Praise Be To Dog!

Has Naomi’s training answered our prayers? Halfway thru her program, we’re seeing the light.

When we called Praiseworthy Pets last month, we were pretty much at the end of our rope. Seemed our 5 year old rescue dog, Ducky, was a bundle of nerves waiting to snap. Plucked from a shelter at 4 months old, she came to us shy but good-natured – a tad skittish around humans but playful with other pups and curious about the world around her.

As time passed, she grew more uptight and reactive. The amount of space she required on Pack Walks between her and other dogs grew and grew. She’d bark at random passersby in the street. Last summer, she started going after our two indoor cats, who in turn grew skittish and hyper-vigilant, piling on the tension in our one-bedroom condo.

Whatever we tried  – obedience, tricks, shaping, nose work – didn’t seem to work to solve our problems. Ducky just couldn’t relax. Something wasn’t getting through, wasn’t carrying over into Real Life. Gah! What was wrong with our dog?!

Ducky (before) had been anxious on walks.

Naomi Rotenberg, owner of Praiseworthy Pets, shared some theories in our initial phone consultation, but reserved judgement until our in-person evaluation.

Observing from a distance, we watched Naomi walk both Ducky and the cats through a series of exercises that gently brought them closer and closer, with lots of treats and encouragement. We were struck by how perfectly calm and deliberate Naomi seemed, and how easily she lured the pets juuuuuust up to their thresholds and then back into their comfort zones. Looked like she was really tuned into their behavior, and was puzzling out the dynamics.

Naomi hit us with a startling assessment: Ducky was aggressive with the cats because she associated them with us correcting her (to keep away from them). Whaaaa…? Our natural instincts to go, “Ducky, no!” when she was eyeballing the cats inadvertently trained her to pre-emptively strike out at them for getting her in trouble.

So Naomi’s plan centered around changing Ducky’s emotional response to seeing the cats – instead of triggering tension and reactivity, their presence cued her to remain calm and look to her handler for reassurance. She started by rewarding Ducky just for looking at the cats (and looking away).

The cats got training too! Naomi taught them to touch their nose to her finger for a treat, and then she’d lead them around the condo by pointing her finger. After three sessions, we were astounded to watch Ducky peacefully licking peanut butter from a Kong while our cats confidently zig-zagged the room. We’d also noticed a new lightness among them all in general around the house, although we hadn’t done a lick of training on our own yet.

At our first “transfer session,” Naomi showed us how Ducky was trained to lie down when we sat on the couch – or I should say, Ducky had been shown that us sitting on the couch was her cue to lie down and settle. Our mission moving forward, then, was to reinforce this behavior. Several times a day, we sit on the couch for ten minutes or so with Ducky at our feet, feeding her treats at increasing intervals. When the cats come around, everyone gets treats. Sounds simple, but the change has been profound.

It’s not magic, of course, but we’re making great progress  – we have one more transfer session with the kitties and then a follow up/trouble-shooting session several weeks later.

Ducky enjoying long line training with Naomi (McMichael Park)

Meanwhile, the second part of Ducky’s training plan has begun: leash skills and reactivity towards other dogs and people. Naomi says she’ll train Ducky how to signal us on walks when she wants to avoid a stimulus, and also teach her to cue us when she wants to explore one. So we’re like learning to talk to our dog! Can’t wait to write the next update already…

Looking back over past two weeks, Steve and I are impressed and heartened by Ducky’s progress. Naomi’s done 99.9% of the work and, more importantly, she figured out what on earth was going on with our pets in the first place. She taught our animals what they needed to know to get along, and how we could encourage this new normal.

To get started on your own dog’s transformation, schedule a free phone/video consultation at Naomi offers day training, private coaching, pre-adoption support, and “family” training which focuses on kids’ interactions with pets. Mention Ducky, and she’ll knock $50 off your invoice!


Follow Praiseworthy Pets on YouTube for Naomi’s adorable “Dog Behavior Translated” videos. And learn more about her as a trainer — and a neighbor!– in our introduction from earlier this year.

Praiseworthy Pets
Naomi Rotenberg (MA, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA) comes to your home & works with your pet one-on-one over a series of weeks — then transfers her handling skills to you. Serves Main Line, Center City, and NW Philly neighborhoods (including East Falls, of course)

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