Why I Don’t Train My Dog Better

Honey the Golden Retriever gets a bath.

I don’t like it. But I’m well-trained enough to stay in the tub.

Honey is the easiest dog I’ve ever lived with.

She doesn’t counter surf, root through the garbage, or bust in on me in the bathroom. She doesn’t cry when I leave her to go to work.

But she’s not perfect. Mostly because I refuse to finish her training.


Flaws Make Us Special

Many years ago when I read about the waiting list of people who wanted to adopt released service dogs, I expressed amazement. Why would anyone want such a boring dog?

After all, aren’t all such highly trained dogs exactly alike? Didn’t their training take away their unique personalities?

Those of you who raise service dogs are laughing at me, I know. What can I say? I was stupid when I was younger.

But it is true that a dog’s quirks or flaws make them memorable.

When I remember my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, I don’t think of how they slept quietly on their own beds on the floor. Or the way Agatha stayed nearby off-leash despite my never training her to do so.

I think of coming home to find they had eaten the bindings off my most expensive cookbooks. I recall Christie going on walkabouts around the neighborhood sniffing her way around the block. I remember them eating not one, but two expensive couches.

As for service dogs, the black lab who always sits on the bus seat (instead of under it where he was trained to) sticks in my mind despite having seen dozens of guide dogs on the streets over the years.

And years from now, when Honey is no longer in our lives, I’ll remember her flaw too—the one thing I never tried too hard to train her away from.

Honey’s Bad Habit is Love

Love hurts. Especially when it comes in the form of a 50 pound Golden Retriever jumping up to give kisses.

Honey the Golden Retriever sits and stays.

My sit and stay is perfect.

That’s why I’ve worked hard to teach Honey not to jump on people.

She’s not perfect. But 95% of the time, she will keep all four paws on the floor when greeting someone excitedly.

I have never gotten her to sit calmly, however, when someone comes to visit. And the more she loves someone, the harder it is for her to contain her joy.

I don’t have any pictures of her greeting behavior. Let me try to describe it:

Honey presses her body into the legs of the person she’s greeting. Her tail wags slowly but in a huge swinging arc while her feet dance all over the floor. Finally, she can’t stand any longer. Her feet slip out sideways from under her and she shows off her fuzzy belly before returning to her feet to start all over again.

People who are unused to enthusiastic dogs (like my father) find Honey’s behavior overwhelming. My dad would love for Honey to sit calmly by his side so he can pet her on the head. All the puppy pyrotechnics make him nervous.

While part of me is embarrassed that I haven’t done a better job training her to control her impulses (especially when the receiver of her enthusiasm is our trainer, Russ), I also love her joy. I’d miss it if she stopped.

And that’s why I don’t train my dog better.

I count on that burst of joy. And even if it means my friends end up with their legs covered in gold fur and their knees buckle from the assault, I can’t bring myself to train Honey out of it.

Maybe that’s my flaw that will help people remember me.

Your Turn: Does your dog have a “problem behavior” that you can’t bring yourself to fix? Or am I the only crazy one? Also, Honey and I will be attending BlogPaws. If you will be there and don’t appreciate enthusiastic greetings, now is your time to make your wishes known. I’ll do my best not to lick you. 

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  1. OMG, I love this. I know EXACTLY what Honey will look like when she’s excited about greeting someone, because Hannah is the same. There’s a very typical thing goldies do which is sort of lean against people, it’s adorable. Sometimes overly rigorous training also trains all the ‘joy’ out of the dog. We’ve all seen those robotic dogs that do the perfect heels yet look terrified of their owner. Good on you for allowing her to have this little ‘flaw’.

    • goldenrescue says:

      Of course, there are dogs who heel with wagging tails and prancing, too. Dogs can be trained in such a way that they enjoy doing what you ask.

  2. Oh boy. Do I know what you mean! Kuna’s over exuberant greetings can be quite embarrassing – for me and whoever is getting mud all over the front of their clothes! He has no shame. But I must say, if that behavior magically disappeared overnight, I’d rush him off to the vet – something must be wrong! 😉 And I’d be just a little bit sad. I’m envious of his unbridled energy and enthusiasm and he makes me feel alive when he shows his wild side!

  3. Aw, that really touched my heart :) I know I shouldn’t say “good for you!” But your brilliant last sentence sums it all up so well 😉 I allow Max on everything and don’t make him “ask permission” especially for him to jump up onto my lap – that’s just “our thing” 😉 Great post!

  4. Zora is a jumper, so I am trying hard to break her of that. I want people who meet her to like her, not be overwhelmed by her enthusiasm. However, after 10 years with no training, I’m not sure that’s going to happen so I guess they’re going to have to like her the way she is!

  5. If I’m not covered in Golden fur I’m going to be one very disappointed blogger. 😉 I’m more concerned that I won’t be rushing up to people and throwing my arms around them. I’m pretty certain I’m going to make a fool of myself.

    My dogs can be a bit overwhelming when they greet people, as they both rush towards that person. We have a little balcony on the front of the house and when people are coming over I stick the dogs out there so people can at least get in the door. I love watching Sampson when he recognizes someone he really loves (like my sister or niece) his front paws prance up and down and he roos his head off, with his tail (the whip) going a mile a minute.

    While Delilah loves people too, her enthusiasm tends to lean more towards food. She jumps backwards on her hind legs when she gets her dinner. I know some day I’ll be missing my guys so I’m trying to embrace these joyful moments.

    There are just some things that shouldn’t be trained out of a dog.

  6. No training over here at the hippy commune. Well that is what the first useless dog trainer called us and the second one got the elbow too. We gave up and just hoped love will do the trick and it did. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  7. OMG I cannot WAIT to meet you and Honey at BlogPaws!! Did you join the “Newbies” group yet? BTW I LOVE enthusiastic greetings so no problem on my end! I cannot wait!
    Dakota has 2 problems that drive me insane…one…BARKING….
    TWO….he will NOT come to have his leash put on when called …that could pose a potential disaster one day

  8. THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS!!! I feel the same way. I have two dogs – the older one (Lightning) was trained extensively because he was a flight risk and I didn’t want him to get hurt or lost. I love that he stays where he should and comes when called, but I did not realize I would train the “Lightning” out of him. I don’t want to repeat this with my Lab. His exuberance, his joy, his mischief bring joy to me. I don’t want to lose that, so his training is less than perfect, and we are happy. :)

  9. Kelly has a lot of quirks…er, irregularities! Half the time when I call her, she runs the other way. I know that is really really really bad training on my part. She also perches on the backs of furniture around my neck instead of on my lap where I want her. But for as much as she can be strongwilled, she has a million other good traits!

  10. How true! Besides, who wants the perfect dog anyway? Sage will always be remembered for hitting the nearest source of water (often an mud-puddle) when she’s hot from running so much!

  11. Awww Honey is just the sweetest! I don’t WANT a perfect dog and my Titan is far from it. I like it when I say “COME” and he gives me that look like, “yea right ma” and makes me call him 2 more times, but that’s not 100% of the time. Or when I tell him “No” and he does the exact opposite making me chase him around the house like a mad woman! He does it to play and I know it. I would love for him to be more “secure” around strangers but on the other hand, I know at this very point, he would never go off with anyone other than me and my hubs nor take treats from anyone. That is security for me. So no, you are not wrong. Their quirks make them more special and make us giggle giving us more lasting memories. I say rock on sista!

  12. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    Oh, Pamela, thank you for this post! I smiled all the way through it! My Golden Girls are as exuberant as your Honey, and I love it. BUT, at approximately 80 lbs. each, they could literally knock someone off their feet. I don’t want anyone to be hurt as a result of their joyful greetings, so I’ve trained them over the years to just stay on all fours when greeting humans. Callie used to greet US by doing figure eights around and through our legs when we walked in the door — I’m hoping she will again when her leg is completely healed! I truly miss her happy greeting! — and Shadow waits politely for Callie to finish her little dance before coming to us for a pat on the chest or neck. Ducky only weighs about 25 pounds so she wouldn’t knock anyone over — except maybe a young child — but I am working with her to jump up on us only when we invite her to, and back down on all fours when told. She’s about 65% there. I’ll be happy when she’s successful 90% of the time.

  13. We warn people who come over to our house. Maggie will hip check you if she’s not jumping on you & will try to climb in your lap. Sadie will bark at you & then won’t stop asking for attention. Hurley will drive by drool bomb you.

    But I wouldn’t have them any other way!

  14. Are you sure you weren’t describing Luna? :)

  15. I accidentally taught Silas to stay on the couch when I come in and let me greet him calmly. I kind of miss him insisting that I pick him up and then trying to climb on top of my head. Kind of.

  16. My youngest collie, Scarlett, is one of the happiest, most joyful beings I have known. She also has a sense of humor. The other morning as I was getting ready for work, she came into the bathroom. She grabbed one of my shoes, and ran away with it. I followed after her, and found her standing on my bed, wagging her whole butt, the shoe unharmed next to her. I laughed, took the shoe and told her she was a little outlaw. I returned to the bathroom, placed the shoe on the floor, and in darted Scarlett to reclaim the shoe! She shot me a look over her shoulder, and it was a look full of laughter. There is no other way to describe it. I followed her again, and she was again standing on the bed, the shoe unharmed next to her. This time her whole body was wagging, and she had a big doggie grin on her face. I told her she was “my little outlaw, stealing mama’s shoe again! And what am I going to do with such a little thieving outlaw!?!” I went back to the bathroom, hid behind the door, and surprised her when she ran in to “steal” my shoe again. She loved it, and began running around the house, tail wagging. Who wants a perfect dog? Not me!

  17. A loving, happy, and friendly dog IS a perfect dog! Lucky you!

  18. It’s the flaws that make them who they are. :) All of our dogs have quirks we don’t feel the need to work out because it is part of their personality. It’s the reason my husband won’t train the dogs to walk on a leash, because he loves their happiness and enthusiasm and he doesn’t want to squash that but expand upon it.

    Great post Pamela. I’d love to have a Honey greeting!!

  19. Same behavior, different names, Annie, Merlin, Spud; That is a LOT of love and I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China, water in the ocean, or gold in Fort Knox. It is the air I breathe every time I go home.

  20. What a GREAT reason NOT to change a behavior. Hmmmmm…..Toby has MANY flaws…I’ll have to think of good reasons and it won’t sound as bad as, “I just gave up” LOL!

  21. Aww she sounds like my old sheltie – such a good dog! My dog now, Shiner is a bit different to say the least lol. She also gets excited when we come home, and I never really tried to fix that “problem” either.

  22. Tino was probably our oddest dog. He had a habit of taking his stuffed toys out to the backyard and just leaving them lying around…where they would get wet and dirty. I’d bring them in, wash them and he’d just take them out again – it just took a couple of days until the whole ‘toy’ box was empty again. Then I’d bring them in and we’d go through the whole dance again. The really special ones he would bury. I never had the heart to try and keep the toys inside – he liked his friends out there in the yard with him. It was funny when the gardeners would come upon something he buried…years after he put it there. He was a gem.

  23. Love this! Nola jumps on me (no one else unless they want her to), but I don’t mind at all and have actually put it on cue. She puts herself between me and strangers, which is a behavior I like a lot.

  24. goldenrescue says:

    I’m sorry to see people justifying their dog’s lack of training in response to your blog, because I really don’t think that’s what you intended. A recall can be a matter of life or death for the dog, but too many people seem to think it isn’t important, or that you have to be mean to the dog to get a good recall. Training with positive reinforcement means that you reward the dog, not that you “take the spirit out of him.” I don’t want a robot, but I do want a partner. And that means that I pay attention to what my dog is telling me, too. She tells me very clearly when she wants to go out to play fetch, and chances are good she will get her way. And I pay attention to what she thinks is a reward–sometimes it’s a good game of tug. It doesn’t always mean a treat, although she is fond of them, too!

  25. I’m a jumper too! I don’t mind too good sometimes…. *snicker*

  26. Hahahaha, this was a truly awesome post.

    Cessna (lab) is my guide dog, but is FAR from perfect. She can’t heel to save her life, she counter surfs and if she sees a squirrel, then she jumps around like a kangaroo and whines excitedly. I know it’s not a “good” thing for a guide dog to be doing, but she works amazingly well, so I don’t see any reason to “train” the enthusiasm out of her.

    rogue (lab) is my guide dog in training and she has a similar personality and enthusiasm level as Cessna. She can heel and I can easily redirect her when she sees a squirrel, but she chases our cats, thinks junk food should be a part of her diet and jumps all over people who come to the door. I’m working on calming the greeting of visitors, but our cats don’t mind being chased and I love Rogue’s little quarks, so again, I don’t see any reason to “train” the enthusiasm out of her.

    Canyon (golden) is absolutely toy obsessed. He loves to play fetch, but doesn’t like giving up the toy. He’ll give you a paw, he’ll climb into your lap and he’ll turn his head from side to side, taunting you with the toy, but trying his best to keep it out of your reach. I would love to enter an obedience trial with him someday, but I just don’t have the heart to “train” him to stop teasing people with whatever he’s retrieved.

  27. HONEY’S COMING TO BLOGPAWS?!!!! *SQUEEEE* I’m okay! Really, I am! I’m so glad you’re both coming!

    As far as behavior goes, the one thing that sticks out in my head was our first Greyhound, Treat, who really was pretty much perfect. But when I got home from work every day, she would do this wild dance of joy, which involved a little leap and running a few circles around the living room, over the couch and around the chairs before she would stop and come to press her body against me, and sometimes she was still so excited that she would have to make another lap or two before she could come and stand with me again to go outside. When she died, I would sit outside in the car and cry because I knew she wasn’t going to be there to do that dance of joy. None of our other three dogs did. To my great surprise, after Bunny came home I learned that she would do a little tap dance on the floor when I got home. It was something I never expected, and I find it completely endearing.

    Now Morgan leaps up against you like a breaching whale when you get home, and that’s a little harder to love, but I admit that I do!

  28. “The dog lives here. You’re just visiting.” ‘Nuff said. :) (Well, that and “if you don’t like dog hair on your clothes, stay off the couch”.

  29. So true. There are some ‘wrong’ behaviors that are just to cute to ‘right.’ Have a great time at BlogPaws. Wish we could go but I have to pick up my human daughter at college that weekend for the summer.

  30. Oh, I’m so sad that I won’t get to meet Honey at BlogPaws! I would LOVE to experience such an exuberant greeting from such a pretty girl!

  31. I agree, perfect dogs are boring:-) I’m the same as Honey, I get super excited when we have visitors. Mummy and daddy are trying to teach me not to jump. They don’t mind it but they know its for the best:-(

  32. I’m majorly laughing over here. Have you met my puppies?
    I’ll admit I thought the same as you, in regards to guide dogs when we first started down this rode. We didn’t want a “lab” because all they did was lay around all day. (Our first puppy sitting job was a 100lb lab.) WE. DID.NOT.KNOW.WHAT.WE’D.WISHED.FOR. Did you know I’d give anything to have a lay around (healthy) puppy? Good Lord.

  33. Finally something I can completely relate to as a dog owner. I believe a dog should be trained, but I am not interested in the perfect dog. I am interested in a dog that is a challenge, a dog who will make me laugh, a dog who will remind me why I love dogs so much. I have always been attracted to dogs who weren’t the easy dog. All my favorite clients were the ones who made it fun and interesting and exciting to be with them. That’s not to say they have to always be so, but give me a dog who isn’t perfect any day of the week and I am a happy person. :)

  34. My little Eskie is very fearful of anything new or… anyone but me. Two days after adopting her, she was pogo-stick greeting me and I was thrilled. She’ll never greet anyone else like that, so “sit for greeting” training is not high on my list. I must avoid separation anxiety, however, so I usually walk past her into the house proper and don’t look at her… but in the morning, she thrashes around in her kennel, and when she sees I’m unlatching the door, she gathers herself up and leaps into my arms. What am I going to do, not catch her? Not beam as she pogo-sticks around me? When I want her to (try to) calm down, I cross my hands in front of my turned face… and eventually she sits… for a second! I thinks that’s pretty well trained!

  35. shilohsmom says:

    Shiloh is one of the most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever known, but there was one thing I could not train out of him, and that was digging for moles. I tried everything but nothing worked. He was perfect in every other way. Finally I gave in and stopped trying to train him not to dig. And then I took it one step further, and I joined him. We went mole hunting together. I’d stand behind him, get sprayed by flying dirt, and fill in the holes as he dug forward. I got just as muddy as he did. And we both had a blast the whole time. Where we live now we don’t have moles so the digging has stopped. I miss those moments with him so much!

  36. My foster dog, Riley, went to his new home today, just in time too. A few days ago he started doing something I would have had great difficulty training him not to because I’ve always wanted a dog who does this and it’s kind of a no-no. He would stand up and put his paws on my shoulders … and I’d melt. I miss him.

    • I once read about a woman who had Irish Wolfhounds she taught to put their paws on her shoulder on the cue “get tall.” She also taught them they could jump on her when she was wearing pants but not when she was wearing a skirt (clever, huh?)

      Unfortunately, she was unable to teach them the difference between jeans and silk slacks.

      So you’re not the only one who’s a sucker for doggy hugs. And maybe the clue is in figuring out what to teach them.

      Hope Riley does great in his new home.

  37. I would actually like to request an enthusiastic greeting from Honey at BlogPaws. Tell her not to hold back on the puppy pyrotechnics.

    Perfection is overrated. When we first got Tavish, I was determined to train Tavish to stop licking us (and Bella) like crazy. (It’s mostly when we first come home, but sometimes he just gets in a licking mood. I call him my Licky Lou.) However… over 8 months later, he’s still a little licking machine. It’s so darn cute and he’s so darn excited that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. We did get him to stop accidentally biting us as part of his exuberant licking, and he no longer growls when we accidentally bother him while he’s engaging in an enthusiastic paw licking, so I figure we’ve hit a good middle ground that works for us. :)

    I’m trying to think of a truly “bad” Bella behavior, but her quirks are pretty innocuous. They’re cute as can be though.

  38. I’m a newcomer to the dog world. Your post is a helpful reminder to relax and enjoy Polly while I’m training her, and not worry so much about perfection.

  39. I was writing a guest blog post about feeling guilty about my failure to train when I read this. Thank you for it! I agree. Here’s my post: bit.ly/14cxbF0

  40. For the record, I loved Honey’s enthusiastic greeting – and I left with both my ACLs in tact! =)

  41. Our dogs have plenty of behavior problems that are fine by us. Blue loves to jump the fence out of his yard and roam (not far) on our property. All three chase rabbits on the property. Rodrigo destroys toys pretty quickly, making short work then bringing me the mess he created. And Sydney has a special spot on each sofa and will stare you down until you make room for her.

    I love them.

  42. I’m not sure why they’re being described as ‘wrong’ behaviours. Its just behaviors.. dogs with different personalities just being themselves. And thats the joy of being with a dog, not ‘owning’ a dog… Sure a dog needs to learn some basics for its own safety and that of people around. But beyond that, the joy of their spirit, love and excitement needs to be enjoyed and cherished in its purest dog form, not a ‘humanised’ version of it in what is seen by some as ‘appropriate’ and ‘acceptable’ behaviour. We have two dogs with their own individual personalities and quirks… like every other member of the family, they are allowed their moods and freedom and space… there can choose to not always run up and obey commands in the comfort of our home, but they will always pay attention when we’re out for walks.. they dont have to entertain anyone with any tricks… Infact we havent taught them any ‘people’ tricks… they are extremely intelligent and have many of their own dog tricks up their sleeve. :)
    They are who they are… and they dont have flaws… they have their own personalities… and they are perfect!!! And better and more loving than most people we know.

    Here’s something i read and believe in…
    “If you want to enjoy your dog, dont teach it to act like you… dont ask your dog to sit, and roll, and play dead… Instead get off your chair, get down on the floor on all fours, and just ‘be’ with your dog…!!!”


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