The wind whipped up white caps in the marina. Masts etched the clouds as they swung back and forth. And the trawler was bucking like a bronco at his first rodeo.
The pit mix on board looked distressed. But his people had not learned the first lesson of building trust–listen to your dog.
People Who Listen To Dogs
While blogging, fostering, and learning about dogs, I’ve surrounded myself with thoughtful people.
I can’t express how much I’ve learned from amazing folks who have worked with their own dogs, fostered puppy mill rescues, and raised service dogs.
Moving onto a boat and meeting a wide range of dog people? I’ve had my eyes opened to the dog world outside my tiny circle.
There was the man who bought the myth that all golden retrievers are perfect (click the link to learn what pisses off a golden retriever owner more than anything else) and didn’t notice how his male was harassing Honey on the dock.
One woman whose dog was in full stalking mode at the end of a taut leash asked if I wanted to let Honey play (want to know how we got away without instigating a fight? Click the link.).
And I worry about the golden doodles on the sailboat headed to Mexico. They had a reputation in the marina for not behaving well with other dogs. But worse was that their person had planned a multi-day passage without knowing his dogs would potty on board without trauma.
People may love their dogs. But they don’t all listen to their dogs.
And that’s why they’ll never have the strong relationship they could have. A relationship that would be rewarding for both of them. But that would also make life on board a boat much easier.
Listening To Your Boat Dog
Obviously everyone benefits from bonding with their dog.
Participating in dog sports not only benefits from a strong relationship but also contributes to building one. Off-leash work, skills training, and managing life changes are all easier when you have a strong bond with your dog.
But when you live on a boat? Life is less certain. Less routine.
If you listen to your boat dog, you’ll have the kind of bond that will make both of you safer, happier, and more comfortable.
The Captain Who Failed To Listen To His Dog
The trawler had backed into the slip. But the short finger pier tapered at the end. Where the gate lined up, the pit mix had less than two feet to stick his landing before falling into the water on the other side.
At the same time, the wind was blowing the boat off the pier, creating a wide gap as the trawler rocked in the turbulent water.
The human crew fought to pull the boat close to the pier and verbally coaxed the dog to make the jump.
Did I imagine it? Or did I see the schmooshy pittie shake his head “no” in response?
As the gusts increased, the people became more aggravated and started yelling at the dog.
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I grabbed Honey’s telescoping boat ramp (Amazon) and offered it to the trawler owners. In those conditions, even a ramp wouldn’t make it easy. But it was a little bit safer. And I thought it might help the dog feel more comfortable.
They waved me off. And somehow managed to coax/pull/drag their dog off the boat.
The dog was smart. Getting off the boat was risky. He could have fallen overboard and been crushed against a piling. They were lucky to get him off without anyone getting hurt.
I wasn’t around when they returned to the boat. So I don’t know how they managed to get him back on board. But I bet it wasn’t any easier.
Especially after damaging their relationship by not listening to their dog.
Listening To My Dog
I thought Honey and I had a close relationship before we moved onto the boat.
But living so close to each other, being together nearly all the time, I’ve come to know her better than ever. I’ve learned a lot by listening to my dog, like:
- which dogs are truly playful and which ones are scared; despite what their people tell me
- when it’s time to groom her paws (she hesitates more jumping off the boat)
- when I really need to pay attention to the weather
- and more.
How To Listen To Your Dog
Honey is smart. But she doesn’t speak English. So you may be wondering what I mean when I say I listen to her.
Here’s how to listen to your dog.
Stop when they stop
If your dog stops while walking on leash, look first at them and then at your surroundings to see why.
For Honey, it’s most often because she sees a friendly human who needs a golden greeting.
But she will also tell me when she’s not ready to return to the boat. Stopping at the top of the marina ramp is Honey’s way of telling me she’d like to spend a little time sitting or playing outside.
Respond to their “looks”
Honey talks to me by staring into my eyes. It’s how she tells me she needs something.
I respond by
- looking to see if her water bowl is full
- checking the clock to see if it’s dinner time
- ask if she’s ready to go to bed
Play when they bring out toys
Honey loves to play.
If she gets a stuffie out of her toy bag, everything else stops. It’s time to play.
Respect their hesitation
Some days Honey jumps eagerly off the boat to say hello to a neighbor. Other days, she hesitates and looks uncertain.
I can’t always tell why Honey is hesitating. Sometimes I think she can’t see well. Other times, her feet may be slipping too much because I need to groom her.
And sometimes she’s just a little underconfident.
Even if she can jump on and off the boat much of the time, when she hesitates, I bring out her ramp or harness to make it easier for her.
Foundation Of A Strong Bond
Want a well-trained dog? Build a strong foundation of trust.
Want a dog who trusts you? Listen.
Your turn: How do you build a strong bond with your dogs?
We’re joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop to talk about Building Your Relationship with Your Pet Through Training. Check out our hosts from Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag n Woof Pets, and Travels With Barley.