When the Best Dog Training Is the Training That Doesn’t Happen

When Honey was a puppy, she had no idea what she was in for. She was going to be the subject of a training regimen usually only seen by service dogs.

But sometimes the best dog training is the training that doesn’t happen. And it’s all because of our training mantra.

Honey the golden retriever puppy watches her first parade.

My person has such high expectations. It’s almost enough to drive a puppy to drink.

The Mantra That Controls Our Training

Honey had a dream start in life: a knowledgeable breeder and excellent socialization from birth.

When she came home with us, my dream was for her to partner with me in some kind volunteer work, either raising service puppies or fostering pups. And while I was at it, I intended to train her to be as perfect in public as the very best service dog.

She was a wonderful partner for the foster dogs and pups we brought into our home. But she is not perfectly trained. And no one would ever mistake her for a service dog. Especially not when she can hardly contain herself in front of a friendly stranger.

Honey the golden retriever makes new friends.

I don’t look so out of control with my new friends Beth and Gizmo. Of course, there are outtakes.

But I have no regrets. Because I think we have the perfect mantra to control our training. It’s this: “It’s all about the relationship.”

Everything I train or refuse to train is decided by how it affects our relationship.

Training Choices That Favor Our Relationship

Here are a few of the training choices I make every day because they strengthen my relationship with Honey.

Pulling on Leash

Yes, I want Honey to walk calm on leash without pulling. And I can train it strictly until she walks at heel. But to strengthen our relationship, sometimes when Honey pulls on leash, I take it as a sign that I just need to walk faster.

Honey the golden retriever runs on Cumberland Island beach.

Good thing you let go of the leash. I don’t think you can run fast enough to keep up with me chasing a stick.

Begging at the Table

One behavior all service dogs learn is to never beg at the table. But Honey does get periodic morsels.

In truth, I only sneak her a bit if she is calm and lying at my side. But snacking is my husband’s favorite activity. And one he loves to share with Honey. So I’ve learned not to make a big stink about Mike sneaking Honey little treats. As long as she doesn’t drool on my foot.

After all, It’s not just my relationship with Honey I need to safeguard.

Honey the golden retriever lies down on the dock.

I’m lying down nicely here on the dock. Isn’t that your cue to toss me a treat?

Walking Off Leash

One of Honey’s great joys is to explore off leash.

Living on a boat, Honey makes fewer choices than she did on land. She can’t just ask to be let outside for playtime when we’re at anchor. She needs help getting up into the cockpit, into bed, and off the boat.

So I give her time off leash every day.

Honey the golden retriever and Pam walk on the beach at Fort Matanzas.

Good thing I live on a boat. It gives me lots of places to walk on the beach off leash.

It may not be legal. It may not even be perfectly cautious. But it’s important to her. And so I walk and play with her off leash every. single. day.

Honey Chooses Our Walks

Unless I’m in a crazy hurry (and I try to live my life without hurrying—after all, I am a sailor), Honey chooses the path we walk.

If she turns in a direction, I follow. If she’s following her nose, I accompany her. If she’s not ready to return to the boat, we keep walking.

Honey the golden retriever looks into the brush.

I want to go that way. I think I smell an armadillo.

Honey Picks Her Friends

Honey loves to make friends. If we’re returning to the boat and she sees someone walking our way, she stops and wags flirtatiously.

I might be wearing sweatpants and have unbrushed teeth that smell like cruel death, but if Honey wants to make a friend, we stop.

In our current location at a busy marina, those greetings can take a bit of time. But I think letting Honey love other people makes her love me more.

All About The Relationship

I could be a better trainer. Honey could be better trained. But I don’t think we could ever have a stronger relationship.

At least as long as our training replies on our mantra, “It’s all about the relationship.”

Honey the golden retriever lies in the cockpit.

If we didn’t have such a great relationship, I’d probably look for a new person who lived in a nice big house.

Positive pet training blog hop.

We’re joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! Join Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier, and Travels with Barley each month to share positive training posts, starting on the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.




  1. Yup, when I first heard, “Exercise, Discipline, Affection,” I started thinking and came up with what I believe: “Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!”

    • You are so right. If you get the relationship right, the exercise (because you want to spend time doing things together) and affection follow.

  2. I love your mantra! I’m the same way with Shadow. Or, more accurately, I WAS the same way with Shadow and Callie before the arthritis started to really bother Callie. Then our training got to be more of a relaxing of the few rules. I used to ask them both to sit at the back door while I opened it. Now, as long as she stays in place, that’s enough. I, do, however, have to be mindful of the kinds and quantities of “treats” Sam gives her and Ducky because of their super-sensitive tummies. They haven’t had any IBS episodes in a long time and I want to keep it that way.

    As for Ducky? Well, that little stinker has a mind of her own so I have to be gentle but firm with her. She’s a fast learner, which is a plus; but she also knows she has Sam wrapped around her little paw. All she has to do is give him that look and bam! whatever she wants she gets. Mom makes her earn it or a healthier substitute.

    • Reading about your different experiences with Shadow, Callie, and Ducky over the years demonstrates what it really means to have a relationship with your dog. After all, they are each different. And your relationship reflects that. <3

  3. I love this. Having that special and strong relationship should be what it’s all about. I’ve tried letting the dogs choose our routes on walks, and it’s great (well, within reason. If they want to go deep into the woods following deer trails I have to draw the line somewhere!).
    I don’t care for begging at the table, but my hubby is the same as Mike. So if he wants to share his snacks with them, I also let him. Honestly, it hasn’t made them start begging at the table during meals. They seem to know the difference most of the time!

    • Love how you have found the same thing regarding begging. Isn’t it amazing how our dogs don’t waste their energy when they know it won’t pay off?

      And the snack sharing is probably a large part of your husband’s relationship with Cricket and Luke just as it is with Mike and Honey.

  4. http://Edie%20Chase says

    This was a great post. My dog is not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.

    • “My dog is not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.”

      If I were ever to get a tattoo, that’s probably what it would say.

  5. http://Roberta%20R%20Beach says

    A trainer friend thinks I’m crazy letting my hounds walk ahead of me, not heeling. In our relationship(s), sniffing is VERY important, so I let them lead (safely). Hooray for you and Honey.

    • OMD, not allowing a hound to sniff might even be considered abusive. Glad you work on your relationship with every dog who comes into your care.

  6. Mom says you need to train your dog for your life and what you want, not always what everyone else thinks is right. We can’t be off leash, and that is fine. We have plenty of fenced places where we can get crazy. Heel mom finds boring and hates to train, so we usually walk out front, on long leashes so we can run around and sniff stuff. It isn’t a problem as we walk where we rarely meet another person. In a city or other populated places we go, we are on short leashes. We often pull, but it’s fine with Mom. Our stay/wait commands are great, and that is important for our lifestyle. Service dog like is nothing like us, but we are happy and it works for us.

    • Your mom is very wise.

      Last year we met a pair of GBGV pups who lived on a boat. Their people let them off leash and it was a total disaster. They could use some training from your mom.

  7. Honey really is the Mary Poppins of dogs, she’s practically perfect in every way. I’ve always thought of my dogs as my companions and best friends (as opposed to kids.) Your training philosophy is similar to mine. I don’t need to be the boss, I just want to enjoy our time together.

    • But Honey is a lot less cranky than Mary Poppins (at least the original one from the books). 🙂

      I agree with you about not thinking of Honey as my kid. She is an adult and I think of her more like an equal. Pet parents are such a popular notion right now. I think you and I are in the minority.

  8. http://Mike%20Webster says

    “One behavior all service dogs learn is to never beg at the table. But Honey does get periodic morsels.”

    Nice understatement, sweetheart.

    Guilty Party

  9. The journey is often better than the destination. Still Honey seems to hit all the high notes of a well disciplined pup. Nice work, mom!

    • I wish I could take credit. But I thinks she has taught me more than I have taught her. 🙂

  10. That’s such a great one! I think that’s subconsciously in my mind, too, every time we train–and after our first agility trial this weekend, it’s going to be more prominent in our training. All of the dogs that did really well were the dogs that were having fun with their handlers, so we’ll be continuing to make sure she always trusts me and thinks that everything we do is the most fun ever 🙂

  11. I can’t imagine doing anything with a dog without having a relationship. Even when I meet a dog for the first time, we develop a repoire right away.

    I loved when you said you walk faster when she pulls. We do that too. And I think there is nothing better than snacking together. It’s so much fun.

  12. It’s so apparent when you see the two of you together. You have a great relationship. I think that might have been what was lacking between me and Delilah in the beginning, and you know that was challenging!

  13. What a sweet post!! I love the unique lifestyle you have and how that flavors your training with Honey! I’m all about relationships too, because really, at the end of the day, isn’t that why we decided to get a dog? Because we wanted a great relationship with another species? Honey has a “honey” of a mom, and what a terrific life for a dog!!