One Thing Every Dog Trainer Could Learn From Boaters

As I watched the manager of the boatyard while we puttered toward the wharf, I had one thought:

“I wonder if he’s a good dog trainer?”

This Is How You Do It, Dog Trainers

I wish I had video. But I was a little busy.

Let me try to describe what I saw.

We were motoring our sailboat Meander into the boat yard to get the engine worked on. The manager of the yard was expecting us so he looked up in time to see us putt-putt-putting toward the pier at a little faster than one mile an hour.

I felt relieved to know that he’d be coming down to catch our lines so I wouldn’t have to rush to jump off to secure our boat before we slammed into a dock or the wind caught us and pushed us away.

I expected him to come running down the dock. But instead, he turned to talk to a boat owner who was working on his boat up on stands. After a few minutes of conversation, the manager slowly turned toward the dock and made his way down the steps at an easy pace to find himself in just the right place as my husband snugged the boat up so I could toss him our bow line (a rope tied to the front of the boat).

It wasn’t until later that I realized that Charlie, the boat yard manager, had demonstrated some mad skills that every dog trainer needs.

And no, it wasn’t the lovies he gave Honey after I lifted her off the boat.

Do you know what it was?

Timing Is Everything

I’ve noticed that great dog trainers have the same trait as experienced boaters—they never move quickly.

Every motion is slow and deliberate. They’re never in a rush. They never panic.

Really excellent trainers and boaters might fool some into thinking they’re dim. That would be a mistake.

Because you can only move slowly when you’ve observed everything else around you and anticipated everything that is coming.

Let’s look at the timing of an experience boater and see what it can teach us about training dogs.

Boaters Know Their Boats; Trainers Know Their Dogs

When we’re docking in a difficult spot, Mike and I sometimes need to turn around and start again. We don’t have enough experience with docking or our boat to do it right the first time, every time.

But experienced boaters know what their boats will do in certain winds, how much time she takes to slow down, and how quickly she’ll turn.

Really good trainers also know their dogs. They know what motivates him. What distracts him. And their training methods reflect their knowledge.

Boaters Look Ahead; Trainers Are Always Watching

Experienced boaters don’t have to rush because they’ve looked ahead to see what’s going on. If they see the wind will push them off the dock, they change tactics.

And trainers are not surprised by that bicycle or strange person that will shock the reactive dog they’re working with.

Great trainers don’t have to rely on a quick jerk of the leash to take a dog away from something that will trigger a reaction. They saw it long before the dog did and prepared for it.

Boaters Don’t Rush; Trainers Take Their Time

Floating docks move. Boats crash into docks. Lines can roll under your feet. There are lots of ways to get hurt around boats.

That’s one reason boaters never rush around. Rushing makes accidents more likely.

Have you ever seen a dog trainer rushing around and making lots of quick movements? If so, they’re probably not a great trainer.

Dogs have faster reflexes than humans. The more quick movements we make, the more our dogs have to respond to.

When we’re training dogs, we’ll do better if we can make our movements slow and deliberate.

And then there is also the advice I’ve heard from several great trainers: “If you think you’re going slow enough, go slower.”

It’s good advice on a boat too.

Becoming A Better Boater And Dog Trainer

When I see a boat coming in to dock, I watch carefully to see what I can learn.

When I pass someone training her dog, I also watch carefully to see what I can learn.

As a boat owner I’m a little too frantic. Too rushed.

I’m better at anticipating what might happen with my dog Honey but I still have a lot to learn. And I could certainly become more calm and relaxed in dealing with her.

Maybe to become a better boater, I need to spend more time training Honey. And maybe to become a better trainer, I need to spend more time boating.

Your Turn: Have you seen people doing things in other areas that helped you become a better dog trainer?


Sorry folks. My computer deleted all the photos off my camera chip. So no cute pics of Honey. I absolutely swear she is happy and healthy and absolutely not growling at me for making her live on a boat.

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  1. I love this soo much! Great post!

    • Thanks. If only I had some great footage of boaters and dog trainers.

      I’m beginning to think I need to wear a GoPro on my head at all times just to get the footage I want when I’m too busy to snap pics.

  2. Good advice, as always. I shall see how I can apply it to the dog/cat acclimation process.

    • I’m imagine that your calmness is keeping things going well. You’re sending the message that no one has anything to worry about.

      BTW, keep the pics coming on FB. They’re adorable. :)

  3. I am too frantic and rushed in most everything in my life. But I’m learning to slow down when training Luke. I get excited when he does well and I want to move forward to the next step. But I am learning that if he’s not ready to go forward yet, then just take a step back and stay there for a while before trying to move forward again. It really does seem to be working. Maybe I need to learn to apply that to other aspects of my life as well!

  4. Patience, and being able to really read your dog are key. We learned a lot about this at our nose work camp last weekend. It is hard for humans, but my human is trying her best.

  5. That’s a great analogy. Moving slow and being calm really are key when working with dogs, especially when teaching obedience. I can’t say that I’ve picked up any dog training clues from people in other areas, but the pups themselves have helped me get much more patient than I was before becoming a doggie mommy 😉

  6. Fantastic advice!

  7. I pretty much spend my life being frantic and rushed. but I think I’m doing better and my dogs are well behaved in spite of me. You have given me another reason not to become a boater unless it’s a houseboat or yacht.

  8. I can’t imagine Honey growling at you for any reason! I’m sure she’s enjoying her new life aboard Meander, too! But I’m sorry your computer deleted your pictures. BAD COMPUTER!!

    • I sure hope Honey likes living aboard. Because she was such an excellent girl today (leaving the engine technician alone who made a boat call, walking with me to get our propane tank filled, and playing nicely with the dogs hanging out at the boat yard).

      Oh yeah, and it’s time for a new computer. Losing pics is a capital offense. :)

  9. Thankfully, being retired I don’t HAVE TO be frantic and rushed any more. Though at times I end up that way and I have to take a deep breath so I can slow down. And even though Ducky’s a fast learner, sometimes she’s focused on anything but training. When that happens I just have to step back and wait until she chills out a bit.

  10. Such a thoughtful post and you’re spot on! Dogs really do react better to people that are calm and deliberate in their thoughts and actions. A good dog trainer will spend just as much time observing as reacting.

  11. Pamela, this is a GREAT post!

    Slightly out of left-field, but for me working in Sales has taught me a lot about the patience necessary for quality training.

    If you can spend hours negotiating with a client who is insistent on a 0.01% reduction on their rates, you can teach your dog anything- they’re much less stubborn!