For training Honey, we have a clicker, loads of treats, and some fun toys. We have leashes. Before we moved onto the boat, we had several books.
But our most powerful training tool is something we rarely hear anyone talking about. Can you guess what it is?
It’s All About The Relationship
When it comes to house training, sitting, staying, walking by my side, and shaking hands Honey is a breeze to train. She’s smart and eager to please.
But she struggles with some of our training goals for her.
Long time readers might remember how long we spent teaching her to ride in our bike cart. And the first time I put our boat ramp on the ground, she wouldn’t even walk on it for liver treats.
You see, Honey is a cautious pup. Tricks that require courage take a lot of time to train.
And it’s why we spend as much time building her trust in us as we do any real training.
Yep, my secret, extra, super-duper training tool is trust. It’s so important. And yet some dog trainers never talk about it.
I can’t get Honey to do scary things just by holding out a yummy treat. She needs to know she can trust me. And once she does, she’ll do things that normally freak her out.
Like touch a scary balloon.
Barking At The Scary Balloon
Honey’s a pretty quiet dog.
She barks to get our attention. She barks to tell Ace, the cute pit bull on the boat two slips over, that she’s here and wants to play. But that’s about it.
So you can imagine how startled I was when we came back from a walk the other day to have Honey start barking in alarm.
What is it Honey? A wild animal? A threatening person?
Nope, it was a pair of mylar balloons tied to a mailbox and floating in the breeze.
Not only did she bark at the balloons but twice she tried to approach them and reared back when they moved again.
I walked closer to the balloons with Honey on the leash. And then I asked her to touch the balloons with her nose.
She didn’t hesitate. Not one second.
You see, I’ve been asking Honey to “touch” items since she was a puppy. It’s a fabulous training tool called targeting.
We started by rewarding her for touching my hand with her nose. We worked with non scary items like chairs and balls.
And when I had built enough trust with Honey so she knew I’d never ask her to touch something that would hurt her, we moved up to having her shut doors that would close with a bang. Or broom handles that might fall over.
Or even a scary balloon.
No matter how well-trained Honey was, I would not have expected her to put her face right on the balloons that had startled her a few moments ago if I had not deposited thousands of hours in her trust bank.
Building Trust With Your Dog
Yep, exercise is important. And so is good nutrition. But few things you do will benefit you and your dog over the long run as building a trusting relationship.
How do you build trust?
DO listen to your dog. Let them know that when they communicate with you, you’ll listen.
DON’T ignore their need for a break or play time. Besides it’s good for you to get up too.
DO give your dog something after you promise it. Even if you “click” a mistake, you’ve gotta give the reward.
DON’T tease your dog. Sure, it’s funny to see the look on your dog’s face when you pretend to throw a ball or wrinkle a food wrapper. But resist. It’s not worth breaking your dog’s trust.
DO everything you can to keep your dog safe. They need to know you’re there to protect them.
DON’T make him or her deal with rude behavior from people or other dogs. Step in and end the uncomfortable situation.
And of course, the easiest way to build trust is just to enjoy spending time with your dog every day.
The Benefits of Trust
We see lots of brave boat dogs.
They leap onto the boat from the dock. They hang out on the bow and watch the dolphins. They dive into the water for a fun swim.
Honey wouldn’t do any of those things without lots and lots of training, practice, and not a few withdrawals from the trust bank.
We don’t need her to do those things.
But we do need her to stay calm when the boat is rocking and rolling in rough seas. We need her to walk up steep and slippery ramps when low tide makes it harder to get to the dock. And we need her to sit quietly in the dinghy when I’m struggling to row us back to the boat.
So I’ll just keep making deposits in the trust bank. It’s the best training tool I know.
Congratulations to yesterday’s commenters, Lauren of The Adventures of Zoe & Phoenix and Melissa of Two Pitties Afloat who knew we were using a cue to help Honey with her fear of the balloons. And also to Elaine of Chasing Dog Tales who figured it was part of training her away from fear.
If you don’t know these awesome blogs, check them out. They’re all wonderful.
Your Turn: How do you know your dog trusts you?