5 Reasons I Train My Dog

Honey the Golden Retriever sniffs at Conley Park in Ithaca.

As long as no friendly people walk by, I’m allowed to explore off leash in the park.
Now why is the Mom looking around so much?

I hit a nerve.

Dozens of people commented on my post about why I don’t train my dog better, sharing their love for their dogs’ individual quirks. And hundreds more have come from all over the web to read it.

I’m pleased I didn’t get any wackadoo comments from people who think training a dog at all is hindering his nature. I really didn’t expect any. After all, Something Wagging This Way Comes is where the smart and thoughtful dog lovers hang out.

But it did get me thinking. Why do I train Honey? What do I want to accomplish? And how do I decide which behaviors to train and which ones to not bother with?

The 5 Reasons I Train My Dog

Every training session Honey and I do together supports at least one of these five reasons.


Nothing convinces you more of safety practice than a major training failure. I’ve had two, both on recall.

The first time was a snowy walk in a state park on a sub-zero day. No one was around so I let Honey wander off leash. And then she took off like a rocket down the hill.

Honey had spotted someone else walking his dog. And she didn’t hear a single one of my calls to her. She probably had too much wind in her ears from running for the sound of my voice to compete.

Horrible visions flashed through my mind: the man kicking Honey to get her away from his dog, the dog taking a piece out of Honey, or Honey getting scared and running off into the woods and getting lost.

Luckily, the man was very understanding. His pit mix was a friendly boy who calmly greeted the puppy who was whirling like a dervish. And Honey was excited enough by her new friends to stay with them until I caught up to reattach her leash.

I learned a hard lesson that day. I continually work on Honey’s recall in a wide-range of settings and situations.

I also try to remember that it’s not only Honey’s safety I need to be concerned with. She may only be 50 pounds, but Honey lovin’ could knock down a child or frail person. And it’s my job to not only keep my dog safe but to also keep people safe from my dog.


This is a tough one for me.

I defer to other’s sensitivities so much that I tend to disappear. And I don’t want Honey to always have to be on her best behavior so other people and their dogs can behave like jerks.

But courtesy is important to me.

And so I’ve taught Honey to stay out of people’s flower beds, move off the sidewalk when people run or walk by, and not greet strangers at random unless she is invited to do so.

I hope that her good manners make her welcome everywhere. Which brings me to my third reason for training my dog.


I want Honey to go with me anywhere it’s comfortable for her to do so.

She has stayed with us in hotels. She has joined us on boat tours. She comes along when we dine on the patio at restaurants.

When it’s safe, I give Honey time off-leash to walk or play fetch.

Because Honey is a polite and well-mannered dog, she is welcome many places. She has the freedom to join us many places we choose to go.

Maybe I’m selfish in always wanting her to go with us. But wait until you see my fourth reason for training her.


Sometimes it’s all about me.

Let me tell you about Honey’s star behavior that impresses all our house guests.

As soon as I start to cook, Honey runs over to her pillow and lies down. She quickly learned that hovering around my feet (or should I say “Hoovering”) while I’m cooking is a sure way to starve.

But, if she hangs out on her pillow, I’ll toss her a piece of cheese or carrot every so often.

My guests find her polite behavior enchanting. But I find it very convenient.

It certainly makes me love her just a little bit more knowing I won’t be tripping over her when I’m handling knives or pots of boiling pasta water.

Which brings me to the last reason I train my dog.

Honey the Golden Retriever finds her ball.

Why does the dad shout “Let’s Go Mets” every time I don’t catch the ball on the first hop? I get it back to him eventually.


Every dog is motivated by different things. Yes, Honey loves food. And you’ll get her attention with a ball or squeaky toy.

But deep down, what really excites her is friendship.

Honey will walk away from food if the right person comes in the door. And she rarely plays with toys by herself.

When we’re training, Honey gets excited. She wants to please. Yes, she knows the clicker means food will be coming. But even when I don’t have treats on me, she looks to me to figure out what’s happening next.

I train Honey because it builds our ties to each other. It teaches me how to communicate in ways she understands. It teaches her that I will always have something fun or yummy planned for her.

Training builds our relationship.

Easy to Train vs Hard to Train

Honey is easy to train. Working with her is far less frustrating than training my last dog, Shadow, who was a slave to her sniffer.

But even if you don’t have a people-oriented, smart, Golden Retriever at your side, you benefit from the training you do with your dog.

I don’t believe every dog can learn every behavior. But isn’t figuring out what you and your dog can do together part of the fun?

Your Turn: Why do you train your dogs? And why don’t you?


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  1. Love being part of the “thoughtful dog lovers” group 😉 I train my guys for many of the same reasons. Recall is probably first and foremost as it is such a challenge for my retrievers (slave to the sniffer). I also train – Jack in particular – to give him some mental exercise. I find he is much calmer and relaxed after a good training session where he really has to think and show self-restraint. “Leave-it” is a huge challenge and really wears him out! And training has helped give Maggie some self-confidence. She is so pleased with herself when she does a good sit-stay, you can see it reflected in her eyes and her little wiggle dance when released.

  2. goldenrescue says:

    Thank you for your response to our responses.
    As someone who fosters dogs for a golden retriever rescue, I see safety and courtesy as two really important things to give a dog who will eventually go to a forever home. We start with basics, like not going out a door without permission, for safety. And because the fosters are rewarded, often with food, sometimes with games or permission to do something they want to do, they learn about relationships. They learn how to train me. (“I have trained mom to give me a treat if I sit and let this new person greet me without knocking her down.”)
    One reason dogs are given up is that they are wild and silly, because no one bothered to train them. They don’t know good manners with people or other dogs, and frankly, they aren’t pleasant to live with at the beginning–but once they learn that if they control themselves, they get the attention they craved from the beginning, they are such a joy! And so proud of themselves!
    I love to do stuff with the dogs I’ve had over the years. I hated the kind of obedience training I learned at first, back in the 1970s, because it was the yank and crank variety, and I couldn’t stand doing that to my dogs. But training has come a long way, and it’s all about communication, and that’s a two-way street. I pay attention to what my dogs enjoy. Right now, my own dog and I are doing rally, and she prances and dances her way through classes. If she hated it, we’d find something else to do. I like that we’re a team. My foster dog, a puppy mill mama (retired), would hate that, at least at this stage, so I wouldn’t ask it of her. She’s still learning that a leash can get you to good places. (Apparently, in her previous life, it meant bad things.)
    My dog is a good trainer, too, and she gets to do what she wants many times. When there are lots of new people and dogs, she gets a little excited and overwhelmed, and her way of dealing with it is to get a little bit behind me and stand on her hind legs with one paw touching me while she checks out the situation. I allow her to do that, because she takes comfort in it, and it helps her feel safe. I am sure some people think I’m spoiling her, but I don’t let her do it to other people.
    As many dogs as I’ve worked with as a dog-owner and a foster, they all stand out as individuals. None was a robot. And I tried to give each one an understanding of what they needed to do (for me, that was to be safe and polite) while I learned from them what they wanted to do. Every single dog has taught me something.

  3. I love this post. :) We were fortunate in that our dogs came pre-trained. I’m a bad dog owner in that I’ve spoiled them since. But I love all of your reasons for training Honey.

  4. I trained BJ for the same reasons that you did. I hadn’t had a dog for 40+ years and so I started with obedience class. It gave me a start and I moved on from there. I let BJ run off leash in Central Park so the “Come” command was most important for me.
    There are things that I didn’t do so well in training him. He sometimes greets a dog with his tail wagging and then all of a sudden snaps at the dog. He started it was he was 5 or so and was attacked and bitten by another dog. It still doesn’t excuse his behavior. I try to keep from other dogs but in NYC that’s almost impossible. I’m at a loss as to what to do, ergo, training is very important.

  5. Well that was sure extremely well expressed and on the mark as far as I’m concerned as long as Max is safe and cause no harm or issues to others I think we’re in pretty good shape. Well said!!

  6. One of the reasons I wanted a dog was because I looked forward to the challenge and the learning experience he or she would provide. For me, it’s not enough to have a dog for the sake of having a furry family member – though that is wonderful – but I wanted someone who would get me out of the house, who would make me more active, and who would give me something new on which to focus. I train with my dog because it’s fun and for me, that is a large part of the joy of having her around.

    And because I like to show off her tricks, but that’s really just a side benefit. 😉

  7. Having recently inherited a 10 year-old dog with no training whatsoever, I train Zora for many of the same reasons: her safety and mine; courtesy to my neighbors, guests and people that we meet on the street; etc. She is a lot of work at this point, but I was really pleased when I was cleaning up after her the other day and accidently dropped the leash. She saw another dog and barked, but she stopped when I said “Stay!”. That felt sooooo good and I was very proud of her. :-)

  8. This is yet another awesome post! Why did I train mine? One, because he’s the most misunderstood dog around (pibbles); Two, I wanted him to behave well, leash walk like he should and not pull, sit for his treats, lay for his treats or when told to, and to learn discipline; Three, being homed twice previously and two previous names, he desperately needed routine and a “leader” otherwise he would be the dominant one in the house and an 83 dominant pibbles is NOT a good thing. So I trained him for his well being, as well as my own. I wanted to feel safe with him. I wanted him to feel safe going to the vet and not being one of those petrified and being muzzled. BTW, we visit the vet every 3 wks for nail trimmings just so he remembers these are people for him NOT to fear.

    Imo, training is a fabulous thing and enables you to feel confident with your dog as well as makes him feel confident and happy when he does what you “the leader” wants. But I believe some people take training to the extreme. Dogs should be allowed to be “dogs” for a bit and develop their own individuality imo.

    Fab post!

  9. I train my dogs because it’s fun!

    Not to mention that they have a better life as they can be off-leash when it’s appropriate; plus it’s great for building a bond, and trust – especially for Inka.

  10. Woof! Woof! I was trained in the same reasons you mentioned above. It’s all about ME and not about what my mom or dad wants. Yes we (Golden Retrievers) are easy to train. Mom continues to train me. As a senior dog it helps a lot mentally and mom has been very creative lately. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  11. You forgot Sanity. :) If I didn’t train my dogs to be relatively well-behaved, I think I would lose all pretenses at sanity. Ha!

  12. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    I don’t really formally train Callie and Shadow any more. I give them refresher classes, in the form of recall games out in the back yard; and I make them wait at the door to the downstairs room (where the back door is). Especially since Callie had her surgery.

    Ducky, on the other hand, needed socialization and exercise in the beginning more than formal obedience training. I had worked with her while she was still at the shelter, as had some of the other volunteers, so she knew sit, down, and focus. She didn’t stay for long, but she knew what it meant. The poor dog was so full of anxieties that I had to work on those first. She didn’t even know how to play with other dogs. Thank GOD I found this daycare (thanks to a friend) to help me help her. Now that I’m just about to graduate from my course, I’ll be able to start really working with her to strengthen her focus and real-life skills. In fact, my mentor trainer and I are trading assistance….She had shoulder surgery last week and needs help with her classes at the shelter, and I need some help with Ducky.

  13. I used to train faithfully because I thought I should, and then my boy (Beau) died unexpectedly just shy of his 7th birthday, and I was left wondering if it had been worth it for either of us. Now I do photography, which I love, and the boys earn piles of cookies posing for me, which they love. And along the way they learn sit, stay, down, come, and leave it – in addition to all the different “tricks” (wearing things, paws on things, looking at things,…) that go with it. A win-win if you ask me. And when that awful time comes, hopefully in the far distant future, I’ll have thousands of pictures to remind me of all the good time we had.

  14. Relationship – it all boils down to this: Honey wouldn’t have a good recall if she didn’t have a good relationship; she wouldn’t use her pad during meal prep (what a GREAT thing for her to do!), etc. A trainer under whom I once studied hunter/jumper riding said the horse and rider are in a partnership, similar to Honey’s relationship.
    Training gets our rescue dogs adopted quicker; a great benefit of our prison dog training program. People like polite dogs. I always tell visitors to not let dogs jump on them; they may be OK with it but, as you noted, a child or frail adult could be hurt.
    And I like how, on walks, Justus will look back at me, smiling.

  15. Those are pretty much THE five reasons to train! (Well, maybe #6 is to be a show off…I might be guilty of that…)

    Great post!

  16. Training also gives your dog a great way to feel happy and self confident. When my dog gets to practice some of his well learned skills he is happy and eager. It is my job to find more ‘good’ things for him to do. This especially helps if he has been reprimanded at all because I can immediately try to elicit behaviors I want and can reward. Flash has learned it doesn’t have to be the end of the world if he has been told no.


  1. […] week, Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote these two posts that really got me thinking:  Why I Don’t Train My Dog Better and 5 […]