No Shame in Asking for Help – Honey Meets a Trainer

Golden Retriever running in the woods.

Of course I'm ok. Can't you see my amazing recall?

Yesterday, when I mentioned to my friend Diana that I had scheduled an appointment with a dog trainer for help working with Honey, she said with shock on her face, “What’s wrong with her?”

And when I reported her appalled reaction to another friend, Glenda replied, “Is she ok?”

Honey is A-Ok

Honey is a wonderful dog. She’s gentle. She never does anything really wrong. She’s eager to please.

But my long time readers know we’ve struggled with Honey’s confidence. She’s frightened of our bicycle cart. And since the cart is the only way we have of taking her to places too far to walk, we’re missing out on some activities we all really enjoy.

We also want to make sure Honey is comfortable on any future adventures we take.

So we decided to get some outside help.

What a Trainer Can Do That I Can’t

I’ve been muddling along for a while. There are some specific areas I could really use help with:

  • Learning how to build Honey’s confidence (for whatever activities are in the future);
  • Gaining new insights into how she views the world; and,
  • Getting a judgment from a knowledgeable, outside observer about whether my expectations for her are realistic.

Yesterday, our trainer suggested a way forward that includes beginning agility work with Honey to boost her confidence. He also gave me some homework involving targeting with a clicker to build a foundation skill that would help her explore all kinds of new things. And he gave me a new way of thinking about making Honey comfortable with the bicycle cart.

New Insights

After just our first session, I’ve come away with two insights that will reshape the way I work with and think about Honey.

  • I need to offer Honey the chance to choose. And to understand that she has some control over what happens to her. I’ve been allowing her to choose the route on her walk. But I hadn’t given her many choices in our training work
  •  Honey is so anxious to please us that she will work through things she finds extremely stressful just to make us happy.

The second insight should have been obvious. But neither my people-pleasing husband or good-girl Pamela got it—despite both being people who will swallow a great deal of stress just to make others happy.

Do people get dogs who share their neuroses? (I think that’s a blog post for another day.)

Moving Forward in Training

I feel like we’ve found a good trainer, someone who is as gentle with us as he is with Honey. And someone with many years of training and experience.

If we don’t meet every goal we have for Honey, I’m confident that she’ll feel better for our work with her.

I wrote last year in Breakthroughs—The Lessons Come When You’re Ready to Learn Them about moments in my dog history that have moved me forward in new ways of understanding. I’m hoping this work with a trainer is my next breakthrough.

[I’d like to thank trainer Russ Hollier for granting his permission for me to write about our training sessions. It’s a big risk to allow yourself to be written about by one of those crazy internet people. I’m thankful for the opportunity to process our work together in writing.]

Time to Take Out the Trash

Golden Retriever smiling on Cape May Beach

I don't know why everyone complains about wet dog smell. I think I smell great.

Against all odds, my nominee for Best City for Pet Travelers, Cape May, New Jersey, has made it into the final four. I’m facing a tough battle against Seattle, Washington for a place in the final bracket.

With three west coast American cities in the final four, I’m thinking there must be some kind of conspiracy going on here.

Now I don’t know much about conspiracy theories. But I’ve watched enough talking heads on Fox News and protestor signs outside the Supreme Court to know it usually involves Nazis, birth certificates, killing off old people, Socialism, stealing people’s guns, and affordable health care. (If you live outside the U.S. and don’t understand these references, be thankful!)

Is Seattle a more pet-friendly city than Cape May, New Jersey? Let’s look at the “facts”:

I’ve never done this conspiracy thing before. Let’s see what we got:

Aliens must have brain-washed Amy and Rod Burkert of Go Pet Friendly to convince them to offer this pet-lover’s version of March Madness giving Seattle access to the attention of thousands of dog people.

At least some of those pet travelers decide to visit Seattle. However, when they step off the plane, they are overwhelmed by the permanent smell of wet dog that people from damp climates acclimate to. With the humans out of the way, Seattle coaxes the poor defenseless doggies to drink too much coffee. While they are ailing from the insidious drug, Seattle claps the dogs into chains and makes them board a bus traveling all over King County at not less than 50 miles an hour.

How’s that for a conspiracy?

Is it true? We may never know. But just to be on the safe side, vote for Cape May right now in the Best City for Pet Traveler’s Final Four.

Go. Vote. Now.

[A personal note to Julie who nominated Portland, Oregon and called me ruthless. I could hardly sleep last night. I feel I need to prove that I still have at least a little bit of ruth. So I vow here, that if we face each other in the final two, I will vote for Portland as I have all along. And Portland will not be the subject of any of my vicious and frightening trash talk.

I will not hold you to the same rule. I think you’d find it really fun to dish a little dirt. :))

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  1. Only really strong, smart people realize how much they can learn from a trainer when they already have a nice dog – way to go! Maybe you will help more people realize the value of continuing to learn with your pup :-) Thanks for speaking out!

  2. That’s exciting that you’re trying a trainer, and honest enough with yourself to realize it could be of great value for both of you.

  3. Your trainers suggestions are exactly what I would’ve recommended. :) Targeting can be a life-changer in terms of building confidence. Nothing like getting a piece of hotdog for touching a scary rock, haha. :) Here’s hoping it goes well!

  4. Hiring a trainer is a little bit like trying a new yoga teacher – sometimes an outsider can say something that gives you that “aha” moment :) I’m glad to know that I am not the only people pleaser (also married to a people pleaser) that swallows stress!

    And as for the trash talk . . .I don’t think the competition would be as much fun without it and if you’re not going to be ruthless then you’re not in it to win it!! (BTW, I was smiling when I called you ruthless, and meant it in the most positive way – sorry to make you lose sleep!!) I hope to see you in the championship! Let the trash talk begin!!!

  5. Sometimes (often) a trained outsider can see a different picture of what is happening in a dog human relationship. I wish more people would ask for outside help. So much is being discovered today in animal behavior.

  6. Interesting insight into Honey, especially the bit about being so eager to please that she becomes so anxious. I’m glad you found someone you like and is helping you with Honey’s confidence. I really like the idea of letting Honey choose. It’s something I’ve come to learn with such independent thinking dogs and has really helped to open the freedom of our relationships. Good luck to you Pamela. We can’t wait to see video of Honey riding in her bikecart. :)

  7. We’ve had some great luck working with trainers with the boys. I think have a fresh pair of eyes can provide some great perspective – sometimes we’re too close to see identify a simple solution. I’m sure ou and Honey will be making strides in no time.

    As for the trash talkin’ … I’m glad to see Julie’s note above. This competition wouldn’t be the same without your sense of humor.

  8. Really great post! No, there is no shame asking for help! Wouldn’t the world be a better place if every dog owner was willing to consult dog trainers for help for little things as well as big things?

  9. Agility does wonders in building confident dogs.

  10. I’m glad to hear that you aren’t afraid to think outside the box in an effort to include Honey in your life. She’ll be thrilled to be able to go to some of those places that she’s missing out on. I know I’ve been guilty of letting what other people think hold me back from some things, too.

    I already voted for Cape May this round! This competition has brought out a side of you that I never knew about before! But, hold off on Alice In Chains! I still miss those guys.

  11. Good luck with the trainer! Good luck with Cape May! I sense your urgency and your ruth. I’m sure we’ll hear about it if that wetdog place wins.

  12. I am so glad the trainer has been such a big help. Sometimes just gaining a new perspective from an onjective observer can be a huge help. I don’t know what we would have done if I hadn’t contacted our trainer. Lost my mind completely? Shiva probably wouldn’t be very happy anyway. It sounds like you have found someone who understands you and Honey and I hope you continue to see success!

    PS. Booo on Cape May not winning, booooo!

  13. i think it’s fantastic that you called in a trainer for help. that makes you a great dog momma–that doesn’t make honey a dog with problems! i’m sorry you have to listen to people saying that to you.