What My Golden Retriever Taught Me About Who I Really Am

What do you think of when someone mentions a golden retriever?

Friendly. Silky, blond coat. Loves to swim, right?

Honey the golden retriever puppy wades in the water.

Lots of people say that all golden retrievers love swimming. I think they’re all wet.

Well, not my Honey. At least for the last one.

Somehow she never got the memo telling her that goldens love the water.

Luckily, we love her for the dog she is. And not just the dog her breed told us to expect.

But sometimes it’s hard to separate the traits we identify with who we really are. Let me explain.

woman at sailboat tiller

What most people think of as proper clothing for sailing.

What Kind Of Person Sails In The Cold?

I’m a little sad today.

Yesterday was the closing day of the sailing center. And we didn’t get out on the water.

In truth, it would have been miserable.

Yes, it was windy, a good thing for sailing. But it was also 45°F (7°C), cloudy, and damp.

And that’s not even thinking about the ride there, pedaling into the wind beside campers and truckers who can’t think of any reason not to pass a bicyclist with five inches to spare at sixty miles per hour.

Or that I have a bad cold and feel tired and weak after hacking out my lungs day after day.

But I still wanted to go sailing:

  • to gain experience with different conditions,
  • because it was the last day of the season,
  • but most of all, because I’m the kind of person who does things even when they’re hard.

Yep, I think of myself as someone who does stuff even when it’s hard. Perhaps especially when it’s hard.

Honey the Golden Retriever is training new sailing skills.

And the kind of clothing we often have to wear when sailing.

Who Do You Think You Are?

How often do we do things because of who we think we are?

I can tell you lots of good reasons for some of my life choices.

Cars have a huge impact on our land and natural resources. They are expensive, noisy, and polluting. It makes sense to ride a bike instead.

But I’ll admit, I do get a haughty bit of attitude when I see a neighbor hop in her car to visit the same store I bike to. In the rain. Pulling pounds of groceries in my bike cart and stuffing my panniers. I’m tougher. I’m doing it the hard way.

(In all honesty, I’ll also admit a teensy wish for someone to say, “Hey, I’m going to the store. Why don’t you come with me so you don’t have to drag your groceries home on the bike?” I don’t always feel like Xena Warrior Princess.)

I’m not proud of it. I’m just telling the truth.

Honey the golden retriever comes to the dog park in her bike cart.

I take Honey by bike cart to the dog park so she doesn’t have to walk six miles round trip. But does she appreciate it?

So maybe it’s time to reevaluate my identity as someone who takes pride in doing things because they’re hard. Try to see other good things about the choices I make. Or listen to people who love me enough to let me off the hook from the way I try to present myself to the world.

Yesterday, it was Mike who took sailing off the table when he saw I could barely move faster than a crawl to get dressed.

I’m thankful he looked past how I like to present myself to see the real, tired, and sick me.

And that he didn’t treat me like one of those crazy people who suggested I teach Honey how to swim by tossing her off a dock.

Honey the Golden Retriever with an apple

I love playing fetch with an apple. But not if you toss it in the water.

Honey Doesn’t Care That She’s A Golden Retriever

It’s not true that Honey hates the water. She’ll go out of her way to splash through a puddle. And she likes to wade in the water up to her knees.

And while she can swim, if she has to, she really prefers not to.

It’s not that she hasn’t seen other dogs enjoying the water.

As part of her socialization, we’ve gone out of our way to introduce Honey to dogs swimming and enjoying water play. She’ll frolic with them in the shallows. But once their person tosses a bumper and they go swimming off to retrieve it, Honey turns her attention to other things.

She hates swimming so much, it even overrides her love of retrieving.

Two Golden Retrievers

I think we understand each other. As long as you don’t drag me into the water.

Honey, like many dogs, seems to have an affinity for her own breed. So I think she understands, on some level, what a golden retriever is. Perhaps it’s that their physical appearance and mannerisms make their body language the easiest for her to understand.

But Honey doesn’t care that most goldens like to swim and she doesn’t. She’s just happy living her life. Without worrying about her identity as a golden retriever.

Which is probably the best kind of golden retriever to be.

Your Turn: Do you have an image of yourself you feel you have to live up to? Does your dog always live up to the expectations you have for her breed or mix or background?

Since you’ll probably never see swimming footage of Honey, here’s a cute golden retriever puppy taking his first swim. You’re welcome.




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  1. Neither of my “retrievers” are big on water either. Maggie finally got it this year on our vacation, but Jack is much like Honey…yes, water is there and it’s fine, but I prefer land. As for myself…so many images I used to try to live up to – as I get older I get more realistic about what I expect of myself.

    • I’ve heard from other retriever people that their dogs started swimming as they got older. Honey will be 5 next year. Maybe she’s just waiting for me to move to a place with warmer water.

      I hope I’m not 90 before I develop a truly realistic picture of who I should be. :)

  2. Torrey is like Honey, she will swim if she has to, but is not a fan. The Aussie I had before loved water, so I assumed Torrey would be the same way. That’s what you get when you assume something.

  3. It’s never too cold to sail! When I lived in Annapolis and hung with the sailing family…..they were members of the Yacht Club there, and the club held sanctioned sailing races throughout the year. And, yes, that means in February, too! It was called the Frostbite Series and we would be out on the bay in freezing temps, hauling on those lines, tacking back and forth, all the while freezing our arses off! It never felt so good as to get back into the yacht club building! I didn’t go out with them too often that time of year 😉

    I caught a cold one month ago this week. I am still coughing. Grrrr! I rarely catch a cold so this is particularly galling. Hope you feel better soon.

    • Well, that’s one way to increase the odds of winning a sailing race–go out in the middle of the winter. :)

      And I bet the AYC served a lot of hot drinks on race days.

      Having grown up in Maryland, I will say there are three things that make winter better there than here:

      1) it’s 10 degrees warmer, on average
      2) about 70 fewer inches of snow, and
      3) the sun shines, even in the winter.

      Sorry to hear your cough is hanging on. I hope that’s not a forecast of what I have to look forward to.

  4. I used to see myself as a perfectionist. My Dad was a perfectionist, way more than I was; and I had to have inherited it from him b/c Mom was a lot more relaxed about things. Anyway, once I was laid off from work a “few” years ago, I started to relax a bit. Of course I have to have everything neat; but the dust bunnies under the couch and wafts of dog hair everywhere else no longer phase me.

  5. Mom is pretty tough on herself too. She wouldn’t give up her car, but she sets goals and does everything to achieve them. She expects a lot of us dogs too, but she also rewards us nicely. Now that we are doing sports teamed up with her, she is learning to trust and rely on us and learning to handle failure through seeing it all as a good experience.

    • Sounds like you and your sisters are good teachers for your mom. After all, if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t learn much.

  6. I think my high point for work was high school and my first real job as an operating room technician. It is still my favorite job, I was good at it, and I learned while working after a year of business school. I’m not as tough as I used to be when I went on for my RN while working, and am not sure why. My ambition is nil so I admire your spunk, grit, and your understanding that Honey does not have ALL the traits of a Golden. I once fostered a dog who was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Labrador cross: Victor hated both the water and fetching! Honey, we understand. I do consider using our County Transit but need to explore where they go and the cost. You always give us a challenge, Pamela!

    • I sometimes think that feeling we have to be tough is a trap. For example, I remember working in a hospital and seeing how the doctors abused the residents and interns. The doctors felt that since they had gone without sleep during their residencies, the docs coming up behind them should have it just as hard.

      It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that’s not good for hospital staff or their patients. But it’s very entrenched.

      So being a little more tender and less tough is probably a good thing. I suspect it’s been a big benefit to the dogs you’ve cared for over the years.

      Don’t beat yourself up if public transit doesn’t work for you. In truth, it can only exist where it’s heavily subsidized. And our society is set up to subsidize cars more than buses or trains.

  7. It reminds me of a wise selling (that I can’t fully remember) but it about not getting hung up on what society thinks about you. If you judge yourselves by others you are too busy worrying about what you are not to appreciate what you are. Hmmm I think I need to pay attention to that!!

    • OMD, I should have that tattooed on my face!

      Although I find it gets easier the older I get. And I hear the same thing from friends who are even older than me.

  8. I do hope you mean the entire comment ;0) That would be one hell of a tattoo!

  9. Sampson is Golden and Labrador both water dogs, but he doesn’t care for swimming much. He will do a lap if it’s super warm out, but he’d much rather lie by the pool or splash in the shallows.

    Delilah is pure lab, she sees water and there is no denying her.

    I’m similar to you, if they like it I’m cool with it, I’m not trying to force them into a mold of what they should be, just let them be who they are.

  10. It must be the time of the year for self-reflection! I love that you’re reconsidering being “someone who takes pride in doing things because they’re hard.” I’m working though something very similar right now. Perhaps we can form a support group for women who do things when/while they they can be accomplished easily. (Tell Mike that I almost said “women who do things because they’re easy.” He’ll get a kick out of that.)

  11. I love being in the place I am right now! For the first time in my adult life, I am doing what I want to do, regardless of the opinions of others. I attribute a lot of that to Harley. He has definitely showed me a deeper understanding to living a purposeful life and Leo’s short time with us showed me how “precious” life actually is….