A Dog Who CAN’T Be Bad

I wonder if I have a problem in the making. It’s a problem I never thought I’d have.

My dog can’t be bad.

Now how did that happen?

Honey the Golden Retriever is very pretty.

How could a face this cute ever be bad?

Learning How To Be A Good Dog

My first two dogs, Agatha and Christie, lived more than a dozen years each and at least one of them was never fully toilet trained.

Agatha and Christie, litter mates, pose for the camera.

My first two pups were a little cockeyed. But I loved them just the same.

My next dog, Shadow, was eight years old when we adopted her. We tried to teach her not to jump up on the bed at four a.m. but after a few months of failure, we gave up and bought a queen sized mattress.

But Honey. Sweet Honey. Training her was so easy.

If my little fuzzy butt went to chew on a chair leg, I’d gently say, “eh” and hand her a Nylabone. As a result, I blame any damaged furniture in my house on foster puppies.

Honey the golden retriever was a cute puppy.

I was the best puppy ever. When I wasn’t biting you and making you cry.

Honey never tried to counter surf—even if the counter was right at nose level.

And bite inhibition? Honey is its poster child.

Okay, she did bite like a little golden vampire for the first weeks (it felt like years) she lived with us. But today, Honey has rock-solid bite inhibition.

How solid?

Well, if my husband’s finger ends up in Honey’s mouth during an excited game of tug, she recognizes it instantly and won’t bear down. No matter how aroused she is by the game.

Golden Retriever Biting Toy

My chompers could do a lot of damage. It’s a good thing I’m so good.

So why is this a problem?

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Bad

You’re probably familiar with the most famous example of dogs being “bad” because it’s good—intelligent disobedience in service dogs.

An example of intelligent disobedience is when a guide dog refuses to allow a blind person to step into the path of an oncoming car even when their person gives the cue to go forward.

I don’t rely on Honey to protect my life. But in our future life together aboard a sailboat, I can see some situations where Honey might need to disobey her training.

The one thing I’ve been threatening to teach Honey but have not yet begun (maybe if I go public with my shame I’ll be embarrassed enough to start this training task) is how to toilet on the deck of a boat.

Unfortunately, Honey is perfectly house trained (I never thought I’d hear those words coming out of my mouth).

Honey the golden retriever puppy pees on the floor.

You said I was “house” trained. You didn’t say anything about puppy kindergarten.

She was sleeping through the night at nine weeks old. Even when she was sick from a bowel obstruction, I only remember cleaning up one accident in the house. When she “goes” in the yard, she finds the farthest spot from the house.

I can only imagine how hard it will be to teach Honey to use a toilet spot only feet away from where we sleep. Now you see why I’ve been putting it off.

Breaking Through Obedience

Honey recently showed me how hard it is for her to disobey her earliest training.

We were out in the yard playing in the snow and I realized I had dropped my glove.

Honey is a retriever. If I ask her to go find her ball, toy, or bone and bring it to me, she will. She’ll even use her nose to sniff it out if she doesn’t know where it is.

So I asked her to bring me my glove and pointed to it so she knew what I was asking for.

No way.

Honey the Golden Retriever Fetching in the Snow

I fetch therefore I am. Unless, of course, you’re asking me to bring you gloves, socks, or underwear.

We taught Honey to never pick up our clothing from the time she was a devilish, chewing puppy. She learned her lesson well. And I don’t know what it would take to make her unlearn it.

I’m starting to realize how difficult it will be to teach Honey to disregard her deeply ingrained toileting instincts.

Bad Can Be Good

I love Honey so much it hurts. Just like I loved Shadow. And Agatha. And Christie.

She’s a good dog. But that’s not why I love her.

Besides “bad” dogs are lovable too. And sometimes being bad is the better choice.

Agatha and Christie, litter mates, pose in front of the car.

Agatha and Christie had lots of practice being “bad.” I wonder if they could have used their “bad” instincts for good?

You’ve heard stories about children who wandered away and got lost. They only survived because the family dog was “bad” enough to leave the yard and keep the child safe until they could be found.

Isn’t it amazing that a dog can understand the difference between doing the right thing and doing the good thing?

I look back on my life and see too many times when I did the good thing instead of the right thing. And understanding how hard it is to override Honey’s deeply learned obedience is making me think.

Maybe if I can figure out how to teach Honey to ignore her training for a good reason, there’s hope for me too.

Agatha and Christie pose.

Can you tell I’m thrilled to have found a stash of pictures of Agatha and Christie while I was cleaning out my closet? They may have been bad at lots of things. But they were good at posing for pictures.

Your Turn: Have you ever had to teach a dog how to ignore their training to do something? How did you manage it? Or do you have an independent dog who is smart enough to know when to be “bad?”


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  1. I was taught to do my business in the garden. So sometimes I wake mummy up in the middle of the night to go out…sometimes she regrets this lol

  2. Barley has no trouble being bad! But I understand how hard it is to untrain them on things they are so very good at. Barley is so good at heeling on walks, but sometimes–like right now when there’s just a narrow tunnel through the knee-deep snow on the sidewalks–there’s not enough room for both of us to walk beside each other, so I let her go out a little in front of me, but she still wants to heel and that usually ends up with one or both of us rolling in the snow 😉 It sounds like Honey is a smarty pants, so I’m sure that once she figures out what you want from her, the new training will go quickly!

  3. Wow, you might have your hands full there. I don’t think I could train Torrey to potty anywhere else. She will find the furthest spot to go too. Roxy, maybe. She just wants to go, and get back to the couch.

  4. I wish I could offer advice, but I can only sympathize. My little Yorkie Richie is so well trained that he will not potty on a pad, “doggy potty,” or anything else in the house even if there’s a blizzard outside. Mind you, he doesn’t go outside all the time either, sometimes he just holds it! I’ll be following the comments to see if there are any great ideas. Good luck!

  5. Is the deck large enough for one of those faux grass things for dogs to go on? Otherwise, I’m not sure how that is going to work for Honey. Blueberry used to never urinate on the asphalt or sidewalk, even if she sniffed pee mail from other dogs in that area. Nowadays though, she has no such inhibitions. It’s always slightly embarrassing to see the wet stain spread out on the sidewalk. At least she hasn’t ever pooped on the sidewalk though.

    Blueberry is very good too. I once opened my drawer and pointed out all the socks in there to her and she didn’t even care. It was a little sad. My dog Shadow was a fun sock thief. I kinda miss that game, but at the same time, I really do appreciate how good Blueberry is.

  6. That’s an interesting thought I haven’t really considered before… My last Shetland Sheepdog sounds a lot like Honey. She was the most well-behaved dog and always did the good thing. OK, she did have some mischief here and there but those were her younger days lol. I’m sure Honey will figure out the “new good things” in your new sailboat life. She’s a smart girl :)

  7. Heck, I think you’ve got an uphill task ahead of you teaching Honey to toilet on the deck of a sail boat. The only thing I can suggest is to collect some of her urine (e.g. with an OLD soup ladle or similar!) and put it on some faux grass and maybe do some preliminary training with that? Good luck!

  8. Mauja and Atka know that pulling on their leash toward a human or dog is a no-no. We’re still working on refining it, but we’re making progress. I’ve been approached by a strange man in the dark a few times and each time Mauja and Atka broke the pulling rule. They were at the end of their leashes barking at the man. I’m always happy when they break the rule appropriately.

  9. Jasmine was and Cookie is pretty clever and independent to do their own thing when they feel they must.

  10. I’ve seen a few videos of people who have trained their dogs to use a toilet. Honey’s pretty big though to use a toilet in a confined space on a sailboat, but maybe it’s worth a try.

  11. WOW! – that’s a tough one Pamela. I literally have no suggestions – sorry my friend!

  12. All of our dogs are quite independent, so we do more negotiating than commands. Sometimes on walks I can be embarrassed with Brut and his bad behaviors when we run into people. So when we do, while I keeping him under control, I am secretly thanking him for barking and looking so scary. It definitely keeps people away which makes me more comfortable than if they were to try and come up to him.

    Could you get a piece of sod and train Honey to use it in the yard? Then be able to put on boat that has her scent on it? Sounds like quite a challenge, but if anyone can do it, it would be you and Honey! :)

  13. I’m not really good at teaching my dogs. LOL Delilah is just naturally bad and Sampson, well I suspect he is a lot like Honey, too good to be bad.

    I’m sure you’ll figure a way out to train her to toilet somewhere on the boat.

  14. HA! Yeah… smart enough to know when to be bad… That’s this crew. Ha.hah.ha.

    Maybe start her with a “potty stick” now while she’s comfortable? I’m going to try this in the spring, too, but the idea is to get them to pee on something specific (the stick) to keep them from peeing on something undesirable (in our case, the vegetable garden). Then, when you’re on the boat, you can poke the stick into the pee pad? I honestly don’t know how the initial training would work for a girl dog, though… with the boys, I stick a stick in the ground, and they pee on it. :)