When the Dog Changes the Plan – Train Your Dog Month Challenge

Honey the golden retriever does her own dog sport gymnastics.

Uh oh. I think January just got interesting.

We’re just going to have fun. No big goals. No tough challenges. For our Train the Dog Month Challenge, Honey and I are going to have a good time doing tricks for treats.

But sometimes the dog changes the plan.

Or some human changes the plan and blames it on the dog.

Honey Goes Sailing

If you’ve been wagging with us for a while, you may know that in my mid-40s I decided to learn to sail for the first time. I dragged my husband along enticed my husband to join the adventure and now I’m working on Honey.

Big news! We’re chartering a sailboat for a week in May. This is the first time we’ve sailed for so long without another captain on board.

And even bigger newsβ€”the charter company is allowing us to bring Honey!

Let the training begin.

Our Training Goals

To become better sailors, I’ve set goals for myself. Some of them have to do with technical skills, like anchoring, docking, and sail management. But most of them have to do with character.

Our human training goals include

  • remaining calm in scary moments
  • communicating clearly with our partner even when we’re under stress
  • having a can-do attitude when things break
Honey the Golden Retriever is dog tired of sailing.

All this sailing is hard wo–zzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Honey has only sailed once. And never for more than a few hours. So she has training goals too. She must

  • be confident moving onto and off of a moving boat or dinghy (when you’re not confident, you fall in the water)
  • know when to stay out from underfoot
  • remain calm when wind and weather make the boat noisy and uncomfortable

So our fun month of training has become the first of a several month workout to increase Honey’s confidence, impulse control, and agility.

We just got the good news Wednesday. So I haven’t had time to work up a plan. Heck. When do I ever plan?

But I’m making a mental list of things we’ll be doing with Honey to meet our training goals.

Honey the Golden Retriever goes sailing.

This would be a perfect sail if only someone would get me a pillow.

Increasing a Dog’s Confidence, Impulse Control, and Agility


Once Honey starts smelling treats, her reluctance to do new things fades. But ramps, grates, and things that move underfoot still cause her concern.

The wobble board is coming back out. I’ll put the ramp against the steps to give Honey practice. And we’ll be seeking out strange surfaces on our walks. Every new experience Honey deals with successfully makes her more confident.

Impulse Control

At times, Honey has excellent impulse control.

I’ve taught her to stay on her bed in the kitchen while I’m cooking or preparing her food. She’s very good at it.(Did you see our Honest Kitchen video review where she stayed on her pillow the whole time I was talking and preparing her food?)

But it doesn’t mean Honey controls herself at other excitable moments. Like when she’s greeting someone in the house. We definitely need to work on this.

I need to be sure that if I tell Honey to “go to bed” and “stay” she’ll do it. Especially if bad weather comes up and we need to concentrate on boat handling.

Honey will find it challenging as I press her to stay calm when exciting things happen. But I have a feeling our house guests (at least the ones who won’t like having 50 pounds of golden fur in their laps) will appreciate the results.

Honey walks down the pier to go sailing.

Don’t be afraid. I’ll lead the way.


So far I’ve assumed we’d have to install a ramp in a boat to get Honey down the companionway. In many smaller sailboats, you go below by ladder.

But what if I could teach Honey to walk up and down a ladder? I know dogs do. This is definitely an advanced skill for Honey. I’ve seen nothing to show me she’s inclined to learn to climb. But it can’t hurt to try.

And even if we fail, we can still improve her agility in the process.

Honey the Golden Retriever tries to nap in the sailboat cockpit.

What do you mean I’m taking up too much room?

Training for Life, Not for a Month

I love Train Your Dog month. Especially since the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, who started the whole thing, emphasize training as a way to build your relationship and not just an attempt to “fix” the annoying things your dog does.

I’ve focused on training this month. But it’s a lifetime process. Sometimes we do more. Sometimes we do less. But I’m always looking for ways to improve my relationship with Honey. And training is a fun and interesting way to build our bond.

Did I convince you?

Join the Train Your Dog Month Challenge along with my co-hosts at Rescued InsanityΒ and Alfie’s Blog.Β Set a small goal to work on with your dog. Stop back here at the end of the month to tell us about it in the comments. Or if you write a blog yourself, you can link to your post so we can all see it.

Every eligible person who enters by sharing their challenge in the comments on our January 31, 2014 post or the link list will get a chance to win a donation to their favorite animal charity and a special treat for themselves and their dogs.

But the best treat you’ll get is the fun of spending time training with your dog. And what’s better than that?

Your Turn: Are you working on any special training goals with your dogs? Any tips for meeting my training goals with Honey? And can anyone recommend a comfortable and buoyant life jacket for Honey? Her current one is too small.


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  1. Let’s see, I think I’ll work backwards….

    As for Honey’s life jacket. Why not check http://www.cabelas.com? They’re an outdoor activities/sports equipment chain. Surely they will have something. Or, one of the other outdoor sports chains…I just can’t remember the names of the ones we used to buy stuff from when we had our boat.

    As for “Train Your Dog Month”, I don’t know yet if I m going to actively participate as far as writing a blog post. I’m TRYING to commit myself to two hours a day of studying. So far, I’ve been doing it except for this past Wednesday when I spent nearly the entire day at the Chevy dealer while they tried to figure out what’s going on with the speakers for the satellite radio/OnStar phone. (They THINK it’s a short in the cone of the speaker in the driver’s door.) So, yesterday I studied for 3 hours instead of just two. Once I finish this comment, I’ll take Callie and Shadow out in the yard for a short game of fetch and “keep away from Mom”, and then come in and do another 3 hours of studying. I have to take weekends off for my own sanity.

    • Good for you doing all that studying. Will you still hang out with us dummies when you get all smart? πŸ™‚

      Thanks for suggesting Cabelas. I’m also checking out the marine stores. I’m looking for something that’s made for a dog-overboard/ long time in the water scenario. Hopefully I’ll never need it.

  2. We have so much training going on at our house it is ridiculous! We are waiting for the hop and we will definitely share some things. What do you do about Honey and the bathroom? Are you sailing where she can get off a couple times a day to “use the bathroom”. We love to go on boat rides, but they are just for an hour or two, so bathrooms haven’t been an issue.

    • With everything happening at Chez Emma, you need your own tv show! πŸ™‚

      For this trip, we’re sailing out of Kingston on Lake Ontario. We’ll be island hopping and anchoring near shore so we will be planning dinghy rides to shore for Honey.

      But our ultimate goal is to teach her to potty on the boat. Most people who do long distance voyaging (like crossing oceans, for instance) use an old carpet or astroturf for the dog to go on deck. But some dogs just don’t take to it and will “hold it” for up to 3 days. We’ll be starting to train Honey to go on different surfaces and hope she’ll take to going on board. If not, that will change our future plans.

      After all, it’s all about the dog. πŸ™‚

  3. What fun! No training goals–just trying to keep heads and noses above water and get out to hike even in the midst of 3 jobs and a talkative time consuming spouse-like figure πŸ™‚ A boat ride would be fun too πŸ™‚

    • Funny to see you mention your talkative, time-consuming SLF. When Mike came home for lunch, I suddenly thought to myself, “How did an introvert get so talkative?”

      If it gets tough to keep your nose above water, get a snorkel. Or don’t work so hard. πŸ™‚

  4. Oh my dog, what a great adventure and training opportunity! I love going canoeing but have never been sailing…and of course, I am small enough to be carried in and out of a boat! Good luck to you and Honey. I know you can do it.
    Happy Friday.

    • Yep, Oz, being petite has some advantages.

      I bet you’d love sailing. Once you get going, it’s a lot less work than canoeing. πŸ™‚

  5. That is going to be sooo much fun!

    • Yes, yes it will. Or it will be cold, rainy, miserable, too windy and we’ll all have a rotten time. πŸ™‚

      I guess I should be a Misaki optimist, huh?

  6. Very cool and I am really looking forward to reading about your sailing adventures with Honey! Moses and Alma love the water, but Moses has only been in a boat once, and Alma never, so I’d be incredibly curious to see how they do.
    Your plan sounds solid. Is it going to be a full week at sea with no land stops?
    I would be lying if I said my first thought wasn’t “where’s Honey going to poop?” lol

    • It always comes back to poop, huh?

      We’re sailing out of Kingston, Ontario. We won’t know exactly where we’re going until we know the wind and weather. But we’re planning to island hop and anchor each night. Which means we’ll be able to take Honey to land by dinghy.

      But since this is part of a long term plan, we’ll also be working on teaching Honey to potty on board. Most sailing cruisers use a rug or piece of astroturf on the deck. Some dogs take to it and some don’t. So it’s up to Honey and her potty habits to decide if we cross oceans or always cruise close to land in the future.

      • I love the 1000 Islands! I am really looking forward to trip photos so you better share! All of my extended family is from that part of the country, but it’s been years since I’ve visited.
        I’ve seen those poop-pads advertised for apartment-dwellers, which seemed like a good potty-training solution to me, but I get a twitch wen they suggest life-long for small dog owners. Looks like they’re a great solution for sea-travel, though!

  7. Alfie is officially jealous of Honey – he really wants to go sailing too! πŸ™‚

    • You live in one of the best sailing areas in the world. I would definitely look for a dog-friendly day sail.

      When we get going, we’ll be happy to take you for a ride. But don’t tell Alfie just yet. At about 5 knots, it would take us many years to get to the left coast. πŸ™‚

  8. That’s huge and it sounds like SO much fun! I don’t know if it helps, but I just interviewed these folks for a Pet Age article. Their stuff is all dog-boating-specific: http://www.pawsaboard.com/. I’m excited for you guys!

  9. Sounds like you and Honey will be keeping quite busy! I have no helpful tips, but I’ll help cheer you two on your adventure.
    Silver used to be able to go up and down a ladder that was off a small dock, but I never taught her, she just did it. Not much help there, but it was really cool when she did it. πŸ™‚

    I’m working on Brut’s leash manners and if we run into people for January. He’s better at walking, but passing by people…is another matter all together. We’ll see how far we get.

  10. While we’ve made light years of improvement with our little McTavish (thanks, in part, to the very positive trainers at Lollypop Farm), we are currently trying to make us having company a more positive experience for McTavish AND our guests ;). People he remembers because they are over frequently have a very short adjustment period (he only barks for two minutes), but new guests are much more stressful for him.

  11. It’s great to set dog training goals and to make specific plans to implement them. I’ve decided I am going to teach Maya and Pierson more dog tricks, but I have yet to actually make a specific plan. So far, I have taught them one new trick. It’s a good start, but now what? What else do I want to teach them? How often should we practice? How often should I introduce new tricks? Hey, perhaps I should join the challenge! πŸ™‚

  12. Beth Tyler says:

    Careful about which life jacket for Honey. The stiff ones can actually inhibit the ability to turn around or get caught on boat parts. At one point, we had a 50′ trawler and 3 labs on board. Trawlers and sail boats are different, so take what I say with a grain of salt. The stiff RuffWear jackets do not curve with the dog when they turn, they actually almost knocked one of our labs into the water when he was fine, secure and stable. The neophrene ones are must soft and bend more with the dog.
    Enjoy the trip!

  13. I bet your trip will be great fun, and I am so pleased that Honey gets to go with you. Good luck with all the training, I can’t wait to see how it all goes! As a fan can I ask one small favour, when teaching new skills it would be fab if you could do a little ‘how to’ but. BD and Mity know a whole host of different ‘ticks’ which I have taught them to keep them interested, and because I feel it is good for them to be challenged but I am running out of ideas for new tricks. Any you could share would be fab!

  14. Sampson got about three steps up a ladder once and I freaked out. He hasn’t done it since. πŸ™ We are working on stairs. Stairs to get on and off the bed.