My dog Honey is a Mary Poppins pup—practically perfect in every way.
It’s the result of getting the absolute best start in life, years of training, and just dumb luck.
But you know why she’s just “practically perfect?” Because people keep screwing up my dog.
Dog Lovers Are The Worst
Honey is adorable. And Honey is also common.
Her breed, I mean. There are tons of golden retrievers around. Most dog lovers have had one or known one.
When we’re out walking, people want to pet her. The lady behind the counter at the shop where we buy our weekend newspaper comes out to give her a treat. And some folks just squeal in delight.
All of these things get Honey excited. She loves making new friends.
I have taught Honey to contain her joy somewhat.
She doesn’t jump up with her front paws on someone’s chest (usually). Instead she does the golden dance, hopping in the air, spinning around, and leaning into the person’s legs until I’m worried for the strength of their knee tendons.
For the true crazy dog lovers, her behavior isn’t a problem. If they could, they’d lie down on the cold sidewalk and let Honey climb all over them.
But for dog lovers who think they’re just going to pet a calm, sweet golden, it’s overwhelming.
And it’s all their fault. Because their moves toward Honey and high squeals get her excited before I have time to settle her in a calm place.
Their insistence on getting lovies on their own schedule means they will not stand up or move away when Honey gets nuts to help her calm down again. Or to teach her that calm behavior gets her what she wants most—love.
But dog-loving strangers aren’t the only threat to Honey’s training.
The Enemy Within
I swear my husband is trying to ruin our dog.
Which is nuts. Because in many ways, he’s a far superior trainer to me.
It was my husband Mike who knew why I couldn’t lure my last dog, Shadow, into a sit. He showed me how my body posture was different from the trainer in our manners class and got her to do it on the first try.
And it’s my husband who sacrifices his rest to comfort new foster puppies who don’t understand why they’re suddenly sleeping alone.
But he’s doing his best to sabotage some of my best work with Honey.
On a walk, Honey’s recall is very strong.
We practice regularly. And even in a dog park, I know that Honey will come to me if I call her.
In the yard or house? Not so much.
You see, my husband will tell Honey, “come” if she barks in the house, without thinking about what she’s asking for. If she needs to go outside, she will disobey his cue until someone figures out why she’s barking.
Or he’ll call her when there are strange shadows in the foyer and stairs that confuse her instead of responding to her hesitation by turning on a light or escorting her up.
Even worse, he’ll resort to bribery. Which means that Honey, sweet Honey, has learned to disobey the “come” cue in the house to hold out for treats.
She’s sweet. She’s not stupid.
As a result, I have a poisoned cue. I need to find a new one. And to train Honey to come to me in the house when she hears it.
But the first word that comes to my mind when I need her by my side is “come.”
You’d think Honey was a Saint Bernard by the puddle of drool on the floor when we’re eating.
After a Thanksgiving fiasco when my mother-in-law tried to sneak tidbits to my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, and found two snarling wolves competing in her lap, I’ve been careful about encouraging begging.
In the kitchen, I taught Honey to lie on her pillow while I’m cooking by tossing her an occasional morsel. As a result, she stays out of my way while I’m making meals.
When we eat at the dining room table, Honey knows to stay under the table. It works great.
But my husband is a serious snacker. Who likes having company. So he gives Honey bits of food without waiting until she’s lying down calmly.
And now we have a greedy, drooling dog.
Training Dogs Is Easy; Training Humans Is Hard
If I could get strangers to wait to greet Honey until she’s sitting calmly, I’d be thankful. Amazed, but thankful.
Even better, if I could get them to turn their backs on Honey when she gets overexcited and only pet her when she’s calm, that would be even better.
And if I could help my husband remember that all meals taste better when you don’t have a floofie tail in your face (usually my face; the other end is looking expectantly at my husband for a morsel), I’d dance for joy.
But training humans is hard. So I guess I’ll just have to be patient when people screw up my dog. And be satisfied with my practically perfect pup.
Your Turn: Do you have any examples of strangers, friends, or family screwing up your dog’s training? Any tips on how to deal with it? Oh and how likely is it that Mike will file for divorce after reading this post?