My Biggest Training Fail

Honey loves it. It builds our relationship. And it’s a good way for both of us to train our brains.

So why do I keep having such a huge training fail?

Honey the golden retriever is a good trainer.

I’m an excellent trainer. I’ve got you to carry Bear for me when I’m doing something else.

Too Easy To Fail?

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a training fail with Honey.

She’s an enthusiastic learner. If I take my clicker out in front of her she snaps to attention, the look on her face saying, “Ooooh, what are we going to do now?”

This pup is smart.

And she’s easy. And I think that’s one thing that contributes to my training failure.

Honey the golden retriever is a perfect dog.

I’m practically perfect in every way.

No one would call any of my earlier dogs easy.

I was so ignorant with my first dogs that I spent their entire lives managing problems (fighting, separation anxiety, pulling on leash) instead of training them.

By the time my third dog came along, I did better. I worked on training her to pull less and to not bark and lunge at every dog who walked by.

But nothing about training Shadow (Honey’s predecessor) was easy.

Honey’s middle name is easy.

I didn’t have to train her to respond gently to children. Or to walk near me without pulling me off my feet. Or to not spend hours barking at every street noise.

So if Honey has no major behavior problems and she’s an easy dog, just what is my massive training failure?

Settling For Too Little

I assume that because Honey is awkward with her hind feet that she would never learn to climb a companionway ladder.

Because Honey is timid, she’ll never be a brave adventure dog.

But do those assumptions say anything about Honey? Or do they say more about me?

I think of friends who have challenging dogs. They channel their dogs’ energy or neuroses into amazing training.

I’ve gotten a beautifully behaved dog who loves everyone she meets.

Doesn’t she deserve to use every bit of her brain to learn new things? And if I weren’t so lazy and inconsistent a trainer, would she surprise me with the skills she’d learn?

Golden Retriever doing agility jump.

So you think doing this will keep me safer on the boat?
Okay, I’m game. As long as you keep the treats coming.

Thanks For The Training Push

Sometimes I need a little nudge. And the Positive Dog Training Hop sponsored by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier, and Rubicon Days is that nudge.

I’m blessed with open time while we’re negotiating the terms of the sailboat we wish to buy. I need to take advantage of it by training Honey.

I want to concentrate on improving her agility (not agility in the competitive sense but her ability to move gracefully and safely in a variety of settings).

Next week’s theme for the Positive Dog Training Hop is training successes. So I’m pledging in pixels today to have something to post about Honey’s and my progress.

Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to teach her and how.

Honey the golden retriever puts her paws on a log.

I think we have some work ahead of us. I hope we also have some treats too.

Your Turn: Help!! What are some good ways I could teach Honey to be more agile?



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  1. You could start with having Honey just walk over some obstacles that are very low to the ground, and then slowly increase the height once she doesn’t touch them anymore! Just be careful when/if incorporating yourself as an obstacle 😉 I’ve done that before and had Buzz jump right into my knee..made for a very nice bruise!

    • I was thinking I could do something with broom sticks stacked up on piles of bricks.

      And I wasn’t thinking of using myself as an obstacle given how many bruises Honey gives me just sleeping at night. But I’m sorry to tell you I’m giggling at the thought of Buzz jumping on your knee. Sorry. But it’s always funny when it happens to someone else. :)

  2. I have no ideas for you, sorry. I can only think of basic agility stuff, working on balance I would think would be a biggie for the boat.

    • I used to practice walking Honey on the slanting concrete under a highway bridge to get her ready to a heeling boat. I think I need to find a similar spot to get back to that.

  3. Honey sounds great! Covering the basics then moving to some more challenging tricks could be a great start.

    • Honey does know some simple things–touch, high five, weaving between my legs, putting her paws up on a table etc.

      My imagination is sorely lacking, though. So I’ll be reviewing lots of trick videos looking for ideas.

      I wonder if I could get her to ride a rocking horse like Kilo? :)

      • Kilo has great balance and loves treats LOL. My hand is just above his face. I retrieved the horse from neighbour. I have a lot of fun with one or two online training groups- part of Kyra Sundance’s tricks- lots of ideas and inspiration and tips. I follow Sara Carson’s and 2 others. XS

  4. Be grateful Honey is so smart. You could have a doofas dog that makes failure a form of art. 😉

    • Yeah, it’s much better to be a doofus dog owner who makes failure an art form. :)

      • 😉 Hey it’s always good to see the glass as half full. Your Honey and you will do fine, just keep eating that elephant one bite at a time. Training pets is a lot like building blocks, before you know it, you have an amazing structure (and a few gold stars along the way). Hang in there. Besides, perfection is over-rated.

  5. Margaret T. says:

    If you have access to a ladder, put it on the ground, and encourage Honey to step in and out of the rectangles formed by the rungs and the sides of the ladder. You can go crosswise and then lengthwise. It will give her more awareness of where her back feet are.

    • That’s a great idea, Margaret. I think I’ll have to tuck it into a corner though. Because Honey is pretty cagey at avoiding such things.

  6. Put her afloat on a raft, a balance board, things like that which move and strengthen her core too.

    • Oooh, I should really buy myself a paddle board, shouldn’t I? I really owe it to Honey to give her a fun way to improve her balance and core strength.

  7. It’s so reassuring to see someone else admit to a problem I share–Nala is so easy, with no major behavior problems. It’s a double edged sword–it means that most of the training we do is purely fun and recreational, and it’s not a very big deal if one or both of us is getting confused or frustrated. We’ve taken a few months off from a trick more than once.

    Nala’s a big dog with only a budding understanding of her back feet, too. We’ve been slowly building her understanding by having her learn to pivot on a disc (okay, actually an upturned soup pot!)–but that’s one of the things we had to take a few months away from and get a better understanding of shaping (for both me and her!) before we could make real progress. I’ve also begun teaching her to jump up onto stuff–a small, fancy upholstered chair, benches that we encounter outside, big rocks or fallen trees–and I think that’s really helped. And we’ve been hiking in hilly places with weird footing, which also seems to have increased Nala’s agility.

    If Honey’s anything like Nala and you want to try pivoting, let me save you some frustration? Don’t watch her back feet for movement and mark when you see that, although that’s one of the first steps in many tutorials. Look for *any* movement or stomping or paddling of those furry feet, because she won’t think to move her back ones at first. When she’s marching all of her little feet in place, then start clicking back feet more and eventually trying to get some movement/rotation. If someone had told me this six months ago, we might not have started and quit this trick three times before having any luck with it!

    • Yes, I miss our Ithaca walks in the gorges with lots of crazy, moving rocks underfoot.

      But your pivot idea is excellent. Thanks for the tip about when to click. Because I could definitely see myself waiting for that rear paw movement and frustrating both of us.

  8. I settle for very little with my dogs. They’re not actually trained to do anything, so I guess my participation in this hop is a bit of a sham. As long as they’re not doing anything wrong, I’m happy.

    • Actually didn’t I read about Mia going out for a beer with your sweetie? That’s a pretty advanced skill. Not any dog can handle outdoor dining without a problem.

      The Marine Corps definition of fitness is to be able to do everything you need to accomplish in a day plus give that little bit extra when needed. I tend to have a similar attitude about training.

      A well trained dog is one who can do everything they need to do in their regular day with a little extra when they’re stretched. It’s a fluid definition that I think takes temperament and different living circumstances into account.

  9. Great post! I actually didn’t know how easy I had it with Zoe until I got Phoenix. Sometimes it’s okay to have an easier dog. Enjoy your easy dog while you have her and try to have some fun. :)

    For helping to teach Honey to be more agile, I would do rear end awareness exercises. I would recommend checking out YouTube for tutorials! My favorite channels are Kikopup, Pam’s Dog Academy, Modern Dog Training (Kristin Crestejo), Training Positive (tab289) and Denise Fenzi. I have some examples of my dogs learning it on my channel but they aren’t really tutorials.

    • Thanks for the YouTube channels to check out. I’ll definitely go visit.

      Honey did have a wobble board that we sold when we sold the house (there will be no room for such things when we move onto a sailboat). But I could probably make a temporary teeter board with some of the things in my sister’s garage.

  10. Oh and I forgot to mention you might find training Honey to use a wobble board to be helpful as well. I have a tutorial on how to make one on my blog along with some training videos.

  11. Hi there – I’ve been enjoying your blog and am excited to be able to follow you and Honey’s adventures as you start cruising…. My husband and I cruised with our previous dog (CA, Mexico, Hawaii and back)… and we now liveaboard with our current dogs. Since you have the time – it’s great to spend it training Honey… I would focus on having her walk on all different sorts of terrain/things (it’ll get her used to variety). If you can get wobbly things, like a teeter totter, or a large board on a roundish rock, or by the marina, if they have smaller docks/ramps (they are usually slightly wobbly).

    I’d also recommend working with her on “Leave it” and “Wait”….. and a command when she gets out of the car or off of some other platform (different than off)…. you can use this to be the command to get off the boat. we use “Dock”… this has come in very handy to keep her from jumping off the boat when approaching/leaving/tied up at a dock.

    Just ideas…. Melissa

    • Thanks for advice from the “trenches.” We’ve found Honey does very well with floating docks, including when we had her on a ramp between the floating dock and a boat. But I’ll keep looking for more varied surfaces to expose her to.

      Honey is very good with “wait.” But you are reminding me that if she desperately want to go ashore I’ll have to be especially vigilant.

      I’ve added your blog to my feed reader and look forward to seeing adorable pebbles on a boat pictures. :)

  12. It’s a fine line between accepting our dogs for the individuals that they are and holding them back from reaching their full potential. It’s something I struggle with at the moment, too. My pug isn’t an agility dog, but he is a people-loving crazy man. I can’t always figure out how to train him to focus on me without training out his love of others. It’s hard, but I’m working on it! I’ll keep an eye on your posts for inspiration!

    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

    • I’ve debated the same thing. It’s a balancing act to decide when to train and when to accept our dogs for who they are.

      As for your “crazy man” pug, I wonder if there’s a way you can use his love of people as a training reward? We’re supposed to reward our pups with what they adore the most. Maybe you need to think of attention from others as your guy’s special reward.

  13. Thanks for joining the hop! How about teaching her how to pivot? It’s great for rear end awareness. I think teaching her to be comfortable riding on an elevator might also help with being comfortable on the boat.

    • Honey does fine on elevators. But I will definitely look at teaching her to pivot. It’s something I would not have thought of.

      My biggest worry on the boat is when we hit a bad storm. Nothing I’ve done so far has been as potentially scary as high winds on a sailboat.

  14. ​With all you have done to socialize and make Honey comfortable I hardly see you as a training failure! You are constantly putting her needs and happiness first and it is because of this relationship you have built that she is so “easy”. Her sweet nature and impressive abilities are aided by your care and hard work.

    However, since you asked and mentioned her awkward rear legs, have you tried hind end awareness exercises?​ There are a lot of simple games you can play with a stool that might help her build those muscles and give her confidence. Here is a quick link but there is a lot more out there:

    Good luck! I know Honey is going to love her new life, with you and Mike there to guide and ensure she is safe.

    • Aww, thanks Kristine.

      And thanks for the link to the rear end awareness video. I’ve always wanted to teach Honey to back up when I went “beep, beep, beep” like a truck. You’ve inspired me to get working on it.

      Who knows? Maybe she’ll get so good at this that she’ll learn how to climb a ladder after all.

  15. I sometimes wonder myself if Ducky would surprise me if I gave her the help, confidence, and opportunity to be more comfortable around people. I’m seeing for myself that she can be. Her problem – and my training fail – is my own inability to keep my emotions in check.

    • I don’t think enough people talk about the emotional component of training.

      I’ve read several times about people surprised by their dogs training improvements. I think many of us have allowed our nervousness over our dog’s behavior to blind us to the real improvements they’ve made. It’s why our dogs are sometimes better for other people than they are for us.

      From the outside, it appears Ducky has made amazing progress. You have a lot to be proud of.

  16. I find this very relatable. Mauja and Atka are amazing with dogs, kids, people… you name it. We do have a few puppy behaviors (too much wiggling) that we work on, but I know age is what matters. It’s easy for me to get complacent. I don’t have any recommendations on helping her be more agile, but I look forward to reading other responses!

    • You gave Mauja and Atka the very best start, laying a foundation for their excellent temperament now. And don’t be in too big a hurry to cure the wiggling. Someday they’ll be calm and serene and you’ll really miss all the shenanigans.

  17. I agree it’s easy to let things go when you have an easy dog. Our golden Sheba is our only dog that loves everyone and that I never have to worry about taking anywhere (other than being a bit nervous and timid at times, but never in an aggressive way). Because of that, I probably spend more time working with my reactive dogs as far as training.
    Though I have tried clicker training with Sheba and even some nose work and she didn’t really take to either. We did get a ramp for her to get in the car though, so we’ll be having some fun training her to use that (I’ll be referring back to your blog on how you got Honey to use hers).
    I have a feeling whatever you do with Honey, you’ll be successful and even though I have no suggestions, I can’t wait to see how it goes.

    • Good luck working with Sheba on the ramp.

      Honey was awful when I just laid it on the ground to get her used to walking on it. But once she realized it was the path to being with us on the sailboat, she didn’t hesitate to use it. You may find that if Sheba enjoys going on drives that she takes to it quickly. At least I hope so.

  18. I haven’t taught our dogs anything new in a long time. What I’m working on is managing their curiosity in an ever changing property. In other words, we’re working on our recall again. I can’t train with treats, because we have 4 food motivated dogs. So I train with praise. It takes longer for us and requires a lot of patience, but I’m having fun learning what works for each dog.

    • Recall is a never ending training challenge–at least if you’re doing it right. And it’s especially hard with smart and curious dogs. There’s always something amazing out there to catch their attention.

      I’m sure you’ll figure out the very best motivators for each of your pups. Honey responds very well to scratches under her chin. Of course, with 4 dogs, you’d need to be an octopus to reward everyone equally. :)

  19. Carol G. says:

    Amother item to use to help Honey get used to moving surfaces would be a teeter totter. I would start with something large such as a sheet of plywood overy a log and reinforced for remaining on it while the two of you rock and spin the board gently at first and then with increasing vigor. If she is reluctant at first have one of you or a child friend sit in the middle with her treats. Best of luck!

    • My husband just happens to have a piece of plywood the right size for making another teeterboard.

      We’ve done it with Honey in the past and she wasn’t keen. Your idea of someone sitting in the middle with treats is a good one.

      On the other hand, she’s shocking me with her increased confidence.

  20. I like the ladder idea. I also think that teaching them to walk backwards helps them a lot. Lauren gave some great suggestions for Youtube channels that teach you how to train behaviors like these ones.

    The last one is that I teach my dogs to put their front paws where I ask. I also teach them to hop on and off of small boulders. “Hup” and “Off” are my cues.

    Have fun with your fabulous dog!

    • I’ll definitely start working on walking backwards. I also teach Honey to put her front paws up on things. I started it when a professional photographer couldn’t get her to do it because I had never taught it to her.

      But I need a better cue. When I say “Paws up” (meaning put your front paws on something), she some times gets confused and goes all the way up.

  21. Sounds to me like you’re on the right track. Just give Honey some time and I’m sure she’ll get it down in no time.

  22. There’s too many comments for me to read every one so forgive me if it’s been said already. You can lay a ladder down and have her practice walking between the rings. If you don’t have a ladder you can do this with simple items you find around the house.

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  23. I understand completely what you mean; my last dog was Carter was pretty easy so I didn’t spend nearly as much time training. Looking back now I realize how much he would have loved it, and that it would have made the bond even stronger – but at the time I didn’t think much of it. He was so well behaved and the perfect walking partner, it’s a shame I didn’t spend nearly as much time training him as I’ve had to with Laika.

  24. Goodness, sorry for the late reply – I was just double-checking that I got to everyone on our most successful Positive Pet Training hop to date!

    I have one dog of each variety: My challenging Ruby, who keeps me on my toes and requires constant management innovations and mental stimulation, and my laid-back Boca, who is so easy that her laziness rubs off on me!