My dog Honey gives us so much—affection, companionship, amusement.
But the greatest way she has given back to our family might surprise you.
It has to do with training her. And training ourselves.
Dog Training On The Boat
Since we’ve moved aboard our sailboat, every day brings new training opportunities for Honey.
We expect far more from her than to sit, stay, and come.
In the past week, Honey has had to
- walk up a steep, temporary stair with grated treads and open risers to get onto our boat
- react calmly when the engine technician came onto the boat to work while we were away
- lie still in the bottom of a dinghy while someone you know practiced her rowing skills.
We rely on basic, positive training techniques to help Honey learn new skills.
- Break new skills into small steps.
- Train each step one at a time.
- Reinforce learning with high-value rewards.
- Build confidence by rewarding success.
- As skills are learned, make things more difficult.
You never know when the next training opportunity will come when you live on a boat. So we keep positive training techniques in the front of our minds all the time.
It helps Honey. It helps us too.
Human Training On The Boat
It isn’t just Honey who has a lot to learn. We do too.
We only started sailing 5 years ago. And there’s a steep learning curve to living on a boat. We’ve had to learn everything from bleeding air out of a diesel engine to docking the boat in a strong current.
Luckily, thanks to Honey, we have positive training techniques in our minds all the time. And we use them on ourselves.
Rowing Miss Honey
When you live on a boat, your dinghy is your car.
What’s a dinghy? It’s a small boat you carry on your big boat to help you go ashore from an anchorage or mooring ball to do laundry, buy groceries, or (and this is most important to Honey) take your dog for a little break.
You’ll be astonished to see what we have planned for getting Miss Honey off our big boat into our dinghy. But for now, we just need to practice getting her comfortable riding in it.
And I have to learn how to row it.
So we took advantage of a sunny day to lower the dinghy, haul it across the boat yard, assemble it (it folds), and drop it in the water.
My husband carried Honey into the rear of the dinghy. I sat in the middle seat and gave her the “paws up” cue to get her to put her front paws on the seat and rewarded her with liverwurst. We spent a little time rewarding Honey for sitting calmly in the moving boat.
Eventually, we got underway.
And after a few strokes, it was obvious that I couldn’t row with a dog sitting right in front of me. Every time I took a stroke, I ended up pushing the oars into Honey’s ears.
Here’s where I wish I had video footage. Because we managed to swap everyone’s place so that my husband went from the back of the boat to the front. Honey moved with him and got yummy treats for lying calmly on her towel with her head under Mike’s seat.
But while Honey was getting positive reinforcement, I was too.
I got rewarded by getting the boat to go forward. And by managing not to dump us all overboard.
We also kept my training basic. This was only my second time rowing the dinghy so we did it for a short time in calm waters without a lot of traffic.
And we stopped while the learning was still fun. That’s another key part of positive training for both dogs and humans.
Positive Training Works For Everyone
Honey has become increasingly confident as she learns new skills using positive training techniques. It has been an excellent reminder to use those same techniques as we’re learning new skills too.
Our little reinforcement after successfully arriving at or leaving a dock without hitting anything is for me and my husband to give each other a high-five.
For those times we do something really challenging, like landing at a fuel dock in a 3 knot current (about 3.5 mph) while I try to lasso a piling that towers over my head to stop the boat, we’re going to need a higher value reward.
For now, Honey’s experience with positive training techniques has given a lot back to us.
We have a beautifully trained dog who is gaining skills and confidence everyday. And we’re remembering that positive training works for everyone. Not just for dogs.
Your Turn: Have you ever used positive dog training techniques on yourself, friends, or family members? How has it worked out?
For December the theme is “Giving Back” – stories of how you share positive training or any other positive training post you would like!