Pet Lover Geek

From The Vault: Bridging The Gap (Bringing You and Your Pets Closer) Part 2

March 16, 2022 Lorien Clemens Season 7 Episode 5
From The Vault: Bridging The Gap (Bringing You and Your Pets Closer) Part 2
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Pet Lover Geek
From The Vault: Bridging The Gap (Bringing You and Your Pets Closer) Part 2
Mar 16, 2022 Season 7 Episode 5
Lorien Clemens

Join us for part 2 of our From The Vault episode on improving the bond with your pets! This episode features renowned certified feline behavior and training consultant Dr. Marci Koski and New York-based dog trainer, Shelby Semel. Listen in to hear the great advice both experts give on how to improve the bond between you and your cat or dog.

Show Notes:

Marci Koski

Shelby Semel

Thanks for listening! Check out our sponsor, PetHub for more great pet parent resources.

Have an idea for a PetLoverGeek episode or have something else you want to share? Drop us a note to

Show Notes Transcript

Join us for part 2 of our From The Vault episode on improving the bond with your pets! This episode features renowned certified feline behavior and training consultant Dr. Marci Koski and New York-based dog trainer, Shelby Semel. Listen in to hear the great advice both experts give on how to improve the bond between you and your cat or dog.

Show Notes:

Marci Koski

Shelby Semel

Thanks for listening! Check out our sponsor, PetHub for more great pet parent resources.

Have an idea for a PetLoverGeek episode or have something else you want to share? Drop us a note to

00:00  Music

00:00 Lorrien Clemens

We talk a lot about dogs on the show, but we need to give some love to our feline family members as well. You know, there's a stigma that humans are just servants to the cats and that cats really don't care that you exist at all. Just give me food and they'll be fine. Well, we're here to break that stereotype, and we're going to talk with an expert today on how you can increase the bond with the cats and we have for that Marci Koski, she is a renowned certified feline behavior and training consultant, and she is the mastermind behind Feline Behavior Solutions. Welcome back to the show Marcie.

00:33 Marci Koski

Oh, thank you so much. It's really nice to be back here.

00:36 Lorien Clemens

I mentioned, you know, we always hear those stories about, you know, you're friends to a dog, you're servant to your cat, that type of thing. There's a stigma about cats that they don't really love us. They're just tolerating us because we provide them food. You know, I gotta say, I know at least from our cats at home we have one cat that loves everybody that comes to the door just wants to snuggle, snuggle, snuggle, and then we have another cat that frankly could care less that I exist, but she loves my husband so much and she just wants nothing more than to be on his lap and loving on him. I think that a lot of people don't necessarily experience that. So can you kind of talk a little bit about why cats get that label about being so non-interested in humans?

01:16 Marci Koski

Sure and cats really are very different than dogs but like all other animals and humans as well, each cat is an individual, so each cat is going to have its own personality, its own preferences in terms of what he or she likes and what motivates them. Some cats will be motivated by food, you know, like oh the cats only coming out when it's hungry. But other cats really enjoy being around people because it gives them comfort and security and sometimes just warmth. So cats really are motivated by what they enjoy. Dogs really like to please people, but cats are motivated I think by a wider range of things, but there are definitely ways to figure out what your cat enjoys and how you can give that cat what she likes -- she just dragged the toy in here and announced herself. It was really cute.

 02:16 Lorien Clemens

That's awesome. Well, let's talk about that so, you know, and we've talked a little bit on this show about, you know, bonding with your pet when you first get them depends on what situation it is. So let's talk first about, let's say a kitten, right? Whether you're adopting him from a shelter or maybe you're getting it from a breeder or a friend whose cat had a litter. When you got a kitten, a small 8 to 10-week old creature joining your life, what's the best way to start that bonding process?

02:43 Marci Koski

Yeah, so a kitten that young is still within the critical socialization period approximately, which goes from about 2 to 7 to 2 to 9 to 2 to 12 weeks depending on who you ask. If you're getting a young kitten, the best thing you can do is handle them and get them used to being held, and carried, and petted, and use a lot of positive reinforcement so that cat has very positive experiences being handled, and then you can also introduce that cat to other people, other objects, other experiences, and again using positive reinforcement like sweet talk, petting affection, treats, whatever the cat enjoys. So that your cat will associate those experiences with positive things, and so cats that are handled at that early age tend to be more social, more accepting of being handled, and more outgoing. Handling a kitten that young is really important in really giving that cat a good experience with being handled.

03:48 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, and trust me, I mean who doesn't want to hold a kitten? Now let's then talk about... you got maybe an older cat that's coming into your life, and particularly cats that are coming from a rescue or shelter situation, you really don't know what their background was. Sometimes you'll be rehoming a cat from a family member and there'll be some knowledge there about what their background is, but let's assume that you have no idea what the background is, and I mean, I know when I've taken in rescue dogs for example. I mean, we just give treat after treat after treat. We do fetch, we do walks, we do so much places, so they're like, "ah being with this human is awesome." Not so with some of the cats that we've brought in. They want to hide. What's the best way to bond with that cat that you're bringing in? That's being rehomed with you, that maybe isn't so sure about humans.

04:37 Marci Koski

Right. The first thing about bringing home a new cat, especially if it's older, is you have to give that cat space to feel safe and secure and really start carving out its new territory in your home and that's the primary thing, is just helping that cat feel safe and secure. Because cats have very complex personalities, a relationship between the person and the house is going to take time. Of course, there are some cats that are just super easygoing and are like, "yay, I'm here and I love you.

05:14 Lorien Clemens

We have one of those. She's just like, "awesome, this is my house, pet me." 

05:18 Marci Koski

Exactly, but then there are these other cats who can be shy and fearful and those are the cats you need to help feel safe as the priority, and helping that cat feel safe may not include you at first. It's really important to set up a small room. If you have a spare bedroom that's great, or you can use your bedroom as long as you give that cat a safe hiding spot like a box or a cat carrier or something that the cat will feel safe in hiding. You can put a cat tree in so the cat can go up and enjoy vertical space and see the room that it's in. You want to have toys in there and food and water, and definitely a litter box. If your cat is very shy, you're going to want to go into that room and maybe just sit down and read aloud so that your cat starts getting used to the sound of your voice and the way you move. You want to try to be very predictable in your movements and the sounds you make. Nothing startling. You may even put a blanket that you've had on your bed for a while in your cat's room (if that cat is not in your bedroom) so that your cat can get used to your scent, and then you want to associate those things that are related to you like a blanket with good things. So if your cat enjoys treats, you might leave some treats down on the blanket so the cats like, "hmm, whenever I see or smell this person coming in good, things happen."

06:53 Lorien Clemens

I get salmon treats this is a goo thing.

06:57 Marci Koski

Salmon treats but also any type of treat, but if your cat isn't motivated by treats, that's an issue. What do you do if your cat isn't motivated by food or treats? Well, you can use play. Play is really a great way to bond with your cat. So if your cat doesn't have any aggressive tendencies you might put down a handful of catnip. I'm reminded of a story of a cat named Kalua that I worked with at Furry Friends -- the cat shelter that I volunteer at -- and Kalua was a very large tuxedo cat and when he was brought into the shelter because his human parents couldn't care for him any longer, he was a very big cat and he just hid in a cupboard in our medical isolation room for like 2 weeks and everybody was scared of him 'cause you open up the cupboard a little bit and he would just hiss and spit. Honestly, I've never been scared of a cat like I was with Kahlua, but somebody discovered -- they had accidentally dropped a little bit of catnip on the floor --and Kalua came out and just started rolling around in it. That opened the door literally to starting Kalua on his journey of like, "oh, when I come out, good things happen." You know, we discovered you really like treats, so then we started giving treats, and then he really enjoyed playing. So we started playing with him and he came out and I could hold him and pet him and he was just the best little boy.

08:21 Lorien Clemens

So here's the other follow-up question, what if you're in a household like mine and you have an animal that just loves one of the humans in the house but really could care less about the other humans? Are there ways to create bonds when it's not a new cat, but you know that gosh, this cat just doesn't like me as much as he likes my roommate or whatever?

08:45 Marci Koski

Well, then I think that's when you start trying to share the responsibilities. Like if your partner is always feeding the cat maybe you take turns feeding the cat and giving the cat breakfast or dinner, or you take turns playing with the cat, or you know like in the evening when the cat comes to snuggle your partner on the couch, maybe you sit on the other side of the cat and allow him to get some experience sitting next to you as well, and of course, petting just on his terms. You don't want to...

09:15 Lorien Clemens

Don't want to force anything.

09:16 Marci Koski

Exactly, letting the cat come to you is a big part in building trust.

09:23 Lorien Clemens

Right now Taz really thinks of me as she's the person that gives me treats in the morning and that's her value in my life because that's where we see each other. It's first thing in the morning. She lets me give her a treat and then I don't see her again unless she's on Tom's lap, but whatever. Thanks so much for being with us. We're out of time. I would love it if you could tell people where they can find out more from you Marci.

09:46 Marci Koski

Well, my website is, that's, and you can contact me through my website and check out my blog. I have lots of articles there to help you resolve behavior issues you're having with your cat.

10:05 Lorien Clemens

Fantastic, thank you so much. Stick around pet lovers. Our last guest we're going to be talking to an amazing dog trainer and behavior specialist. Who focuses on using positive reinforcement techniques to increase the trust between you and your pooch, particularly when your pooch is somebody that just came into your life. Perhaps a rescue situation. So while you wait, take a few minutes to love on your pet, think about different things that Marci just told you about that you could do to deepen the bond with them and remember that Pet Lover Geek brought to you by pet Hub will be right back.

10:33 Music

10:46 Lorien Clemens

Now a big part of bonding with dogs, as we've mentioned a couple of times in the episode so far, is through training. Helping them to learn how to interact, live with you in polite and predictable ways, and how you train them goes a long way in building that really close, solid bond with them. So for our last guest we're going to be talking with a New York based dog trainer who spends her time using and teaching positive reinforcement dog training techniques and that helps build trust and respect and really brings dogs and their pet parents closer together. So we're really excited to be joined by Shelby Semel. She is the senior trainer and founder at Shelby Semel dog training. Thank you so much for joining us on the show Shelby. 

11:32 Shelby Semel

Hi, thank you for having me.

11:34 Lorien Clemens

So one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is something that actually pops up all over your site and it's something that'd been talked about a lot, particularly in the last few years in the dog community, and that's positive reinforcement training. Tell us a little bit about that and maybe what is different with positive reinforcement training than what people think of as traditional training.

11:55 Shelby Semel

Sure, so yeah, I mean a lot has changed in the last five or ten years with a definite shift toward positive reinforcement dog training, which is basically letting your dog know when they've done something correct and giving them some sort of reward for it. Whether it be food, praise, love, pets, a life reward, rather than focusing on when they're doing something wrong and correcting it with something punitive. For example, your dog sits, they get a treat, or they get petted as opposed to if your dog doesn't sit. You yank a chain and then it makes them feel like they need to fit. That's really the main difference there. It's more science-based to use these rewards and positive reinforcement methods.

12:35 Lorien Clemens

Okay great, I love positive reinforcement, it's actually how we've approached both of our dogs' training. The first one we didn't know that that's what we were doing, but then at the second one we brought him in and we actually took classes and everything, but like oh cool, that's kind of what we already do, but I would like to -- so there are times though, particularly with the younger dog, that they're doing something that you really want them to stop. 

12:58 Shelby Semel


12:59 Lorien Clemens

What is the way that you approach that? Because I mean there are some fairly famous trainers that are out there that use discipline or shame or physical restraint when they're training the dogs or, you know, the quick tugs on the chain or the leash, but what should you do if you want your dog to stop doing a behavior or they're doing something that maybe is harmful to still be in that whole positive reinforcement mode?

13:25 Shelby Semel

Right, so we're all about interrupting, so like changing the state of mind, whether that's using a kissy noise or a clap or a hey and for a very, you know, sound-sensitive dog, a hey can be a punishment, right? It's about interrupting and then redirecting. How can you reroute your dog to do what you do want them to do? You know it's very easy to tell a dog or a kid for that matter, "don't do this, don't do that", but the other piece of the equation is, "okay, what can I do so that next time I can make a better choice?" So no, don't chew that chair, but here take this bone with a little bit of an interruption in between. You know, even with positive reinforcement, yes, the correction a little bit is there. It's just not supposed to be detrimental to the dog's well-being right. So it shouldn't have any fallout side effects. You wanna use the lowest possible correction. Again, like I very much stick to a hey or a clap, again even a kissy noise, something that's just going to make them stop for a moment and then you get to praise them for stopping. They did the correct thing, right? You helped them do it, but he did it, and then I like to call them over and then say here, now take this bone. Chew on this instead or go to lay to your bed. That's what I want from you, but don't do this. Let's do that Instead.

14:40 Lorien Clemens

Well, you talk a lot about how a lot of the training is actually not about training the dogs, it's actually training the pet parent how to communicate, and how to not to use that fear and submission or even intimidation because it can be very easy, especially if the dog is a smaller dog to, you know, use that intimidation and so what are the things that you maybe do to help people learn how to always use these positive methods?

15:06 Shelby Semel

I like to actually really explain it in terms of teaching a toddler. I think people relate to that a little bit in the sense that fine, this is as an animal living in your home, but we want to be using the same methods that you would do if you had a 3-year-old right. Sometimes you do need to just ignore the things you don't like, as long as they're not going to harm themselves or something you own. You know, if a dog is jumping up at you and you don't like it, you ignore it. You don't want to give extra attention to something that you don't want to continue, just as if sometimes with a child throwing a little bit of a tantrum and the more you cater to it, the more they're likely to do it again to get your attention? So I think that sometimes by using the analogy of what you would do with a child, many people are able to then kind of come up with decisions on their own when I'm not there, as in, what would I do if this was my three-year-old? I think that helps a lot and just the science behind it. I mean, when you explain why you're doing something, it's not just here, ask your dog to do this, then do that. It is more why are we doing this? We're doing this so your dog learns an alternative behavior. We're doing this so your dog understands that if it does this, it can have that. So you know it's making your dog want to work for it and when owners see results, they want to do it that way. It's kind. It's fun. The dogs usually love learning in this manner, so training sessions are not stressful. They're super exciting and the dogs are looking forward to it very much, and I think that that empowers the owner to want to continue doing it.

16:38 Lorien Clemens

Perfect example about the jumping up, that's when it really kind of hit home for me was when our trainer of the new dog that we had brought in a couple of years ago. He was young, he was boisterous, and he always jumped up and she said don't correct him. Don't tell him not to do that. Turn away and walk away. Ignore him and that would be devastating to him because he wanted to get to your attention and then as soon as he greets you in the way that you wanna be greeted, just love on him so that he knows, "Oh, that's what gets me the good response." That's a perfect way of thinking for it for me.

17:10 Shelby Semel

Exactly. Setting your dog up for success.

17:11 Lorien Clemens

Right and I know that you're really big on having people improve and develop that bond with their dogs so that they do love the training and they love that interaction with you. It's so important, but it really helps the humans as well so tell a little bit about what happens to the bond, like what's happening with that dog when you have these positive training moments and what happens for that bond that they're creating with their pet parent?

17:38 Shelby Semel

Once the owners training and training correctly, they will start giving the dogs things that they need to earn in life for the dog doing appropriate behaviors, and what this does is it creates order for the dog. Like dogs like a little bit of structure and I think that helps the bond between the owner and the dog and just like everyday life understanding each other. If the dog knows what the owner wants then the owner knows how to get the dog to do it like there's a nice symbiotic relationship there where nobody is getting like frustrated or confused, and I think that really helps. If my dog understands that if it sits by the door, it gets to go out to the bathroom, but if it starts running around the house barking, it's not going to go out and if the owner is consistent about it and the dog is going to be consistent about it. How happy are we? We have a dog that goes and sits at the door when it needs something. Or if you've taught your dogs to lay down in it's bed while you are feeding your baby and so you've worked on that and that's what's happening. You have order at home. You're not stressed. Your dog understands exactly where it needs to be, and it gets playtime later. It knows when it's rest time, it knows when it's playtime with. Everyone in the household is just happier as opposed to like a total frenzy. When you don't do training and you don't have that bond, and your dog hasn't ever learned to listen to you to get what it wants or to get positively reinforced it just gets that either all the time, or randomly, or for doing things you don't like. Then that's when the order isn't there. 

19:09 Lorien Clemens

Yeah, and sometimes dogs will learn hey, I just want attention and even if it's negative attention, it's the same with child, at least I'm getting attention, so making sure that attention is always positive is awesome. Now tell people what they need to look for.  Because not everybody is in New York. So not everybody can go directly to you, so if they're looking for a trainer for their new dog or even their existing dog that they've had for a while but they're like I need to train this dog. What should they be looking for?

19:35 Shelby Semel

I usually will look for the words positive reinforcement on their website. I like it when they say along the lines of creating a relationship between the dog and owner. I particularly like it when the trainer requests that the humans are home. So it's fine if by session four or five, maybe the trainer needs to teach the dogs something and the owner can't be around, but they should really want you present and I always think it's great to have a phone conversation before meeting with your trainer. You definitely also have to get along with them as a person and make sure that they can kind of tailor the training to your specific dog and your needs and you can get a feel for that by talking to them. I think it's kind of like having a doctor. You need to trust them and get along with them and be able to communicate back and forth and you do want someone who's going to be available to you and has the the correct schedule. You know and Those websites do have the ability to put in your ZIP code and give trainers near you who are certified for positive reinforcement training.

20:41 Lorien Clemens

Is there anything -- and we only have a couple more seconds -- but is there anything that should be warning signs of ah maybe avoid this training.

20:48 Shelby Semel

I'd usually avoid anyone who says along anything that has a shock collar. Any pictures of choke chains or shock collars. People who use the word balanced training, which really means that they use both methods, which to me is not positive reinforcement dog training or anyone who praises Ceasar Mulan and there's a lot of the Alpha dominance pack theory type training. I would typically avoid that.

21:17 Lorien Clemens

It's good tips and where can they find out more from you in particular?

21:20 Shelby Semel

They can go on We have lots of information about our classes and our private sessions and a blog which you know has information on dog training that we update every month.

21:31 Lorien Clemens

Fantastic, thank you so much for joining us today Shelby, really appreciate it?

21:34 Shelby Semel

Great, it was fun. Thanks for having me.

21:37 Lorien Clemens

Remember pet lovers bonding with your pet is extremely important. It really helps build that trust and respect between you and your dog while increasing the love and affection that you have for one another and it's scientifically proven to improve health and longevity for both you and your pet. So spend some time looking into the different ways that you and your pet can communicate and bond with each other. Thanks so much to the guests that we had today. Tracy Krulik from I speak dog. Steve Feldman from Habri. Leticia Fox from Canine Colors and Shelby who we just had from Shelby dog training. Remember pet lovers, if you have any questions or ideas for future shows, just drop us a note on our Facebook page. Give us an email at and we will continue to bring you more geeky, techie, wonderful tips, products, and information on Pet Lover Geek brought to you by PetHub.