way to attack these cases. Then I say, “Great. Like I have many different ways to do this. It’s not just teach the dog a down-stay and let the cat just wander around.”
So, it’s been really fulfilling for me to realize that there, there is a need for this. It doesn’t come out of the woodwork as easily as leash activity or like human based, directed aggression from a dog. But it’s, the people are starting to realize that like their need is real. And that there are some resources for them.
So here I am, 2022 Cat Dog. That’s my life.
[00:13:41] Emily: And I think even though your niche is uncommon, right? which is great. It’s great that you offer this, I think that your trajectory is really relatable to a lot of people because it’s such a, our profession is such an, a like nebulous thing that most of us have some weird circuitous journey that some combination of like passion for animals, trying things and being like, that’s not for me.
And then like accidentally stumbling on the thing. That’s like our passion. So, I feel like the trajectory is super relatable for a lot of people. It certainly is for me. So, I get, I, it’s just delightful to hear how you got to where you are. And I’m super glad that you’re here because as we discussed cat dog cohabitation is just not something that a lot of behavior professionals deal with and it can be a super stressful living situation for everyone involved.
And I don’t know if you’re anything like me, you love what you do, but you’re also passionate about prevention.
I love my clients, I love the big successes, and also, I’m kind of like, wouldn’t it be amazing if you had gotten help four years ago before this was such a big issue instead of having to come to me where you are now.
I would love to hear what recommendations you have for preventing conflict between dogs and cats instead of ending up where most of your clients end up.
[00:15:07] Naomi: Yeah. So, this is actually near and dear to my heart, because I do have services based on like how far your animals are from coexistence. Like, if that’s the like end goal, you know, I have a program for people with animals that are completely far apart because there’s a safety issue potentially, right?
And it goes all the way to we’re almost there, but there’s a little bit of tift. And then, I said I can’t forget the people who don’t have the animal yet. It’s gonna be not that many, but there are such wonderful people who are like, “I’m thinking of getting a new house pet of another species. How can I prepare effectively?”
And so, yes, I have very specific things that I like to explain to people of how they can at least try to set themselves up for success. So, the first one is going to be to look at the temperaments of your resident animals, right? If you have an animal that is scared of their own shadow and any change in their life is gonna be extremely stressful for them, then this may or may not be the best idea. You can work through it with a very systematic introductory process.
And it, they might actually end up benefiting from having another animal in the house later on, but it will definitely be a much more precarious journey. And then if you have an animal, who’s whatever. Things happen. Cool. Especially if they’re that animal has had experience with the other species in their past importantly, that is not diagnostic.
So people are like, “Oh, he was good with cats in his foster home, and so it’ll be great.” I’m like each cat is different. Each dog cat interaction is different. So I have so many clients who have multiple cats and the dog’s relationship with each cat is completely different, even though they’re in the same house.
So, previous experience with the other species is a good thing to know, but it is not necessarily like, “This is gonna be no problem.” But if you know that he’s wanted to eat every cat that he’s ever seen, right? Red flag.
Another thing to think about is your resident animals, age, and energy level. If you have an older cat who does not want to be bothered, prefers to spend a lot of time resting and maybe has some occasional bouts of energy. You don’t want to necessarily get a puppy, because that’s annoying to the cat. You might say, I would like to investigate maybe getting an older dog, not necessarily a senior dog, but an older dog who, you know a little bit more about their personality, you know, that they’re gonna be more laid back and not necessarily bother the cat as much as a puppy, who’s just like “WEEEEEE!” Everything is fun. And especially if the cat does not like the puppy, then there’s a very easy reinforcement history that could be made and not a great one for a puppy who discovers that a cat does not wanna be close to them, and they don’t know what to do with themselves, and they try some stuff, and it backfires with the chase, and then everyone is sad.
You wanna think about those things as well. And if the answer is, “Look, it’s not really gonna be fair for my resident animals.” Then I am the first to say, “I don’t want, I don’t wanna see you as a client later on. Like I would rather you say, this is not the right time, or I’m going to keep looking for another animal that is going to be much more likely to be a good fit. So, that would be my first recommendation. Take your time, if you can, obviously different, things happen. But if you can, get as much information about the animal that you’re going to bring in as possible and try to make sure that they’re gonna be compatible. Again, can’t tell the future.
But as much as you can think it, they’re gonna be compatible with the true personality of your resident animals and don’t like sugar coat it. Don’t be like my animals, on their best day are totally fine. No, look at their worst day . And look at the average is gonna be the best way to decide that’s my first way to prevent conflict.
The next thing that I recommend is. So, we haven’t even talked about like changing behavior at all, because, if we’re going with the Humane hierarchy, the best thing is to then look at the environment, to see if we can use that to facilitate appropriate behaviors around each other. So, the next thing is gonna be for you to prep your space to make it the most likely that the animals are going to choose behaviors that are appropriate when they do come in contact.
And that also requires you to look at two main things. One is where can the animals be when they don’t wanna be near each other? And where are they going to be when they are near each other, that they can be safe, and also, behave in a prosocial way. So, let’s split those two things. The first thing is gonna be making sure that there is at least one safe space in your house for each of the animals.
And everyone thinks about the cat room, they don’t think about the dog area. And so, even if your dog is like, “I really wanna see the cat all the time!” Right? Like you don’t say that dog doesn’t need a safe space. Like they actually really do in that case. We want them to be not hyper aroused all the time.
We wanna say there is a space for you over here. I’m gonna reinforce you a lot for hanging out there, chilling out. Making sure that you know that that’s available for you so that they’re not constantly just up all the time. Cuz when they do see the cat, that’s not gonna go well. So, don’t forget about your dog.
Safe space is going to be not only a part for safety, like in barriers, but also, I like to think of it as like psychological safety. So, um, you wanna make sure that they are comfortable in those safe spaces and importantly that they’re comfortable in there on their own. Because if we’re doing, starting with true separation, which you usually should there are very few situations in which I say the animals should have, can have contact from each other from day one.
They’re gonna be in their safe spaces for at least some time each day by themselves. Or if it’s, there are bonded cats, then the cats can hang out together or whatever. But so many issues arise when the resident animal has never been confined, and then all of a sudden this other animal comes in now they have this magical, safe room, which like, there’s a bunch of toys in there and their food, and everything’s great, theoretically, but they’re like, ” What happened? Too many changes at once. And that thing that came in that made that happen. I don’t like that thing.”
So, if we can spread out the prep for using that safe space as much as possible. So, that’s a, a split that we can do to prepare, right? So, the let’s just say the cats used to have full reign of the house, but you know that if a dog comes in, the dog is gonna be in the living area during the day, and then the cats will have free reign of the house at night.
Let’s just say. So, make that happen, like dress rehearsals so they don’t have to be confined to that room all day, every day for two weeks before the dog comes, but make sure that they spend some time in there, and then increase the amount of time so that the routine doesn’t significantly change when the dog shows up. You’ll decrease stress a lot that way.
And then the other side of it, right? Like, Okay, they have their safe spaces separately, but like, they will have to come in contact with each other. We’re gonna be putting them together strategically so that they form positive associations with each other and all of that, we can call that setups.
Once everyone’s decompressed separately, you need to think ahead, like, where are those interactions gonna happen in your house? How can you keep everybody safe and under threshold, if possible? It might not even be that they can see each other at first. So, like you’re stereotypical like, they get fed on each side of a closed door, so that they can smell each other. That’s sometimes a good place to start. But it could just be that you can have a semi occluded visual, right? So, like, if there’s a baby gate with a cloth over it, rather than a full door, so you can split between between have absolutely no visual contact to having full visual contact, because some animals are really sensitive to, for example, stares from a cat, the dog’s gonna go ape because the cat is looking at them.
So, these are things that you kind of want to prep ahead of time for like contingency plans. We would like to start with everyone on both sides of a baby gate, as far away as possible and see what happens if they can look and look away. Look, and look away. Everyone’s just doing their own thing.
That’s let’s call it the thing that everyone tries at the beginning. But if, and when that doesn’t work, what are we going to do to make it easier to go back a few steps? So, you’re not beating your head against the wall of trying to do this setup where everyone is just not happy. That is the second thing, prep your space, both for the safe spaces for each animal, and also how you’re going to eventually have them come together and prep the routine for the animals as well.
So that’s my second thing.
I have more, I have one more. You can tell that I’ve thought about this very heavily. Because yes, I do. Prevention is great. And I would love to have all of my clients come and they’re like, things are almost perfect, but I just want like a few tweaks. There are certain parts of the day that are sticky, and I can help them with that.
It’s so much less stressful for them. It’s much less like life or death also. And so, I feel like there’s a lot of ways that you can get there. Anyway, by preparing appropriately. And the last thing is going to be actually teaching like appropriate coping skills to the animals separately. And I often start with this during my programs for people who have not been able to do this preemptively.
What I’m looking for is can this animal stay calm when something happens in the environment? It doesn’t have to be the cat, but just something, right? So, like, if your dog is an adolescent and they can’t cope with sudden environmental contrast in a way that is not going to trigger, which other animal is in the room. Then we need to work on that as a skill separately from the cat. You also want to, if you’re gonna provide your cats with a lot of up spaces, which I do recommend not all cats naturally take to those up spaces. So, you might need to actively reinforce them for exploring the environment in that way, and like feeding them up there, have them following a wand way to get up there so that you’ve prepared this , you’ve done a fire drill a bunch of times so that if they are stressed by the dog, they’re not, this is not the first time that they’ve decided that they need to jump up onto this cat tree at this particular time. Those types of skills are very important to teach each of the animals. And there’s a million different ways to do those things.
I have my own methods, but there’s a lot of different protocols for teaching relaxation. There’s a lot of different protocols for teaching moving away from things that are scary to you. There’s a lot of different ways to, you know, use targeting, to move a cat around a space. But that’s the general gist of basically what’s, what behaviors do you want to the animals to be able to do around each other?
So, that you’re basically simulating appropriate behavior, even if it’s cued at the beginning and then it should become muscle memory. So those are the three main pillars of what you can do to prepare and set yourself up for success for if you’re bringing a new animal in.
[00:27:15] Emily: I loved everything about that. I know you could see me like grinning and cheering you on because all of that is so important to think about and to pay attention to, and I loved how thorough you were in your explanations.
And also, I would like to say for listeners the devils and the details and if you take this information that Naomi gave and it’s not working out for you, it’s not because it doesn’t work. It’s because the professionals exist for a reason. . And by all means, try this preventative stuff and you may still need to get somebody to help you.
Naomi was saying we, wouldn’t it be nice if clients have this information, tried to implement them it themselves, and then just came to us and were like, we need help tweaking this because there’s something that we’re missing. So, I always wanna, I’m always like disclaimer, because it’s important to talk about this stuff, so people can think in these terms and try these things and also be aware that in some cases it does require a professional to help you successfully implement plans like that. Putting that out there.
And I think one of the things that I wanna kind of circle back to is when you were talking about how it’s important for the chase-er which is typically the dog, although I’ve had a couple cases where it was the cat, right? But it’s also important for the chaser to have a safe space, I really think that’s important because I think a lot of people assume that just because an animal is in a heightened state because of excitement or happiness, therefore there can’t be a component of anxiety or distress. And that’s absolutely not true.
A lot of times that excitement can be a coping mechanism, or it can even create distress. Imagine being super, super excited for a sustained period of time. That would be exhausting and become distressing. I love that you really put an emphasis on that, and I just wanted to further emphasize it because just, because something is exciting doesn’t mean it’s also like stressful, right.
So yeah, giving them that place to retreat and rest and kind of self-regulate is such an important component of these protocols.
[00:29:38] Naomi: Yeah, and if you want your dog to be able to relax in the presence of your cat, they have to be able to relax as a skill like outside of your cat being there. So, they need environmental cues to do that are very helpful to have.
[00:29:54] Emily: Yeah. I think that’s something that we talk about a lot is a lot of people don’t think about teaching relaxation or self-regulation as a skill, but it’s absolutely a skill that can be learned and should be taught. And the time to teach that is not in the thick of when the animal really needs it. The time to teach it is before that. When they’re not in the throes of, heightened, you know, excitement or anxiety. When the chips are down, we can call on a skill they already have, instead of trying to teach them a new skill in that moment. So yeah, super important stuff that has wide applicability and also applicability in this very specific context as well.
[00:30:35] Naomi: It’s not a new framework, this is a riff on what any good behavior modification plan should include. As much as much prep as you can of space, and skills, and contingency plans before you try to get to the meat of actually like tinkering with certain behaviors.
[00:30:56] Emily: Absolutely. There’s nothing new under the sun. We’re just recycling things that already exist, or I wouldn’t even say recycling, we’re harnessing reality.
Okay. So, I think one of the reasons that many behavior professionals shy away from these cases is because we’re dealing with some seemingly incompatible needs and species-typical behaviors.
Like we just talked about the, the one animal may be really prone to investigation and meeting new, new critters, new friends, and another one may be more of an introvert and, “Hey, I don’t wanna, I’m not really new friends. I’ve got enough friends. Thank you.” And so, that can present a challenge, and then on top of that, there’s this added layer of complication because a lot of miscommunication can happen between dogs and cats. Because they have some similar body language signals that mean like diametrically opposite things, right? When a dog offers one signal, it means something very different than when the cat offers it. So, those things can make these situations really difficult. Can you talk in a general way obviously about how you meet those seemingly incompatible needs in your client’s homes?
[00:32:08] Naomi: Yeah, so you’re right. It’s one of the best examples that I can think of that kind of everyone can picture is a dog wants to play with the cat. And the cat does not wanna play with the dog. And so, if the cat does not have the opportunity to flee, they will most often flop on their back or side and do like a swipey with the paw. And for a dog, that’s like self-handicap let’s play. Those same behaviors, right? It’s not exactly the same, but it looks pretty close. And if they’re like this is a cat, this is not a dog, I know this is not a dog, but it looks similar, like they’re gonna map those two things on to each other and the dog already wants to play.
So, they’re like sweet, and the, their behavior is going to become more intense, which the cat is basically saying, what are you doing? I was telling you to back off. So, hopefully you can all picture that interaction. It’s very stereotypical, and what I tried to say to my clients and how I present this is that there is a dog cat translation dictionary that has one entry and two very different definitions.
And we basically like, that’s not how language works. Like one, one word theoretically should mean one thing. It doesn’t, often like we have homophones, and homonyms, and all those things that you learned in elementary school. But one thing should lead to one behavior, right? Like, well, A cue, right?
A cue, “sit” always means put your butt on the ground. Put your butt on the ground can have a different cue, but it doesn’t really work the other way around. So, we need to basically retool the animal’s brain to say, “Oh, when that animal does that behavior, it doesn’t mean what I think it should mean. It means this other thing.”
And so, you say, “Great, Naomi. That’s fantastic. Theoretically, I would love to teach, sit my animals down, and read them their, the other animals dictionary and show them all of the charts and say okay like clearly that picture, not that picture, right?” Oh, wouldn’t it be nice.
But the way I tend to recommend that people start this process is by using known cues for the animal who is misunderstanding. So, in the case that I was talking about I would have make sure that my dog has a really good whiplash turn A La Leslie, McDevitt, a recall, some kind of hand target. Something to move away from the thing that they are very heavily invested in.
And when I see that cat, at the very latest, do the flop and swipe, I’m calling that dog immediately. And I am trying to redirect that play energy onto a different play opportunity. You can use food, you can use attention, but if he really wants to play, then like giving that dog, the opportunity to play with you is at least like an okay consolation prize for most dogs.
And so, we’re looking at like the functional reinforcer to be transmitted from what they thought they were gonna get from the cat. They thought they were gonna get reinforced by play and they’re not. So, we need to transfer that over. And the more you do that, the more you basically teach that dog that the cat doing that behavior is a cue to move away.
Then you’ve basically just done a cue transfer you basically said that thing actually means this other thing, come away, come to me. I wanna, you wanna play great. I’ll play with you. And that becomes muscle memory so that you don’t as often have to use your cues, they will start to self-regulate.
Now the important thing that people tend to say happens if they do this exactly how I said is they say the dog will start to bother the cat in order to get you, to call them away, to get the cookie or to get you to play. And that is a very real thing, like that’s the like redirection is a wonderful tool, but it needs to be used in a very specific way.
And you, so you want to make sure that you are a calling your dog away from random stuff. So, it’s not like the only time they get those, that behavior, and that type of reinforcement is from like when they bother the cat. But you also wanna be making sure that like you’re recalling that dog away from the cat way before.
Way before they’ve gotten to the point where there’s a flop, and a hiss, and a swipe, right? That’s, that is like what I call a big behavior. Like no one in the world is gonna miss that cat is upset. Okay. Some people might, very few even untutored in body language are gonna see that cat is not upset.
But we wanna make sure that we are not only teaching the animal in this case, the dog that the flop, swipe, hiss means move away. But also, all of the smaller behaviors that happen right before that also mean, I don’t want you to hang out with me, including stiffening. Even like getting small, some cats get smaller, some cats get bigger.
Some of them like back away a little bit. And then they say, I don’t have time for this. And then they flop. And some cats have learned that the defense is a good offense, and they might just start taking steps forward to the dog. Also, another signal that the dog might say, “Yay that’s fun, let’s play.”
But we wanna teach the dog that all of those things mean move away from the cat. And so, it’s theoretically, relatively easy. In practice, difficult. Because you have to be the observer of body language and have cues on board that are fluent enough for each of the animals to be able to kind of micromanage the interaction at least at the beginning.
So, that’s how you rewrite the dictionary for each animal. And importantly, you need to be supervising in order to be able to do the micromanaging. If you hear a hiss from the other side of the house and you call the dog, yes, you’ve probably prevented escalation of even more conflict, but you’ve missed an opportunity to do that more subtle type of teaching that you really want to be able to make them actually enjoy being with each other, coexisting, that they actually understand each other.
It’s different to say, I live with my roommate and we don’t fight every day versus I live with my roommate and it’s, and we’re good roommates. Like we enjoy spending time with each other. It’s there’s one you would prefer. The more subtle interaction and non miscommunications that you have, you know, will help you move towards your ultimate goal of actually enjoying spending time with each other.
[00:39:10] Emily: Exactly. I love Susan Friedman’s saying, if you listen to their whispers, they never have to scream. And I, and I share that with clients all the time, because I think that is our goal, right? The more often they have to scream, the more likely they’re going to just skip to screaming. And the more often we can set up the environment so that we and the dog listen to their whispers, or in this cases where the cat is the antagonist, right? The animal who’s moving towards the other one, the more that they learned to listen to the whispers, we’re preventing that animal from having to rehearse screaming. And I think that’s such an important analogy to, for clients to bear in mind when they’re working through this, because yeah.
Sometimes screams happen. Management fails, we live in an imperfect world sometimes, things happen. But if that is the vast minority of the interactions between those animals and most of the time a whisper is effective, that animal will offer whispers first, more reliably. And that’s really what we’re talking about is can they just have a civil conversation instead of, all-out war.
[00:40:20] Naomi: Yeah. And you don’t always have to like, have cookies on you, or be having a play session, if they, if you just see some subtle communication where like the cat stiffens a little bit, and the dog pauses. Instead of continuing to move forward, you say, good job, dog. Excellent. Just some like casual praise often will be helpful in your day-to-day life.
But you’re looking for those micro kind of pause, thought processes of what did that mean instead of just running headlong into like very large behaviors. And so, yeah. It takes a lot of brain power and observation from you as the human, but again, the more, it just comes into play, you’ll see your animals not having to have that long think before they decide what to do. It’s just ” Oh, she doesn’t wanna hang out right now. I’m gonna go over here.”
[00:41:13] Emily: Yeah, I think I love that you acknowledge that it does take a lot of brain power on the part of the clients, because I think that’s one of the biggest concerns, on one hand, I don’t really want people just like adopting difficult animals because they want experience on the other hand, I think it would be really awesome if every behavior consultant had to live in these situations before they gave other people advice about them, because it feels totally different living with it day in and day out.
Then it does hypothetically talking about what you need to do. And so giving clients that acknowledgement and grace is so important to say, this does take a lot of brain power. That’s why management is a thing. So, that you don’t have to expend this brain power all day, every day, you can separate the animals and not have to think about it.
But that is such an important acknowledgement. It’s yeah, it is difficult to live with this, and yes, the only way we’re gonna build that muscle memory is through time and repetition. And yes, that can be exhausting. I hear you; I believe you. And here’s how we’re gonna make this sustainable for you so that you can stick around for the long haul, right?
[00:42:25] Naomi: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve structured my program specifically around that because when you have, when you’re just working on one problem animal, that’s exhausting enough when you are living with inside conflict all the time, like you said, at the beginning, it is so stressful just at baseline before you even are trying to do anything that like tiny steps is where it needs to be and not large changes.
I was gonna say at the beginning, but really ever. So, like all of the things like the setups that we talk about, I always say, let’s do that during meal times. Or like when you know that everyone’s chill. You don’t need to add extra training sessions into your day because it’s not, like you said, it’s not sustainable.
We need to be as thoughtful about the client’s experience as possible. Just by the nature of the types of cases that it is. There is no, there, there is no break. So, you need to be mindful of that. Definitely.
[00:43:20] Emily: Yeah, for sure. So, can you share with us some of your most memorable success stories?
[00:43:25] Naomi: Yeah. I was thinking about this. There’s a few and I tried to pick out some that are like, slightly different from each other because, whenever you work a similar type of case often there’s, I would say paradigms or like type, buckets of types of cases that they tend to fall in. One is the herding dog that has a cat.
And I get a lot of shepherd type calls where it’s is this herding? Is this prey drive? What is happening? And the cat either goes in one of two ways, like we were talking about the cat, says I’m out and they book it, make acting more like prey. And so, there’s this reinforcement cycle for everybody. Or the cat says not today, Satan, and they start to like actively antagonize the dog and the dog is just working on instinct and they’re like, “What is happening? That thing is not supposed to come towards me. That is wrong.” Then they like their brain short circuits and then they get stressed. And anyway, the moral of the story is that one of these cases I had a guy who had a aussie shepherd. And he was moving in with his fiancé who has two very energetic and nosy, pushy cats.
Like they were not the type to go hang out by themselves and sleep all day, like they had needs and they were gonna tell you about it. And they were smart, and they went into cabinets, and they were jumping on things and all of the things. So, at the beginning, the dog had no idea what to do with him.
He was like over aroused to the point of just constant fixation. And so, they called me when he had broken through baby gates. He couldn’t sleep because he was in the bedroom with them when they were sleeping and he was just staring at the door and the cats were like, “Let us in. We’ve never slept apart from our mom. We love her very much.” And so, they’re making a racket outside. They’re causing all this issues. It was one of those, like when the humans can’t sleep, trigger stacking all over the place. So what ended up happening was, we actually, because the cats were not scared of the dog, it was very helpful because the dog, basically we needed to help him habituate to the fact that the cats were there.
So, in this case, like total separation from behind a door was counterproductive. It was actually stressing him out much more, and so we kept him on leash, moving around the apartment, getting reinforced for any type of relaxation that he offered, any type of disengagement from the cats, but because the cats were also trainable.
All cats are trainable, but like they already knew some behaviors, like we were moving the cats around the space strategically. We were setting up mealtimes where the dog was behind a gate. He could see them, but he was also on leash so he couldn’t break through the gate and the cats were being trained at the same time because they loved to do that.
So, they ended up um, I have a picture. I don’t know if you guys do, I have a picture of, one of the cats like sleeping right next to the dog, and the other one is like on the cat tree, like looking like I wanna be there too. So, it was really, it really worked out really well. And then they got a puppy, so we were like, great, this has gone really well. And then they got a puppy, a leonberger puppy. Thank God. Because he was basically like do, do, do, do, right. So, we started from the beginning of leave your sisters, away. And he was just such a big dude that like the inertia of trying to chase, just like wasn’t in his behavioral repertoire.
So, like, it was very easy for us to teach him from the beginning of what are the appropriate behaviors around him? And the cats were very confused because he was puppy like, but he was as large as the shepherd basically. But they figured it out pretty quickly. So, all of the, the base kind of foundation work that we had done previously worked out well, and we didn’t have to go against any breed tendencies with the puppy. So, that worked out great.
Another one that came to mind, actually, I’m, we’re still in progress with this. So, we have a dog who, she’s a project dog in a lot of ways. They often are, it’s very rare that like, I, I do work with other trainers cause I’m like, I’ll do the cat dog stuff, but if you’re working on reactivity outside or whatever, let’s make sure we’re all on a team, that’s, y’all’s thing.
I wanna make sure that we’re not butting heads with how we’re teaching things, but so she’s working on other stuff, and she has a history of compulsion-based training. So, the dog has, a place behavior and she will stay there no matter what. But she’s by no means relaxed when she’s doing that.
And so, we had to kind of retrain that behavior to try to get some offered relaxation from her. So, that was a big thing because when the cat and the dog were separated, there’s this little air vent in the house, by the way, the house set up is extremely important in these cases. Like the world of the outcomes can be determined by the setup of the house.
So, I actually focus on that a lot at the beginning of my programs, but this house in particular has a little air vent in between where the cat’s room was and where the dog’s room was. And so the dog would literally put her nose at the air vent and just it was like a point like, she’s not a pointer.
But she was just like, I’m stuck here. There is a cat over there. Which was scary because we didn’t know what she would do if she got to the cat. So we’ve done a lot of just can you behave when that air vent is open? Can you do things that are not put your nose on the air vent um, so that we could move on to setups where the cat is in, in view.
So, we are currently at still heavily orchestrated setups. However, the reason I bring this up as a success is because while we are still like really working on them, there was a management slip. That happened. So, they have been completely separated this whole time, and there was one time when a dog walker came in and accidentally left the door open between the animals. And my client has a whatever it’s called.
Like a pet cam, it only starts taking video when there’s movement that it detects. And so, she came home, and she saw that the cat was in the living room. The cat is not supposed to be in the living room. We were worried that the dog was going to like was in danger of eating the cat.
Like we, this, we had no idea what was gonna happen. Cat’s just chilling in the living room. And the dog is like nowhere to be seen. On the footage. She comes up to her mom when, you know, greeting totally normally. But when we looked back at the footage, we had no idea where the dog went. We couldn’t find her.
It turns out that she had just decided to like put herself in the kitchen, and the cat was just walking around. We don’t know because she wasn’t on camera, like how stressed the dog was. She might have been extremely stressed and I wish that I had that on camera, so I knew what kinds of setups we could do that would be able to work on that.
But big success, no one got eaten, no one got hurt. Cat was demonstrating that she is confident enough to move around the space, and the dog has chosen to move away from her. So that’s a lot of different, skills that they displayed in that so that we can say, okay, we might be able to work faster in our setups.
We might be able to adjust what we’re doing so that we don’t have to be as careful. Because this magical this magical management fail ended up being good.
Last thing that one that I can think of is the flipper, flip side, where we were talking about the cats being the pushy one. So, let’s think there’s a couple. One I actually gave a case study yesterday about that. But there’s another one where we have a cat who is so food motivated that he will like swipe at your hand, if you have like a treat, you know, a treat pouch he’s like that typical, like dog that you think like they’re gonna mug the tree pouch.
They’re gonna SW, like swipe the treat outta your hand, but it’s this fluffy cat. And then there’s a doodle puppy who is an exuberant doodle puppy. So, you can imagine this cat, no fear. He’s like, I’m gonna run into any situation. And the dog says “wee!” And the cat is not trying to play with the dog.
The cat is, has his own agenda. And so, there’s conflict there because he’s like, “What’s happening with this, curly nugget thing that’s in my house now and trying to bother me?” So, the first thing we ended up doing with this, besides for separation, but they could still see each other that’s important.
Cuz this is a puppy, so we still like, we wanted to get things moving quicker so that we didn’t have to take longer because he’s too old to learn the appropriate skills. But we worked really hard on the cat relaxing around food so that we could then do our normal, like you eat first, you eat second, let’s do some hanging out in the same space.
Like all those positive associations that you might do, like fairly early on in a training program. Like they were not possible with these animals. So, once he realized that he could sit back and the food would come to him, everything changed. And he is actually, he, the cat is like one of the champion of my like relaxation protocols.
Like he’s in a lot of the demo videos because he’s just, ” I will, I know that marker, “good” means food is coming to me, and I will just sit here on my throne waiting.” And his mom just sent me a video of him, he has a chair at the, he has a chair at the table where he just sits there because that’s been so highly reinforced for him that he’s like, “There’s food around. I’m just gonna sit here and just wait. Wait to see if something appears.” I love it so much. I know that his mom is gonna be listening to this podcast episode. So, shout out. He’s, he’s one of the funniest cats that I’ve ever worked with. But you could see how even within this framework of like this niche of cat dog stuff, there’s so many different personalities, there’s so many different variables that kind of go into each other. That it’s always really fun for me. It’s never the same day in and day out. And I love all my clients who are making such great progress.
[00:54:21] Emily: Yeah. That’s the great thing about being a behavior consultant is even if you’ve been doing it for a very long time, and have seen thousands of clients, every pet is new, every client’s new, every environment is new. It never gets old. Right? So, why should people care about our topic today? How is it relevant to them?
[00:54:38] Naomi: Number one, I know that there are a lot of households that have both cats and dogs. I tried to find statistics on this because relevant to my world. There, I couldn’t find any, they, we know how many households in the us have dogs, we know how many have cats. I’m so sure that there is a big ven diagram in that area in the middle. But those people are much less likely to realize that a, there might be a problem with their animals, even though they’re quote unquote fine. And so, part of what I wanna explain to people is that like you should, if you have a dog and a cat, I want you to look at their behavior to see if they’re actually enjoying cohabitating versus just like avoiding each other. So, there are a lot of cats, mostly who, when the dog comes in, their behavioral repertoire drops down to almost zero. They just say, “Okay well, I’m the safest in the bedroom. I’m just gonna hang out there all day.” Whereas before they used to walk around, hang out with the family they used to play a lot more.
You might also see like the cat when the dog is out, says “Wee! I can like do things now.” Yes, those animals are fine. There’s no like safety issue. They’re living together without major conflict, but I would venture to say that’s actually, they’re not the roommates that we were talking about before that are actually able to do their own thing.
Even if it’s not together. Like they don’t have to cuddle on the couch. But they need to be able to do cat things and do dog things that they would normally do. Um, they don’t feel stinted or worried by the presence of the other animal. So, that’s my first thing is if you’re listening to this, and you have cats and dogs just do a check. Not trying to be like, “Your animals are not happy. Like, “Everything is terrible.” But it’s to raise awareness of there’s more nuance to it than just quote unquote fighting like cats and dogs. Like it doesn’t have to be knocked down, drag out for there to be something to work on with them. And there’s also the really important thing of a, you can train cats and you should work on both sides of the relationship.
Like I said, kind of at the beginning, a lot of dog trainers are not really familiar with cats. Their ethology, their behavioral repertoire, and so they just say “I know what to do with the dog. So, let’s train the dog and like that should get us to a point where we’re happy and everyone is fine. No one’s gonna get eaten.” But so much more progress can be made. If you think of the relationship from both sides and you work on satisfying the needs of each of the animals and teaching them the appropriate coping skills that they need from a holistic perspective. And so, if you’ve been working on with your dog a lot, and you’ve reached a plateau where it’s like, you can tell your dog to not chase the cat. But you don’t feel like he’s actually relaxed around the cat, or anything like that, and the cat is still acting, showing some stress signals, there is a lot that you can do there to make more progress than that. So, it’s basically just you need to care about this because even if you only have dogs, it’s nice to think about the nuance of ways that you can use, like the structure of behavior modification plan to think about if you wanna get any other kind of animal, if you wanna have a kid, right?
All of these things are the same to help integrate. If you’re moving in with someone, whatever. If you’re, if your animal needs to get along with any other being in the house, like you can use some of these tips and structure as well.
[00:58:15] Emily: It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Ye, yes. The animals might survive, but are their needs being met? Are they living an enriched life? Are they able to safely perform species-typical behaviors, all that stuff. Yeah. I love that.
So, we let Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members submit questions for our guests, and the most popular question we got was, “In your experience, what are some common mistakes owners make within their dog cat household that can lead to a less amicable relationship between the animals?”
[00:58:46] Naomi: Hmmmmm, mistakes. The first one that comes to mind is just letting them work it out. If they just fight it out at the best outcome would be that survival thing where you’re in a very like negative reinforcement contingency of just avoiding each other, and conflict avoidance is not a pleasant way to live.
And so, I would say that the best way to work on things is to actively come up with a plan to bring them together in a strategic way. But on the flip side, I’ve mentioned this about a puppy, if there aren’t a lot of red flags, people tend to be overly cautious.
It’s possible to be over cautious as well, where you are either, you have a young animal who would do much better to learn relatively quickly how to live around the other animal, and if they’re prevented from experiencing that, then they won’t have those skills, and you’ve made your life harder.
But also, if you are not seeing like safety, you don’t have safety concerns, you might be able to go slightly faster than you might think. And really just focusing on the behaviors that the animals are exhibiting and again, reinforcing the appropriate ones that they’re already offering. A lot of people are thinking so much about prevention that they forget about just looking for,
Basically, like in a Smart 50 kind of way. Like if the animals are around each other and yes, there’s still some management, perhaps, maybe your dog is on leash, or your cat is up in a cat tree and they’re just doing their own thing. What can I reinforce that they’re already offering, than just to keep them separated cuz it’s you don’t know what to do otherwise. Two sides of the same coin that people make the mistake
[01:00:43] Emily: So, we finished every interview with a set of kind of the same questions. And the first one is what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment in general?
[01:00:54] Naomi: Okay, the thing that blows people’s minds a little bit, is that when we’re talking about enrichment, we’re talking about species-typical behaviors, which also includes conflict resolution-based behaviors. Those coping skills to practice kind of like the, just like how play is basically a mini fight same thing with practicing navigating kind of tense, social situations.
And so, when I tell my clients that not every interaction between their cats and their dogs needs to be completely hunky dory and totally happy all the time. It’s all about how they learn to read each other and to let them practice those slight communication things where like, ” I’m not happy.”
That’s part of their behavioral repertoire that is enrichment. We aren’t gonna put them in those situations on purpose, but when they happen, we are not gonna say, “Oh gosh, that was horrible. We’re never letting that happen again.” That’s a learning opportunity. And it’s also an enrichment experience, an enriching experience by definition, right? That is a, it is a species-typical behavior and how they navigate their social experience.
[01:02:15] Emily: Yeah. I love that one, and also by the way, no one on the show has said that yet. So, I think it’s great for you to bring that up because uh, if you watch wild animal behavior, there’s a lot of diplomacy that happens in their interactions, and that diplomacy is not innate. It is learned like adults teach, I don’t know about every species on the planet, but in most species, adults are teaching their young how, like what, what are the social etiquette of their species? And so, I think you’re absolutely right that like we have to give them opportunities to practice and learn, or I should say we have to give them opportunities to learn and practice diplomacy.
So, I love that response. The next question is what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?
[01:03:03] Naomi: I would love to see dog trainers who are not as savvy about cats, not take cat dog cases as often, if they’re not sure what to do. So, to have a more team-like approach to make sure that they’re not missing a large part of a training plan that could be really crucial to the prognosis and success of those animals learning to live together.
And it’s not like shameless plug, I, you need to call me. It’s more just like in general, we, as a profession need to be more open to saying, “I don’t know this very well, and someone else should please help me.” And also, for us to not be competitive and say, “Yes, I will help you.” And really be more collaborative.
[01:03:59] Emily: Yeah, I love that. Yeah. I’m yes. All of us should learn how to stay in our lane and collaborate. I love that because it is a collaborative profession. All right. Next question. What do you love about what you do?
[01:04:11] Naomi: I love the creativity of it. Outside of cat dog, like how I navigate the cases, I’m also very in my business, I like to be creative and do things slightly differently than, what I’d call like your typical session, go into someone’s house type of thing. Um, and so, I’m always like tinkering, tinkering with things.
And that’s my creative outlet, so I’m always trying to figure out like, how do I make my training programs better for my clients? How do I split something more appropriately? How do I get them to their outcome? How do I support them? And so, that’s a really fun thing for me outside of the actual behavior stuff, which I find absolutely fascinating.
Obviously, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think that, but I think if it was just that I would be unfulfilled, I don’t like necessarily all the aspects of being a business owner, but that creative aspect and the ability to pivot when necessary, super fun for me.
[01:05:12] Emily: Yeah, owning a business, definitely keeps you on your toes for sure.
Next question. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?
[01:05:23] Naomi: So, number one, I also have a podcast which is called It’s Training Cats and Dogs, because puns are amazing. Y’all can listen to that in which so I do some kind of coaching calls on there too. So, you can hear how I walk people through some of the common questions that people have. I’m also on Instagram at Praiseworthy Pets.
I love to talk with people in the DMs there, and I have my private training programs, which are all online, but they also have a group component. I have the Cat and Dog Coexistence Club, which is one of my favorite things, because going through this type of training and kind of long-term project can be really isolating.
And so many of my clients have said, I love knowing that there are other people going through similar stuff we can learn from each other. And we can see the people who are like slightly ahead of us and have some kind of hope that things are gonna get better. Um, so that’s a really important component of the programs that I offer, and I would not go back to just doing private. I think it’s so important to have that collaborative aspect. So, if you’re interested in those things, let me know and put my website down there as well, just general information
[01:06:45] Emily: Of course. All right, thank you so much for joining us, Naomi, it has been such a pleasure talking with you and listening to your process and how you approach your cases. Obviously, we all adore you. I really appreciate you showing up today and having a conversation with me.
[01:07:02] Naomi: Thank you so much for having me, I feel honored to be a part of the seasons panel, and I really appreciate you and think you guys are awesome.
[01:07:10] Emily: The feeling is mutual.
[01:07:11] Allie: I hope you loved this interview as much as I did. Naomi is so much on the same page as us when it comes to enrichment being about meeting everyone’s needs. For her cases, that’s the human, the dog, and cat. I think that even if you don’t have a multi-species household, everyone can take a note for how to meet seemingly incompatible needs for all individuals from Naomi. Next week we will be talking about creating sustainable management.
Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.