Halley and the cats: A successful adoption made possible through training, positive reinforcement, and patience


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It’s been eleven months since I adopted Halley; ten months since I last wrote about her.

Back then, I was despairing that she would ever become a permanent part of our family. Every time I’d sit down to write a post about her, we’d have another setback, another problem.

Most of the issues revolved around Halley’s relationship with our cats, which metaphorically speaking was like python and mongoose. Roadrunner and coyote. Seinfeld and Newman. Matter and antimatter. That is to say, awful at best, antagonistic at worst, and absolutely unsustainable. It was like living in a war zone.

Halley was most definitely NOT good with cats. The rescue group had told me she was okay with them, had even “tested” her with one, but it turned out not to be true. I don’t blame them. They tried. They had the best intentions. They did the right things.  (Read more about our first month with her, and her adoption story.) 

My dilemma was this: If Halley was going to stay with us, I needed to make sure my cats were safe with her in the house. Not just that they were safe but that they felt safe. That they could go about their feline business on any given day, eating undisturbed, using whichever litterbox was the right one for the moment, napping wherever the sunbeams fell, offering play-by-play commentary on the chipmunks and birds outside our windows, and demanding—and receiving—appropriate lap time with their humans.

But every time Halley saw one of my cats, she’d tense up, stare, and act like she wanted nothing more than to simply get them. I don’t think she would have intentionally harmed them, but she was obsessed with them, fixated on them, fascinated by them. The cats—who are both predator and prey—read that body language real well. Yet that was only the tip of the behavioral iceberg (among other things, which you can read also read about in my previous post, I Didn’t Expect Baby Nazgûl). She was Exhibit A in “What Barrier Frustration Looks Like,” meaning if she was thwarted from getting her way, she would throw a puppy temper tantrum, barking and pulling and jumping and running and flinging herself toward the desired object or creature (like one of the cats for instance) and let loose demon screams that would put fear in the heart of any living soul.

My dog, when she was a puppy, sounded like a Nazgûl from The Lord of the Rings movies.

That combination of terrier-style obsession with an inability to self-regulate when thwarted was, to say the least, a doozy of a behavioral challenge. 

Halley needed someone who could train her, who could handle her issues, and who could help her be the best dog she could be. In the hands of someone who did not understand her, who did not use positive reinforcement techniques, who did not have the tools or skills to teach her, she would become uncontrollable. Reactive. Possibly dangerous.

So I was extremely reluctant to give up on her, to give her back to the rescue group. That would be one black mark against her, and if her next family couldn’t cope with her, she’d wind up back again—or experience worse things I didn’t want to imagine—and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of sentencing her to an unstable future. 

So I kept working with Halley. 

I talked and consulted with vets, behaviorists, trainers. I read dozens of articles, and bought several books on training reactive dogs. (I’ve listed some titles in the box at the end of this story). I took Halley to basic training classes. Socialization events. I brought her to two different doggy day camps, where I hired trainers to work with her on site. I had a trainer—Anne Macaulay of On Good Behavior—come visit us in our home (pre-COVID days; sigh) to help assess whether it was even possible that Halley could be trained to live with cats. Anne gave me a cautious, “maybe.” But she told me if anyone could do it, I could.

I studied everything. We practiced everything. Because I work from home (even before the pandemic), I worked with Halley throughout the day—always using positive reinforcement, catching Halley doing the right thing, and rewarding her for it—and sometimes rewarding the other inhabitants for doing the right things as well. 

Halley is the smartest dog I've ever known. She learned every command incredibly fast. Her challenge in training class was to ignore the dogs around her, and focus on me. And to handle the frustration of not being able to run around and play with the other pups. It was exactly what she needed.

Halley is the smartest dog I’ve ever known. She learned every command incredibly fast. Her challenge in training class was to ignore the dogs around her, and focus on me. And to handle the frustration of not being able to run around and play with the other pups. It was exactly what she needed.

The key to all of this was consistency.

Clicker training.

Countless high-value treats.

And patience. 

And baby steps. Actually, whatever is less than baby steps. Gnat baby steps.

For example, Halley sees a cat and is quiet for .5 nanosecond. Click. Treat. Then, days later, for 1 second. Click. Treat. Then, over time, 3 seconds. Click. Treat. Eventually, 15 seconds. Click. Treat. 

Halley looks at me instead of the cat. Click. Treat.

Halley can actually lay down in the presence of a cat. Click Treat.

Halley stays down in the presence of a cat. Click Treat. Click Treat. Click Treat. Click Treat. Click Treat.

That progression took months. Months of short, few-minutes-at-a-time training bursts, delivered mostly ad-hoc, when opportunities presented themselves.

To treat increase Halley’s frustration tolerance, we actually created more barriers, so she encountered them a lot. This was something the trainers at day camp did, too. She needed practice in being frustrated. She needed to learn self-regulation. That she could control her emotions; that delaying immediate gratification would result in a desired reward. 

So, at first, inside the house, Halley was either tethered to me, or was hooked up to a leash that was attached to a table—and that only happened when I needed extra hands.  There was never a second when she wasn’t supervised, except when we were all asleep. 

Due to her stress and fixation on the cats, I fed them separately. Brian gave the dogs their meals outside while the cats were served in the house.

At first, Halley was so reactive to merely seeing the cats that we had to block the sliding glass doors in the kitchen so she wouldn't lose her mind when she saw the cats in the kitchen when she was outside.

At first, Halley was so reactive to merely seeing the cats that we had to block the sliding glass doors in the kitchen so she wouldn’t lose her mind when she saw the cats from outside. Note the chair with the blanket over it and the grill blocking the view.


As long as it was warm out, we fed the dogs outside and the cats inside.

At first, we fed the dogs outside and the cats inside.

Eventually, the dogs were allowed inside, but had to stay gated and supervised in the laundry room. Then they could be in the kitchen while the cats were being fed, but Halley would be leashed and attached to the faucet post. There she couldn’t see the cats (because our kitchen island blocked the view) and they couldn’t see her. She was taught to be quiet while I prepared dinner. To stay on her mat. How long did this take? Months. 

This was a lesson in patience. I only pushed Halley slightly forward in her training when I felt comfortable she had mastered one of her baby gnat steps. And I went backward a gnat step or two if she failed too often, letting her win, get rewarded, and feel confident before we tried a gnat step forward again.

Eventually, the cats got used to Halley being in the kitchen while they ate. Sometimes they would walk past her on the way to the litter box. I wore my treat bag in the house, and only took it off when I went to the bathroom or slept; a reward and a clicker were always at hand, so I could mark the desired behaviors when I saw them.

Other than meal times, for the most part, the cats hid when Halley was in the house. Avoiding Halley meant they avoided me. Athena and Calvin staked out the basement—a room Halley had no access to. Elsa Clair ruled the upstairs. I put a strong barrier at the base of the stairs, and also created a cat-safe area out of my daughter’s old bedroom, using our favorite gate that features a cat-sized opening, so Halley couldn’t enter the room, even by accident.

A barrier across the bottom of the steps enable us to keep the upstairs cat safe.

A barrier across the bottom of the steps enabled us to keep the upstairs cat safe.

The cat room.

Elsa Clair walks through the opening in the gate to my daughter’s old room, which was turned into a cat-safe space.

Dawn hid under the family room couch. This wasn’t the best hiding place, as Halley could smell her under there, and any time she was in the family room, the dog would attempt to antagonize the cat, getting close enough the the base of the couch to cause Dawn to growl and swat at the skirting.

This was endlessly amusing to Halley, but not to Dawn, or to me, so I spent a lot of time rewarding Halley for ignoring Dawn, and tossing treats under the couch to make up for Dawn’s unwilling participation in a puppy training activity. Months.

My puppy HMy puppy Halley is learning how to be calm near our cats. In this video, we practiced while my cat Dawn was hiding under the couch.

I missed my feline companions; they were always hiding. So at night, after the dogs settled down in the bedroom with Brian, I snuck downstairs to spend quality time with the cats. This also gave me an opportunity to assess how they were doing. My vet told me that cats are more resilient and adaptable than many people give them credit for, but I needed to be patient, to give them time. So every night, I played with them, petted them, scratched their chins, and provided laps for them to curl up in. They still loved me. They were all okay. They were managing. I could continue trying to make this work. 

I visited Athena and Calvin in the basement whenever I could, usually when Brian took the dogs outside, or when Halley was at day care.

I visited Athena and Calvin in the basement whenever I could, usually when Brian took the dogs outside, or when Halley was at doggy daycare. I also tried to spend time with Elsa Clair upstairs. I couldn’t do much for Dawn, who found her safe spot under the family room couch.


"Sunshine on my shoulder." After the dogs were settled upstairs in the bedroom with Brian, the cats came out and we spent quality time together.

“Sunshine on my shoulder.” At night, after the dogs were settled upstairs in the bedroom with Brian, I came downstairs to hang out with the cats.

I couldn’t train Halley to be good with the cats if the cats were hiding and only making brief appearances during meal times, or when they could hear the silence that meant the dogs were outside. But this was an issue I couldn’t force. I had to wait. And hope. And be ready for a chance encounter between Halley and a cat.

One day, Athena wandered up out of the basement when Halley was sleeping. I rewarded her with treats, which of course woke up the dogs. Then everyone got treats. Halley was leashed, so she couldn’t reach Athena, and I rewarded them both heavily as long as Halley could stay quiet and attempt calmness. It worked! For only a few moments, but long enough for Athena to calmly walk away, back downstairs, instead of dashing off in fear.

It didn’t take long for our resident tortie to realize that if she ventured out when Halley was present, she would get snacks just for sitting around, observing the situation and offering commentary from a safe height on a step stool, chair or the buffet. This equated the dog with pleasant moments—and food.

Then one evening, Dawn didn’t retire to her undercouch lair immediately after dinner; instead, she curled up on a chair tucked under the kitchen table. This gave Halley practice in reducing her intensity when a cat was around. Halley got rewards for being quiet, for looking at me instead of the cat, exhibiting anything that looked like self-regulation. I also rewarded Lilah and Jasper for calmness and quiet. Both dogs are very attuned to household tension; as it increases, it causes Jasper to bark, sparking a cascade of events with Lilah jumping in the middle like an ice hockey ref breaking up a gloves-off fight, and cats scampering away in fear. My goal was to keep that anxious atmosphere from developing; if I could feel the situation becoming tense, I’d provide more rewards or add more space between the players—or stop the training session before it escalated.

At first Dawn was too nervous to accept treats while Halley was in the room, but eventually, as Dawn stayed out more and more, Halley began to calm down (remember those gnat baby steps?), and the cat began to feel good enough to enjoy the food.

At first, Dawn would only come out from under the couch when she knew the coast was clear and Halley was not in the house.

At first, Dawn would only come out from under the couch when she knew the coast was clear and Halley was not in the house.

By then I was using cat kibble as a reward. It’s small enough that the cats could eat it, tasty enough for everyone, and each individual kibble didn’t have too many calories. To control everyone’s weight through this process, I cut down on the amount of food everyone received for the meals.

One by one, the cats started coming out of hiding, cautiously testing the environment, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. But with special treats involved (I normally feed my kitties wet food, so kibble was a high-value, coveted reward), they could come back.

My puppy is learning to relax with my cats, and my cats are learning to tolerate my puppy. Positive reinforcement in the form of treats (cat kibble) helps everyone.

In some ways, it became more difficult as now I had to be vigilant, knowing a cat could show up at any moment, and staying attuned to Halley’s moods, reading her body language to tell me if a cat was in the area that I hadn’t seen. This way I could be ready to grab or stomp on Halley’s leash, and pull a clicker out of my pocket for an instant unscheduled training session. At this point, I was training all four cats and three dogs simultaneously. If I didn’t have a clicker, I would say, “Yes!” and “Good girl,” which Halley understood was almost as good as a click, since —just like a click—those words would be followed by a reward.

Calvin and Athena would sit on the basement stairs, hiding behind the door—which Halley couldn’t get through because of the Door Buddy hook that keeps it open just wide enough for feline passage, but not a 30-pound puppy.

Athena finds safety behind the basement door, while Halley (and her siblings) learn to chill in her presence. Everyone gets rewarded.

Athena finds safety behind the basement door, while Halley (and her siblings) learn to chill in her presence. Everyone gets rewarded.

As the cats got to the top of the stairs, Halley would sniff them, and treats were served all around. Soon, one of the kitties would feel brave and walk out into the kitchen. Click. Treat. Treat. Treat. Treat. Treat. Treat. Treat.

Sometimes I would sit at the top of the basement steps, giving treats to the cats who were hiding safely behind the door, and the dogs who were behaving well on the other side.

Often I would position myself on the floor with cats, giving everyone treats: often surrounded by all three dogs and four cats. Click. Treat. Treat. Treat. 

This is what training often looked like. Me on the floor with one or more cats on one side of my legs, and the dogs on the other side, while I rewarded good behavior with clicks and treats.

This is what training often looked like. Me on the floor with one or more cats on one side of my legs, and the dogs on the other side, while I rewarded good behavior with clicks and treats.

I thought that once Halley was able to calmly tolerate a cat’s presence, she could apply what she learned when the next cat appeared. But cats are individuals, with different scents and personalities, and it became clear to me she could differentiate. Likewise, each cat had to define their own relationship with Halley, what they were willing to tolerate, what made them run, and eventually, what would cause them to hiss and swat. So it was slow going, as each of the four cats, and Halley, had to figure out for themselves how to accept each other.

To be honest, I was thrilled the first time Halley got swatted. (Thank you Dawn.) Now Halley realized that cats had sharp and pointy bits that could be employed if she got too nosy. She wasn’t hurt (no blood drawn), but she began to respect Dawn a little more after than. It was her first lesson in how to understand the feline language, and that a growl and a hiss could presage an encounter with claws. This bit of information she did apply to her interactions with the other felines of the house: growl / hiss = warning.

After a close (and controlled) encounter with my cat, my puppy learns to respect her.

As we took our baby gnat steps, I sometimes posted our progress on Facebook. But never here. It felt like if I posted here, it meant that Halley was staying, that she had a permanent place in our home. For all these months, I was not sure. I wanted to get to a point where I could trust a leashless, unattended Halley—and the two other dogs—to be calm around the cats. And I needed the cats to be safe, to feel safe, and to confidently go about their feline business undisturbed. Until then, there was always the possibility that I would need to give Halley up. 

This was another reason for my silence on the blog; it wasn’t just the loss of my dog Tucker, whom I was still grieving during all of this. It was the potential loss of Halley. The huge amount of mental and emotional space that grief and training took up in my head. And then, of course, the pandemic, which, while my family and I were lucky enough to avoid getting sick, nonetheless affected us dramatically here in New Jersey in the spring. 

I told myself I would write about our journey with Halley, when I knew for certain that she could stay. That there is, as we say in the Jewish tradition, shalom bayit, peace in the house. 

I finally believe we’re there. 

Dawn is rarely under the couch these days; she sits on Brian’s lap during evening “TV time” and hisses Halley away if she gets too close. And Halley (usually) backs down, though sometimes she offers commentary, which consists of little yips of frustration, but nothing like the Nazgûl screams of her early months. Still, Halley will come to me when called, walking away and leaving Dawn alone. Jasper has learned to temper his hockey-ref tendencies. And Lilah can’t be bothered getting involved anymore; nobody seems to be in danger so she doesn’t feel she has to step in.

Only a few months ago, I wouldn't have imagined a moment where Dawn would be comfortable in her bed, while Halley jumped up next to her to look out the window. They have a mutual interest in bird watching. And squirrel watching. And chipmunk watching.

Only a few months ago, I wouldn’t have imagined a moment where Dawn would be comfortable in her bed, while Halley jumped up next to her to look out the window. They have a mutual interest in bird watching. And squirrel watching. And chipmunk watching.

Athena will probably hold her anti-Halley grudge forever. She never forgave Tucker for being a nosy terrier, and she throws silent kitty curses at Halley when the dog has done something egregious, like occupy space. But she’ll come by when treats are being offered. Training hasn’t stopped, nor do I ever expect it to. And Halley has learned to detour around our tortie cat; again, she may complain about it, but gently, and somewhat respectfully. And at a safe distance. 

Athena rules. The dogs all know this.

Athena rules. The dogs all know this.

I could never tell if Elsa Clair took notice of our dogs—any of them. I always thought that she viewed them as moving furniture, useless furniture at that, since she couldn’t jump up on them. But she actually sees Halley, will talk to her, walk past her and glance at her, even offer an exploratory sniff. I had been worried about her, since she had experienced some of the worst of Halley early on. I guess Elsa Clair is a bit more forgiving than her sisters. 

Elsa Clair is often curious about Halley—cautious, but curious. Until the dog gets bouncy, and then she's outta there.

Elsa Clair is often curious about Halley—cautious, but curious. Until the dog gets bouncy, and then she hisses and off she runs.

As for Calvin, he stayed hidden for much longer than the other cats, so he avoided experiencing the worst of Halley. Maybe that’s why there’s a budding friendship between the two of them. After Tucker died, I could tell Calvin missed him; he would jump up on my bed and look puzzled and sad when his dog buddy wasn’t there. I’ve actually caught Calvin rubbing Halley, and while she’s a bit confused about the activity, she looks to me for approval, and stays calm. The two of them will often lie near one another on the rug in the kitchen, hoping for a treat or two—and I’ll oblige for such well-behaved creatures.

How far we've come! My dog Halley can lie calmly next to Calvin as he rolls around the floor. My dogs and cats are learning to live together peaceably.

Halley is still a work in progress. In this post, I haven’t touched on the training I’ve done to help her remain calm and non reactive when there are other dogs around. To stop fence running. To sleep in a crate. To bark an appropriate amount at appropriate times. To allow me to brush her teeth and comb her coat. We’ve had tremendous success on all those fronts—each with its own baby gnat steps. We’re still working with Halley on walking near cars. And clipping her nails. And I think she’ll struggle with frustration tolerance for a long time. 

There might be treats involved.

There might be treats involved.

But she’ll do that here. With me. In her home. Surrounded by the people—and dogs—who love her, as Lilah and Jasper clearly do. And cats who don’t mind having her around—mostly—and one (Calvin) who seems to want to actually be her friend.

One of the other reasons I was very reluctant to give up on Halley was because Lilah and Jasper liked her from the start. It had been obvious they missed Tucker, and I didn't want them to experience yet another loss. These three feel like a unit, a family, and show genuine affection for each other.

One of the other reasons I was very reluctant to give up on Halley was because Lilah and Jasper liked her from the start. It had been obvious they missed Tucker, and I didn’t want them to experience yet another loss. These three feel like a unit—a family—and show genuine affection for each other.

Halley is home for good. 

Do you have a dog with barrier frustration or other behavioral issues?

Here are a few helpful hints.

Use only positive reinforcement. I can’t stress this enough. I never punish Halley. I just catch her doing the things I wanted her to do—however fleeting those behaviors are at first—and mark them (using the clicker) so she knows what they are, and reward her. 

Find a trainer who can help you. I could not have done this alone, without the advice and coaching of people who know more than I do. This can even be done during the pandemic; there are trainers who can train outside, meet you in a park, or work with you via an online meeting tool like Zoom. Ask your vet for recommendations.

Try clicker training. It’s easier than you think and animals learn real fast. Clicking enables you to mark a good behavior from afar. Plus a click is processed in the brain faster than words, and it’s the click that starts the release of the dopamine, the chemical messenger that signals pleasure. I have about six clickers (I keep putting them down when I’m not wearing something with pockets and misplacing them) and try to always have one at hand. I also use “Yes!” in those rare moments a clicker wasn’t nearby. 

Figure out and use the highest value rewards for your pet. For high-stakes training, use the reward that is most desired. For example, don’t just use dog kibble or a boring snack, use bits of cut-up cheese or freeze-dried liver. Your dog will let you know what they like, what they’re willing to work for. If someone offered you a single french fry to get up on a table and sing the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, you might not do it, but if it was an expensive scotch or the keys to a beach house for the week, you might reconsider.

Keep the treats on hand. I wore my treat bag all day. I also have small dog-and-cat-proof closed containers of treats placed around the house, so I can grab one any time I need to. You don’t want to have to run to another room when you’re trying to reward your pet when you’ve caught them doing something right. You may want to adjust the amount of food you give your dog at meal times so they don’t gain too much weight. 

Be patient. Now be more patient. Training like this takes time. It is not something that takes weeks. Think months. Years. Gnat baby steps. It took Lilah years to learn how to deal with her anxiety.  It’s better to go back to a step that your dog is successful with if they’re not ready to progress. 

Be consistent. Rewarding behavior sometimes, punishing behavior other times, and ignoring bad behavior on other occasions is a recipe for failure. That doesn’t mean you have to train your dog 24/7, but there are other tools you can use, if you aren’t able to jump into an impromptu training session: distraction (offer a toy, or call your dog to you, or make a strange noise) or removing the dog from the situation (take them outside, bring them to another room, close a door).

Be a student of your dog’s body language. A dog, much like a human toddler, doesn’t have the words to tell you when they are stressed, anxious or over stimulated. But their body language can tell you a lot. A dog who is stressed may lick their lips, yawn, or pace. (Here’s a handy poster with illustrations showing signs of canine—and feline—anxiety.

Practice in short bursts. I train Halley in mini sessions of less than five minutes, usually no more than two or there. I stop while she’s doing well (quit while you’re ahead) or if I see early signs of anxiety.

Consider keeping your dog on a leash in the house. The leash stays on, even when you’re not holding it. The great thing about a leash is, you can quickly stomp on it, which will stop a running dog. You’ll want to make sure your dog is wearing an appropriate harness and not a collar for this so as not to hurt them. 

Consider training to a mat. I had never done this with my other dogs, but it’s a great tool for self-regulation, and we used it in Halley’s basic training. A mat becomes a safe place, a calming place for your dog. And it’s portable, so you can bring it with you. I brought mine to the Dog Writers Association of America awards ceremony earlier this year (pre-pandemic) and it helped Halley stay calm and centered in a novel environment. 

Do some research. The Google can help you, up to a point. There are tons of videos out there that can show you training techniques like clicker training and using a mat. Get recommendations from your trainer or your vet. The books that helped me with Halley are: Chill Out Fido!: How to Calm Your Dog by Nan Kene Arthur and Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training the Crazy Dog from Over the Top to Under Control by Laura VanArendonk Baugh.

Have fun. It’s not all work. Find ways to bond with your dog, via walks and playtime. Give them opportunities to burn off a little steam with physical activity. Besides, training can be fun and enjoyable for all; remember that good behavior equals rewards so your dog will learn pretty quickly that training is a good thing.

Know when to fold ’em. If you’re struggling, if other animals or humans in your home are not safe, please do the right thing and go back to the breeder or rescue organization where you got your dog, and ask for help. Any reputable organization will take your dog back and rehome them with someone who is better equipped to handle the training, or may work with the dog more before attempting to adopt them out again. If you don’t have access to the breeder or original rescue group, look online for organizations in your area, for breed-specific rescue groups, or ask you veterinarian or trainer for help. There is no need to feel guilty if it doesn’t work. Halley (and to be honest, Lilah, Rosie and Tucker) were not starter dogs; they needed someone who could handle their challenges. And I was ready to give Halley up if I was convinced she wouldn’t work out—no matter how much that idea hurt me. The pets who were already part of the family needed to be safe, and that was most important. 

If you’re training your dog to get along with your cat(s), here are a few more tips…

Ensure your cats have safe, dog-free zones. In the beginning, Halley was only allowed on our main floor. We also created a temporary cat room she didn’t have access to. Today, Halley still isn’t allowed in the basement. It’s a cat-only zone. Throughout the house, make sure your cats also have plenty of vertical places to climb, and low cave-like places (like Dawn’s favorite undercouch lair) where Halley and the other dogs can’t reach. These are places they can bolt to if they feel threatened.

Provide dog-free access to litter boxes, food, and water. Ensure whatever cat zones you’ve created also include a place for the cat to safely eat, drink and go to the bathroom. 

Watch for cat stress and health issues. Cats are very good at hiding their stress, so you need to be vigilant in watching them for signs. Make sure they’re using the litter box (though unfortunately that may become apparent if they decide to “go” elsewhere.) If they feel threatened, they may mark their territory by inappropriate elimination as well. Look for changes in appetite or behavior. 

Spend quality time with your kitty. Find a way to create dog-free time with you cats. Offer them special treats, pet them, love them; give them the attention they crave, without the stress of worrying about the dog. 

Reward everyone for good interactions. You are not just training a dog. You’re also training the cat to equate the dog with a good experience. As much as possible, work to make any encounter between the species a good one. If your dog isn’t ready, don’t push it. If your cat isn’t ready, don’t push it. 

About the pronouns in this piece

I consciously use the word “they” as a singular gender-unspecific pronoun. In the past, I might have switched back and forth between “he” and “she” to eliminate bias. But now I understand that gender is nonbinary; it isn’t just those two choices. I could rewrite my sentences so that they don’t use pronouns, and eliminate the awkwardness that a singular genderless pronoun causes those of us who are grammatical word nerds (and I include myself in that group). And you might wonder if it really matters when I’m writing about dogs and cats. However, language is an important contributor to our perceptions, and I want to help make our world a safer and more accepting place for nonbinary people. Even a seemingly minor change can start to make a difference. Thus, by using the gender-neutral “they,” I can get more comfortable writing it and my readers can get more comfortable reading it. And together we can all contribute to meaningful change.

Read more about the history of “they,” which as far back as the 1300s was acceptable as a singular unspecified pronoun, until a grammar book author (a woman!) decided to designate “he” as the standard.

16 Comments on "Halley and the cats: A successful adoption made possible through training, positive reinforcement, and patience"

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  1. Brian Frum says:

    That was truly a wonderful story and we’re so happy the outcome was what you were looking for. Halley and Calvin together are super cute!

  2. Patty Markiewicz says:

    Oh my! All the time, work and effort you have put into this success must be so rewarding! I understand what you have been going through, having a similar situation of cats and dogs.

    I know it wasn’t but you made it sound so easy! lol I can appreciate the time, training and patience it takes.

    I’m so happy Halley is home.

    Wonderful story! Good luck!

    • Thank you. I hear you. I envy those folks where the dogs and cats just instantly hit it off. That’s not been the case here, but the situation with Halley was extreme. It wasn’t easy. I cried so often, sometimes because I was missing Tucker, other times because I despaired that Halley would ever be fully integrated into our family and I’d have to give her up. It was so hard. And, TBH, we’re still working. I still have a clicker and treats with me at all times. I still work with the cats and dogs toward desired behavior. That will go on indefinitely, always a work in progress. But… I am confident in where we are, and that we will continue to progress.

  3. I am SO proud of all of you. I know this was a long frustrating journey. As someone in rescue, thank you not giving up on her!

    • Thank you. It’s been a long road, and I know nobody would have blamed me if I had surrendered her. TBH, that would probably be the best path for most people. But I kept seeing Halley’s potential, and even though progress was slow, it was still progress. We have a long way to go, but I am finally able to say she’s ours. I no longer think I might have to let her go. And that is such a good feeling.

  4. databbiesotrouttowne says:

    984 paws UP, to everyone; mom, dad, cats and dogs as da tabbies say 🙂

    your patience Susan is second to none. The rewards of this process are displayed in the photos and video’s above; you truly deserve “pats on the back”

    { and where’s the “treat” for yourself…you’ve earned it…now go get one…and make that a promise, OK !!! }

    and now we would like to formally say; Happy Gotcha Day Halley ♥♥♥

    • databbiesotrouttowne says:

      ps…. I wonder; the fact that you mentioned she is the smartest dog you’ve ever known, if this makes her….some what similar to the old belief that a true “genius”…. can’t really function around others, because of their IQ level…. ????

      • That’s an interesting thought. Actually, what it does is, it makes her both incredibly easy to train and incredibly hard. Easy, because she gets what I want unbelievably fast. She learned to Sit in less than a minute for example. Hard because she can be manipulative. Oh, so you give me treats if I stop barking? I’ll just walk over to the window and bark at nothing and then come back so you can give me treats. That is very rare in dogs, and I have to be wary when she crosses that line from learning to manipulating. Basically, I give her the benefit of the doubt for a very long time: I’d rather she be learning and happy. If I think she’s trying to play the system, I vary the circumstances and reward. She’s a smart dog, which is one of the things I love about her.

    • Thank you. It’s been so hard. I cried countless times over the thought of this thing not working. I even told the rescue organization that I was at my wit’s end. They were ready to take her back, even telling me that I could help choose her next family. But we’ve now come a long way, which is why I can say confidently that she’s officially part of our family.

  5. BIG kudos to you for sticking with it and not giving up on Halley. It would have been easy to do. But now you have a wonderful dog who’s probably quite bonded to you.

  6. meowmeowmans says:

    That’s so wonderful! Thank you for sticking with it, and giving Halley the chance to be a part of your wonderful family. We love that she and Calvin have a budding friendship.

  7. That’s love! I’m glad you didn’t give up and gave both species time (and effort) to co-exist as less stressfully as possible. I’m super impressed. Really. Time, love and patience conquers [almost] all.

    • Thank you. It was a challenge, and I’m so glad I put all that time and effort into it. I still don’t know how I did it, though I shouldn’t say that in past tense. I’m still doing it. The training continues, and will continue to continue. But the results are worth it.

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