How To Teach A Dog To Fly

Honey has surprised me by learning some amazing things–walking on a moving ramp, climbing steep stairs with open treads, and even staying balanced on a heeling sailboat.

But this year we have a new trick for her to learn. We’re going to teach our dog how to fly.

Honey the golden retriever flies through the cockpit.

Uh oh. She just said “let’s fly.”
I’d rather take Delta.

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Good Dog, Bad Boat

We bought a fabulous boat. But it’s not exactly dog friendly.

And we’ve all had to make adjustments.

My husband Mike and I have had to develop our weight lifting skills to move Honey up and down the companionway ladder (entrance to the cabin below). And Honey has had to adjust to being a weight.

Honey the golden retriever high five.

I can do anything!

She’s done amazingly.

But there’s one more boating skill we haven’t worked on much. It’s getting Honey out of the sailboat, Meander, and into the dinghy, Mini-Mea.

We’ve taken Honey rowing in Mini-Mea a couple of times. And she did great.

Honey the golden retriever gets treats in the dinghy.

Okay, this dinghy thing isn’t so bad. Does it always come with liverwurst?

But we had our boat up on dry land being repaired. So we simply lowered our folding dinghy from the boat, set it up, and put it in the water from the nearby dock.

We won’t have that luxury when we’re at anchor in the middle of a river. If Honey wants to go ashore, we’ll have to lower her over the high sides of Meander into Mini-Mea floating below.

And that’s going to be a trick.

That’s why our training goal for 2016 will be to teach Honey how to fly.

Honey The Dog On The Flying Trapeze

Some particularly brave dogs leap off the deck of a boat into a dinghy waiting below. But Honey has always been a cautious girl.

We could try one of us handing Honey down to the other one standing in a floating dinghy. But we’d prefer to stay out of the water most of the time, Especially when air temperatures are close to freezing.

So we’re going to have to teach Honey how to fly.

Here’s what I mean.

The metal spar that holds the bottom of our largest sail is called a boom. As in “watch your head or you’ll hear a loud crashing boom as it knocks you unconscious.”

The boom attaches to the mast (the tall sail support) with a flexible joint (called a goose neck) so the boom can move from side to side over the deck of the boat.

We have a block and tackle (a tool for giving a mechanical advantage when lifting heavy items with a rope) that we will tie to the boom. We’ll attach the block to the boom on one end and to Honey on the other end.

Then we’ll push the boom out over the waiting dinghy and gently lower Honey into it like a hovering angel.

Voila, Honey’s flying.

But we have some training work to do first.

Baby Steps To Flying

Step one was fitting Honey to a technical climbing harness. We found a very secure one from Ruffwear (affiliate) that is made for mountaineering with dogs.

Ruffwear doubleback harness.

A technical harness just for mountain climbing dogs. And now for flying, sailing dogs.

I started by showing Honey the harness and asking her to touch it with her nose for a treat. Once Honey associated the harness with yummy things, we were ready to have her wear it.

It’s a complicated harness with lots of attachment points for safety. It took us a while to set it up for her to wear.

Honey the golden retriever models her RuffWear double back harness.

I bet super models don’t have to wait so long to be fitted.

Once the harness was on, we encouraged Honey to walk and play so she didn’t feel it as an uncomfortable constraint.

We even lifted her by the handle to get her used to being lifted in a new way and to make sure the harness was secure.

Honey the golden retriever being lifted by her Ruffwear doubleback harness.

I am definitely too mellow. Most other dogs would have bitten you by now

Now it’s time for step two: teaching Honey to accept being lifted by a device instead of in our arms.

We’ll probably bring the clicker and treats out again to help Honey associate good things with the lifting tackle. And we’ll continue to take baby steps as we practice lifting her before we swing the boom out over the water and lower her into Mini Me.

If we’re smart, we’ll take it slow and easy.

We were hoping to get into warmer weather before experimenting lifting Honey with the harness, block, and tackle. But repairs and issues have kept us north far longer than we had hoped. And we may find ourselves trying the lift for the first time in the icy waters of North Carolina in about a week or two.

There’s a stretch of about 80 miles in the ICW with no marinas. So if Honey wants to potty on dry land, she’ll need to take a dinghy ride.

Or perhaps this will be the perfect chance to see if we can convince Honey to take care of business on her grass carpet on the boat deck.

Either way, it’s a fabulous (and necessary) opportunity to practice some positive pet training.

And it will give us mad skills to work on all year. Especially the flying.

Honey the golden retriever in her Ruffwear Doubleback harness with pam.

Wlll I be getting snacks on my flight?


We’re joining Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days in sharing positive pet training stories, encouragement, challenges and triumphs. The hop is open all week long beginning the first Monday of each month.

Your Turn: Do you have any training goals for 2016? 

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  1. Good luck teaching Honey how to fly! We love Ruffwear harnesses; they are definitely sturdy enough to get any “job” done so hopefully yours makes Honey’s flying a bit easier on her.

    • We were thrilled to find such a safe harness. Most of the lifting harness out there are just to help people lift dogs with mobility issues up steps. But when I saw the RuffWear video lifting a lab up the side of a mountain, I knew we had found the right one.

      Of course, Honey would probably be happiest if we’d wear the harness and hold her in our arms like we usually do. 🙂

  2. Woohoo, here’s to Honey learning how to fly! It looks like you chose the best harness out there – I LOVE any and all products by Ruffwear, and have started a nice collection myself! The hydrotherapy section of a dog spa I go to on a more or less regular basis uses those Ruffwear harnesses, too.

  3. Just out of curiosity, when you are out at sea, does Honey always wear a life vest? I’ve read stories of dogs falling overboard and being lost, and I imagine a life vest is a necessity.

  4. Honey will be awesome. She is so mellow and she trusts you guys.

  5. That’s actually a pretty good idea! I’m sure Honey will be fine, especially the way you are going about it. It does sound like it could be a little scary though. How far down does she have to fly?

  6. You guys are so amazing teaching Honey all these new modes travel. Gold star! 🙂

  7. That’s impressive. I love how well all of you are adjusting to your new lifestyle. Jax has selected his own new trick. He likes opening and closing doors. We’ve got some tweaking to do – but he seems to get a big kick out of it once he enters the room after me. Poor Harley, he’s been left out in the hallway a lot lately. LOL #neveradullmoment

  8. Since she’s used to her life jacket, I would think she will handle this with grace and ease. I admire your patience with small steps. It would never have occurred to me to reward for just having the harness put on.

    We have handed our corgis on and off boats a lot and it never phased them at all, of course, it was from human to human. We jokingly call them our “suitcases”.

  9. I just wanted to say what a beautiful dog you have, and to wish you luck teaching her to fly!

  10. Oh, I was so hoping you were well on your way to warmer climates by now!
    I have a feeling you, Mike, and Honey will get this latest challenge under your belts in due time with your usual patience and determination. 🙂

  11. BJ Pup (Lynda) says:

    sounds like honey us doing well with all her new lessons. can i fly after honey? sorry, no caps until the cast on my dominant hand.

  12. Good luck going to warmer climes! The other day a song came on my Pandora station that made me think of you–it was a twee little song about wanting to go and live far away on an island as a lobsterman’s wife. My brain is a strange place!

    Best of luck to all of you and Honey on teaching her to fly, too! That seems like a tough training challenge–I’m trying to think of how I’d tackle it (haha, pun! boats! tackle!) and confusing myself, haha!

  13. I hope the training goes well. It will be very useful for Honey to fly!

  14. Honey is such a good girl! I bet she’ll get it after a while, no problem. 🙂 Cool looking harness!!

  15. Like a lot of practical things we need to teach pets, the wonderful training and socialization history you have with Honey that makes you a trusting team is really the biggest part of this new “trick.” Though I never seen trainer and trainee trust demonstrated quite so extremely as learning to fly, isn’t it cool to just say “let’s do that” together? That teamwork is one of the very best things about positive training, from “sit” to “fly!” Thanks for joining the hop!

  16. I’m certain that with practice and patience, you, Mike and Honey will have flying down to an art in no time. You’ve already taught her so many new “tricks” that I have no doubt Honey will master “flying” in no time – and be better at it than Delta, American, or any other airline!!