Honey Barks At…

Living on a boat allows Honey to meet some unusual species. Can you guess which one she barks at?

Honey the golden retriever sleeps on chart in sailboat cockpit.

My special job is holding down the chart. What would it take to get me to bark?

Prey Drive

Honey has a weak prey drive.

She’s generally more curious about other animals than she is predatory towards them.

But over the seven years we’ve lived together, I’ve learned not to predict how she’ll respond to a particular species.

She constantly surprises me.

Here are a few animals Honey has engaged with.

Deer in the Alligator-Pungo canal in North Carolina.

When a deer swam in front of the boat, Honey didn’t notice.


Honey loves them.

And she appears sad that they don’t all love her back.

When I’ve introduced her to dog-friendly cats in our Ithaca neighborhood, she remained calm and relaxed. Eventually, she’d get a little excited and try to play-bow to the cat, a move that usually didn’t go well.

A cat in the neighborhood.

One of the neighborhood cats Honey greeted on her walk.

There was one black cat that used to join us on walks.

When the kitty finally decided to follow someone else or return home, Honey would look for her missing friend and seemed genuinely disappointed she was gone.


Usually Honey ignored squirrels.

But sometimes, on a cool and windy fall day, Honey would be full of piss and vinegar. She couldn’t resist chasing squirrels.

Not sure why she became so fascinated by squirrels. But her interest seemed purely playful. If she managed to catch one, I’m sure she’d only release it to start the game again.

Honey the golden retriever in fall.

I hope you appreciate how still I’m sitting while the squirrels are racing overhead. You owe me.


My neighborhood in Ithaca has a rat problem—the result of leaky, old houses owned by sloppy composters.

We had one specimen who was quite bold.

I’ll never forget hearing scratching sounds coming down our attic stairs and into the hall. As a whiskered face peered into my office, Honey and I looked up.

After a few moments, Mr. Rat went scurrying down the front staircase. Honey just laid her head back down on the couch.

Raccoons and Skunks

Fortunately, Honey has expressed no interest whatsoever when we’ve crossed paths with raccoons and skunks.

Baby Raccoon

Glad Honey found the raccoon less interesting than I did.

Thank goodness.

I hope she is as disinterested the first time we meet a poisonous snake or alligator.

Honey wears a leash when we can't be sure of her recall.

This picture would look much better without my harness and leash. Do you leave it on so you have a way to hold on if an alligator gets me?


A stranger we met on the beach told us how his golden retriever liked to chase birds. He seemed shocked that Honey didn’t do the same thing.

Mama and ducklings at Cambridge Municipal Marina.

The Cambridge Municipal Marina keeps one slip reserved for mama and baby ducks. Since we were docked across the way, I’m pleased Honey showed no interest in them.

Since we often meet herons, pelicans, and eagles who could practically carry Honey off, I’m glad she doesn’t press her luck.

Pelican flying by the boat in the ICW of South Carolina.

He was close enough to touch. Glad he was looking for fish instead of for retriever.

So our golden pup has encountered many kinds of animals. Did you notice that I never mentioned her barking at any of them?

Can you guess what animal drives our usually silent dog to bark?

Honey Barks At Dolphins

For a long time, Honey never saw dolphins. She usually sleeps when we’re underway.

But recently she’s started noticing dolphins. In fact, sometimes she spots them before we do. By smell.

If Honey sits up and starts sniffing the air, I look into the water. There’s probably a dolphin somewhere.

Honey the golden retriever sniffs the air from the cockpit.

I smell something interesting.

Once she spots one, Honey becomes very excited.

She moves around the cockpit trying to keep it in her sights. And then she lets out a woof.

Honey the golden retriever spots a dolphin in the water.

I see you.

It’s not alarm barking like dogs responding to a doorbell. It’s more like, “This is exciting. I need to explore it. And I hope they’ll bark back.”

I wonder if she thinks dolphins are big, swimming dogs. Because her barking pattern reminds me of when she’d see a big, friendly dog passing by our house when she was on the porch.

Honey the golden retriever watches a dolphin.

How did you get over there so fast?

Will Honey Play With Dolphins

Honey’s not crazy about swimming. So I can’t imagine her imitating the labrador who swims with his dolphin friend in the harbor most days.

And the cockpit of our boat is about three feet over the waterline. It doesn’t seem likely I’ll ever get video of dog and dolphin kisses.

Dolphin swims by the boat.

Does that look like a dog to you, Honey?

But who knows?

Honey continually surprises me.

And maybe the dog who won’t swim with me or other dogs has just been waiting to swim with dolphins.

Your Turn: How does your dog respond to other animals? Does he or she act differently toward different species?

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  1. Unfortunately, ours bark at just about everything! They don’t even have to be in real life, Luke barks at everything on TV too (luckily Cricket doesn’t watch TV). LOL
    Cricket ignores birds, but Luke likes to watch them. He’ll only chase a little, and he doesn’t usually bark at them, except for the mourning doves – I think that’s because they tend to be noisy and flighty.
    Honey must like the dolphins because she can sense how friendly they are, and knows they might make good playmates!

    • “Unfortunately, ours bark at just about everything!” Well, they are dogs.

      After spending my life around barky dogs, it’s been an adjustment getting used to silent Honey. In truth, barking at dolphins keeps me from worrying that she’s mute. 🙂

  2. I have always believed dogs and dolphins have a spiritual connections. Her barking is a form of higher communications.

    My dogs bark if there is any noise in our zip code

    • Of course, dolphins and dogs are incredibly intelligent. I worry that if they team up, humans might be knocked off the top of the pecking order.

      Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing. 🙂

  3. I’m sure that Honey is communicating with the dolphin. They are both such spiritual creatures. Would love to see some video of that! (hint, hint)

    Everything is prey to our dogs, except for birds. And they bark at everything. Must be nice having such a quiet dog. Somedays I wish my dogs were like Honey. 🙂

    • Video, eh? It took us a long time just to get a still photograph.

      Sometimes I think we should install nature cams on the boat. We see so many amazing things that we never come close to capturing.

  4. If they’re awake = they will bark. LOL

    • On the other hand, you always know where they are. 🙂

      Sometimes I panic a little when I can’t find Honey on the boat (and you know how crazy that is in such a small space). She’s taken to dozing under the table at Mike’s feet. Sometimes I wish she’d woof just to let me know where she is.

  5. How cute! Barley always amazes me because she loves deer and will sit 5 feet from them, pose for a picture, and have no reaction at all. She can’t even do that with most other dogs! She will chase a squirrel if one is in the yard (and she’s caught one once), but for the most part, she’s pretty relaxed around non-dog animals. Rye, on the other hand, loses her mind when she even thinks she sees an animal that might need chasing–a cat that isn’t hers, a squirrel, birds, even a napkin blowing in the wind is something she’ll bark at it even after she can’t see it anymore.

    • I wonder what is the nature of Barley’s thoughts on deer? I would love to ask her all about it.

      Good thing Rye is on high alert. You’d certainly hate to have that napkin roaming your yard. 🙂

  6. Mine bark at everything too. Most times I can just acknowledge it and redirect, but if they’re deer, they typically can’t be distracted.

    I came from Facebook and I guessed it right!! I was thinking dolphin because they would be more likely to approach a boat than another animal. When we renred a house on a Florida canal, there was a couple of dolphins that came by every morning.

  7. Meagan & Merlin says:

    Merlin barks at cats, dogs, people, buckets, loud noises and objects he’s never seen before. He ignores birds, but if they look like they have something he wants then he will chase them. And he catches Rats and plays with them, but he won’t kill them. He whines and stamps his feet when he wants my spot on the couch lol.

  8. I’m calm about meeting almost any animal when we’re out and about. I get excited if I smell wild boar – I want to give chase!

    It’s a different matter at home. I need to protect our territory and bark danger away. Things like foxes shouldn’t enter the garden and squirrels shouldn’t sit on our wall. I don’t take any notice of small birds in our trees, but I’m not enthusiastic when rooks or magpies visit.

    • You be careful about those wild boar–they can be dangerous.

      You must have a lot of guarding to do with the construction happening in your house. It’s hard work keeping workers in line, isn’t it?

  9. We all have high prey drives and love to go after any moving targets, including blowing trash or leaves. Dolphins sound pretty exciting. How neat to see them around your boat.

  10. That’s very cute that she gets excited when she smells them coming. Maybe she does think they are curious looking dogs!

  11. Aw, how neat that you have dolphin neighbors, so to speak! Maybe you can get a little video of Honey watching them 🙂

    P.S. If that rat had peeked into my office, Buzz & Missy would immediately have chased after it, lol!!

  12. You answered me “do you think she will go swimming with them” question. I have never seen a dolphin in the wild, something on my bucket list, I might be a little bit jealous 🙂

  13. That’s so cool!!

  14. How sweet that she’s trying to communicate with the dolphin! That’s just adorable. Sweet Honey, maybe one day you’ll get to kiss one. ? Paws crossed for you.

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