Sometimes You Train the Dog; Sometimes the Dog Trains You

I don’t know if Honey is well-trained.

She walks loosely on leash, never poops in the house, and will “high-five” me if I ask her to. She also has a rock solid sit and stay, even if I place a cookie on the floor in front of her.

But sometimes I think my dog is better at training me than I am at training her.

Honey the golden retriever poses with flowers.

My walk has so many pretty things. If we go inside, we’ll miss something.

I usually let Honey choose the route and length of our walks. Why shouldn’t she get her say? After all, we’re walking for her.

But often, when we’re approaching the house, Honey will stop to let me know she’d really prefer to keep walking. I don’t want to bribe her with treats to coax her home. Then she really would have me trained. Instead, as we approach the house, I’ll stop for short and fun training sessions.

Lately, I’ve been teaching her to weave between my legs.

Honey gets excited by the training and forgets to stop our progress home. I feel pretty clever for coming up with a new way to train the dog. Or maybe Honey just did a great job training me.

But Honey’s trying to train me in another area and I’m struggling with my response.

Honey the golden retriever stands at Ithaca Falls.

I look so much prettier in nature than I do in your dusty old house. Why shouldn’t we stay outside?

After I let her outside in the yard for a break or play time, she stands out on the porch and refuses to come in. Even if I call her (despite her usually having an excellent recall).

If I ignore her reluctance and go about my business with the door open, Honey will eventually come in. Then I go back and shut the door.

But it’s getting cold. I don’t want to leave the door wide open when it’s 30 degrees fahrenheit outside.

If I lure her in with a treat, then my dog has trained me. If I call her and she doesn’t come, I’m teaching her that it’s ok to ignore me. And if I continue what I’m doing now, the local gas utility makes a huge profit at my expense.

So people. What’s the answer? Can you tell me how to train the dog to come inside the house when I ask her to?

Or does your dog have you so well-trained that you’ll suggest I give Honey a big piece of liver every time I want her to come in the house?

Your Turn: Who is the better trainer in your house? You? Or the dog? And can you share any advice for my dog training dilemma?

Congratulations, Jodi Stone of Heart Like a Dog. You’ve won the giveaway of A Sea Dog’s Tale. Thanks to everyone who entered.




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  1. We give our pups treats. Here in AZ it is the opposite – it is too hot to leave the door open. We are rewarding them for a quick response and getting their fuzzy butts in the door. Typically we also ask them to do a trick in the house – usually sit.

    Monty and Harlow

  2. Margaret T says:

    I have a foster dog who is doing this, but she is fearful, and, being part beagle, she is also a real nose-to-the-ground girl who will dig under the fence to find a chipmunk, so I don’t dare leave her in the yard alone. I hate to do it to her, because she loves the yard and she hates dragging a leash, but sometimes she just has to drag a leash so I can pick it up and walk her through the door, which she does with no pulling in spite of her fear.
    I would happily give her a treat for coming in promptly, but fear holds her back.

  3. Julie Blackwelder says:

    IMO, you do what you have to do to get her quickly inside and if that means giving a treat for a fast entrance, then do it. In fact, I would do some fast “In’ and “Out” in quick succession to make her very eager to do it again. I would also teach her that coming in doesn’t mean it will be a long time til the next “Out”. When routine becomes very predictable then she knows that “In” is followed by a long time with no “Out” it encourages the reluctance you are seeing. I would break that pattern and teach her that she doesn’t know when the next “Out” is coming, and that she simply does what “Mom” says to do — without thinking about it (hard with a smart dog like Honey). I would do at least 5 “In” and “Out” commands in less than an hour and make it like a new game and make it unpredictable. “See, Honey, coming in doesn’t mean that it’s a long time til the next out. Besides, Mom gives treats for the “In” done quickly.”

  4. If she wants to be outside for a bit, I would let her. She must like it.

  5. We’ve had this problem with Hurley from Day 1. If he doesn’t come in, the door gets shut & he stays outside for an extra 5-10 minutes. When I open the door after his backyard alone time, he is always ready & waiting to come in. Outside is awesome but hanging out with his family is better. We’ve been doing this consistently since he was a puppy and now it’s only occasionally that he doesn’t respond to our call the first time.

  6. We rarely have an issue coming inside, the yard is most fun if Mom is out there with us. If we don’t want to come in, then we get left out there with the door closed for at least 10 mins. Right now we all get treats for coming in because we are training my puppy sister Bailie. It is actually a good refresher time for Katie and I and slowly Mom will start to offer treats randomly for coming inside and eventually not at all. You could use the later to refresh her and then wean her off.

  7. Haha, good question! Callie and Shadow usually come in with me when I say let’s go in — albeit more slowly than I would like, but I have to be patient, after all they are a bit arthritic — but Ducky has to be on a leash lately cuz I got lazy and complacent with her recall training. :-( But, seriously, Julie B has the right idea…make it into a new, game. Honey’s a smart girl, she’ll figure out fast that “in and out” means fun AND treats.

  8. Being outside is rewarding, so we use going back out again as a reward for coming in. I do this relatively frequently with my dogs to keep them in good practice! Dogs learn pretty quickly that all the fun of being outside ends when we recall – which ultimately weakens the recall (the dog perceives coming in as a mild punisher, not a reward – “all the fun stops when mom calls and I go inside!”) Treats for coming in can help to counterbalance the slight negative, but I don’t want to rely entirely on food 100% of the time for every daily behavior. Instead, I will call my dogs in, have a party, and then send them right back out – “OK, go play!” Sometimes there are treats or a tug game before they are released back into the yard. This way, coming inside does not represent the end of the fun – just a quick break from sniffing to have some fun. (Many folks train recalls away from playtime the same way – “come” then a treat, then a double reward by being told “ok go play again!” so that the recall does not always signal the end of the fun. It prevents dogs from avoiding mom or dad at the park or during playtime.)

  9. I’d apply the same strategy that you use for your walk situation. Do something different to take her mind off of staying outside. Ask for a weave right by the door or squeak a toy for her to chase (or bounce a ball if that’s more her thing). I like the idea of giving an option. Lucas is the only one who ever wants to be out by himself – if I go in, Em and Coop go in – but to get him to come in without calling come (like you, I don’t want to risk him choosing not to listen) I say, “Lucas, let’s go inside and PLAY BALL” or “EAT DINNER” of “FIND JOHN” or whatever. Worst case scenario? “Lucas, let’s go inside and HAVE A COOKIE!”

  10. I have the same issue with Brut. We have been playing the game, “Who wants a treat?” He knows when I ask him to come in that I’m going somewhere, like for a walk with the other dogs. I’ve tried everything and given up. So I’d say he’s got me pretty well trained. If it takes a biscuit to come in so be it. Just as long as he comes in the house when I want. :)

    So I don’t think I was much help, lol! More of a bad influence!!

  11. Toby pulls that from time to time, but he is not trustworthy in the yard, so I can’t leave him out there. But I “pretend” too, and that makes an impression. I literally shut the door in his face, and then peek from another window through the blinds. Within like two minutes he gets concerned that I left him, and he comes to the door to be let in. :-)

  12. “to”


  13. My dogs (mostly) do what I ask, but there is typically a treat or some type of bribery involved. They are clearly the better trainers.

  14. I am not sure that “luring a dog in with a treat” is how I see it. I see the treat as a reward for coming when asked. However, a treat is not always a reward. Sometimes I reward then with praise. When they don’t come when called though I have been known to rattle the bag of treats with the door open. I suppose that COULD be interpreted as luring them with a treat. I prefer to think of it as a reminder that good behavior gets rewarded :)

  15. Hi, just to say, I’ve stumbled across your blog and absolutely love it! The intent with which it’s written is brilliant – I love that you’re not trying to teach anyone anything, just being honest! I picked you up from an old post where you said that you had two rescue dogs who had had issues and now wanted a puppy to follow the whole way through. Weirdly, I had been going through the same thought process myself – until I spent the whole day with my aunt’s new puppy today (my goodness they’re hard work too)!

    Anyway, sorry for going off topic there. In terms of getting them inside (from the point of view of a complete novice also)! I would use treats. My dog trainer has us using treats for lots of things but in the end, I start just using praise (after treats for a while). As I said; total novice so feel free to ignore me entirely!

    As I said, fab blog and I shall be keeping up to date with your posts. If you would like to visit us over at Caesar’s blog, I’d love it. We’re by far not as well established as you just yet (only 2 months old) but would love you to visit.

    Keep up the fab blog!
    Love, Sian (and Caesar)

  16. Quite the dilemma. :) My dog Pierson taught me to let him in when he is ready to come inside. I let him out and leave him out until the barks to tell me he is ready to come inside. No treats needed. I kinda like this arrangement. Maya doesn’t tell me she is ready to come in and will lay outside in the heat or the cold for as long as it takes me to remember I put her out there. See, it’s a good thing Pierson has me trained.

  17. I don’t know the answer to your situation. We have a separate command for “indoors”. This was decided on fairly early on because they knew a perfect recall was going to be a challenge and thought it best to keep it separate. As it turns out, “indoors” is almost 100% reliable but the less said about recall the better!

  18. Our golden Sheba just loves to be outside, especially when the weather is cooler. She just wants to enjoy the fresh air. We are lucky to have a fenced in yard so she can hang around outside if she wants to and we just check on her every so often. But she always comes in when I call to her, so I don’t really know the answer for you. It seems strange to me that Honey does this when she is so responsive in every other way to you. She must really love the outdoors too! As well behaved as she is, I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble figuring this one out, and others did leave some good suggestions.

  19. Nope, no advice. And although our dogs are well trained, I’m well trained as well. I read them very well and understand what they need at any given moment. I know the different faces, eyes, sighs, whines, and barks. They trained me well. I don’t react to each message they deliver, but I do understand. :)

  20. Frankie and Beryl have me well trained in most respects I think. Either I’m a quicker learner than they are or they’re better trainers? If Frankie or Beryl have me on like this I stick a finger through their collar, give a little tug and say something like ‘come on you ratbag, inside’ in a happy but firm tone and with Beryl it might take a couple of tugs but it works. No treats involved and no hard feelings from them. Beryl will often do this when we go to the beach and she’d rather stay there than jump in the car and go home. It’s kind of a game with her but I always win :)

    If this is the only problem you’ve got with Honey I’d say you’re doing pretty well though! Good luck.