Back To School – Positive Pet Training Hop

Honey went to puppy preschool followed by puppy kindergarten.

Then we homeschooled her for several years.

But something showed us we needed extra help. Time to go back to school for Honey.

Honey the Golden Retriever Takes an Apple for Teacher.

I’m beautiful because I’m a dog. I’m well trained because I worked really hard at it.

Limits To Self-Training

By the time Honey was two, we had made a good start with her.

She would sit and stay on cue. She had excellent recall. She was on her way to becoming a Canine Good Citizen.

But then we met a training wall. We needed professional help.

And the help we got is a large part of how we’re able to live with Honey on board a sailboat today.

Honey the golden retriever and her bear aboard the boat.

I’ll live anywhere with you as long as it has comfy furniture and my bear.

Timid Dog Meets Bike Cart

Long-time readers are familiar with my attempt to get Honey comfortable with riding in my bike cart.

Honey the golden retriever puppy rides her bike cart to work.

Let me out of this thing

We haven’t owned a car in almost four years. So if we wanted Honey to travel with us, she’d have to get used to the bike cart.

Or we’d all be going on some long, long walks.

No matter what, I could not get Honey into the bike cart.

But the positive, relationship-based trainer we found had a great idea.

We had to go slower. Much slower. And then we had to convince Honey that she wouldn’t get trapped in the cart.

His suggestion was that we teach Honey to jump through the car—in the back opening and out the front.

Hopping through the cart was hardly scary at all. And it was much more like a game than sitting still inside the cart.

But best of all, the jumping activities and the other agility equipment our trainer suggested we use with Honey built her confidence.

From No Way To Let’s Go

On the first session with our trainer, Honey would not walk on a ramp lying flat on the sidewalk. She’d do everything to avoid it.

Honey the golden retriever hates the ramp.

I hate this stupid ramp. Don’t you see me sticking my tongue out at it?

Now that we live on a boat, Honey walks confidently from the dock to the boat on her Solvit Telescoping Pet Ramp (affiliate) and back again. She does it at high tide (when the boat is well above the dock) and at low tide when the boat is well below). She does it on windy days. (Don’t worry; we’ll eventually get pics and videos to show you. We’ve been a little busy lately.)

And then she clambers over the coamings into the cockpit.

She’s even learning to set her feet in secure places when we lift her up and down the companionway.

I don’t think we’d be living on board today if we hadn’t sent Honey back to school and gotten some schooling ourselves from a helpful professional.

Honey the golden retriever looks down the companionway ladder.

Whatcha cooking down there?

Limits To Home Training

I love training Honey.

I think everyone should work to train their dog every day. It builds our bond. It increases our dog’s confidence. And it makes them easier to take with us everywhere we go.

But if I were a home schooling parent, I’d never attempt to teach my kids calculus or physics, two subjects I’ve never studied myself.

So why wouldn’t I rely on a professional to help me train Honey?

Honey the golden retriever dozes in her life jacket on the sailboat.

All the training you made me do is hard work. I need a nap.
Besides, if I look too peppy, you’ll probably make me steer the boat.

When Do You Need To Hire A Trainer?

My experience with a trainer was so positive that I think everyone would benefit from hiring a professional to help.

But if you’re not convinced, here are a few suggestions when you might benefit from taking your dog back to school with a professional:

  • your dog is fearful or has other behavior or temperament issues that make it harder for him or her to learn
  • your dog is well-trained but you want to take things to the next level, perhaps therapy dog work
  •  you want to increase your training skills and feel a more experienced trainer will help you
  •  you’ve run out of ideas and need fresh inspiration

So if you have the “bored with summer blahs,” maybe it’s time to go back to school with your dog.

Honey’s glad we did.

Honey the golden retriever on the sailboat in her life jacket.

Of course I’m glad I live on a boat. Don’t you see how gorgeous I look in my red life jacket?

Your Turn: Have you relied on a professional trainer? Why or why not?


Disclaimer: Links marked as “affiliates” will take you to Amazon. If you buy something after clicking that link I will earn a small commission but your item will not cost you more. Thanks for supporting Something Wagging.

We’re joining  Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days in the Positive Dog Training Blog Hop held the first Monday of each month.

Positive Pet Training Hop


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  1. I had a professional trainer tell me that Jedi knows me so well he knows exactly what he can get away with. I have the hardest time walking him on a loose lead, yet he walks beautifully for others. It’s frustrating. I am NOT the awesome or consistent trainer that I would like to be. For me, handling classes and training sessions are worth the money.

    • I’m sure there are some serious training benefits to Jedi knowing you so well also.

      I’d suspect that with the behaviors he has down pat, it almost looks like he’s doing them before you voice a cue.

  2. Mom doesn’t like dog training too much, but we all got our basic obedience training done at “school”, then it has been home schooling which we all enjoy. We go to school for our sports which is also a lot of fun. There are times when one does need a professional to help out with things like when Katie would drag Mom all over creation when she was about three. They took a few private lessons and got things under control. One just has to know when to ask for help.

    • You don’t mind that I snorted at hearing that “mom doesn’t like dog training.”

      Considering all the cool things you and your sister do, I find that hard to believe. :)

  3. Thanks for posting this. I always enjoy hearing how other trainers overcome challenges, and even more when it’s a positive solution :)

    I AM the professional trainer, so I haven’t needed to call one yet :) Always learning though, as all good trainers should be.

    • Personally, I wouldn’t want to work with a trainer if I suspected they thought they knew everything. Sounds dangerous. :)

      • I didn’t mean to imply I know it all :) The more I learn, the more I realise how much I still have to learn, which is why I love to hear about how other trainers solve problems. I follow the blogs of several great dog trainers.

        I also attend agility training classes with my dogs, and haven’t told the instructors I’m a dog trainer, because I want to be as open to new learning as possible.

  4. I was lucky. Because I worked for a professional trainer, I was able to pick her brain when needed. Zora still has (and probably will always have) issues, but working with a professional trainer has helped me see things from her point of view, which makes training much easier.

    • I have certainly found it helpful to get an outside perspective. It’s amazing how many times I’ve felt certain I knew what was going on just to be absolutely wrong. :)

  5. Your pictures are gorgeous! I love the one of Honey wondering what’s cooking, lol.

    I’ve never hired a professional trainer even though there were some challenges with Haley, like not pulling on the leash. But I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to call one if my dog had an issue I couldn’t resolve.

    • Compliment the new camera. The blurry ones are from the old Canon. And the pretty ones (especially Honey looking down the companionway) are from the new camera. 😉

  6. Bruin will be heading to school this Fall. We have noticed lately that he has some anxiety issues that we are hoping to get some help with!

    • I hope Bruin enjoys his training sessions and you see an improvement in his anxiety. I know training has really helped Honey become much less timid.

  7. It’s so good to see Honey adjusting so well to the boat!
    I like to try things myself first, and then call in help when I feel I need it. Taking Luke for basic obedience and private lessons early on was the best thing we could have done. We couldn’t get our original trainer to help us with Luke again now, so I’m going to work with him myself for a bit on his stranger issues and see how it goes. If it doesn’t go the way we need, we’ll definitely be looking for a new trainer.

    • The great thing about working on training yourself is that you really learn a lot in the process. It is a great way to build that bond.

      And it sounds like from some of your posts that Luke really is improving with his fear of strangers. The tough part is finding gentle, exposures to improve his skills.

      Unfortunately, the first opportunity many of us have to practice with visitors is at Thanksgiving dinner or some other crazy occasion. :)

  8. My dogs do pretty well at training me and have never needed to call in professional help.

  9. I did a trick training class with Blueberry once. But it bored her and me too a bit. I guess after all of our fun hiking adventures, a class would have to be pretty exciting to keep both of us focused. Other than that, I trained Blueberry (with help from other bloggers and books) – although to be fair, she is a breeze to train. Blueberry needed no such help – she had my number from the beginning and has been very successful in molding me into her perfect servant. :)

    • I think you and Blueberry have such a strong relationship that training seems almost superfluous. You both want to do things for each other. :)

  10. Great post! Dogs are always learning.

  11. I do most of Mr. N’s training myself but I use trainers for more specialized things (nosework, reactivity etc). Thanks for joining the hop!

  12. Looking good in that life jacket Honey!
    We needed help with Ziva when her reactivity issues started, we ended up taking a clicker class with a professional trainer, we needed a controlled environment with other dogs around her at it really helped. Then we moved into agility to help build her self confidence.

    • Having someone who can help you manage controlled exposure to scary things (people, dogs, objects) is very helpful.

      Our trainer has actually set us up with neighbors who needed a non-threatening dog to practice with. (I was so flattered.)

      Ziva looks like she’s made for dog sports. If only she doesn’t have to watch out for funky little schipperkes. :)

  13. Jealous of your lovely boat photos! And very impressed with how you stuck to it. I might have given up the whole live-on-a-boat plan if I couldn’t get my pups to walk on a ramp on the first try. Actually, I should make that a training goal. Leo pancakes if I try to make him walk on a dock or a bridge over water.

    • We did lots of training and preparation. But I was amazed to find how easy it was to get Honey to walk the ramp when we took our first test cruise with her.

      Apparently there was nothing to motivate her to walk the ramp in training. But once she saw we were going on the boat and the ramp was how she’d get on the boat, she looked like a different dog.

      Sorry Leo freaks out at such things. But I wonder if a bridge or dock was keeping him from you if he’d stop seeing it as such a scary barrier?

  14. Love that life jacket photo of Honey! She’s too adorable. Your adventures remind me that dogs often times adjust to their surroundings more easily than their human counterparts. Training is a life long endeavor, and Honey seems to tackle each day and obstacle with the zeal of a true Golden! Well done. :)

  15. I’m impressed. Some people are naturals with training their dog and their dogs are delights to everyone who encounters them. Others of us need help, understanding things about dog psychology and positive training methods. I hope I will have another dog in my life to work with, but for now I’m loving discovering more about dogs and sharing info. (I dog sit, so that gives my puppy love fixes.) Looking forward to reading more about Honey’s adventures, and sharing. (It’s no wonder goldens are used as service animals…their nature teaches us all how to behavior, whether we’re canines or 2-leggers!).

  16. Kudos and props to you guys – I’m having simultaneous panic attacks and nausea waves just thinking about living on a boat with my three knuckleheads (one of whom gets just as motion sick as his momma). What a wonderful lifestyle though. And Honey looks adorable in her life jacket!

  17. Honey is such a gorgeous feature of your boat! 😀

    I was just saying the other week that I feel like I’m at the point, with a lot of the things that we’re working on, where I need a professional to watch me, tell me what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong, in order to progress. Alas, that won’t be in the cards for a while, so I’m trying to video myself training and figure it out…which is easier said than done when all you have is an iphone camera and no tripod. Fortunately Nala is already basically perfect, so most of the training we do is for fun.

  18. It’s just amazing how well Honey is adapting to your new life on the boat. You’re right that we sometimes need to seek the help of a professional for training challenges. I would like to enroll Boca in another class – maybe something to prepare us for the Canine Good Citizen test.