The Puppiness Project – A Little Stubbornness is OK

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.

Golden Retriever legend and lore

Wet Golden Retriever wiggling on the grass

I'm not stubborn. Sometimes a girl just needs to stretch her legs.

After bringing Honey home, I became initiated into the secrets of the Golden Retriever. A dog trainer told me, “At about six months their brains fall out. They don’t find them again until they turn two.” Several admirers of Honey the puppy warned me to guard my underwear as it would be a favorite chew toy throughout her life. And Honey’s breeder warned me that her mother had the Golden “stubborn streak.”

I was familiar with the antics of adolescent dogs and didn’t expect Honey to be any different. And retrievers are second only to goats for the number of swallowed underwear stories. But the “Golden stubborn streak” was new to me.

I started to search and found numerous forums and breed sites soliciting and offering advice about dealing with a Golden that just decided to become stubborn for no good reason.*

And indeed, Honey will sometimes exhibit stubbornness. I see it in her unwillingness to come inside after a walk. Or yesterday, I saw it when Honey pulled against her leash I had just attached to my beach chair by the lakeside.

Stubborn is as stubborn says

Since the only agenda yesterday was to soak up every ray of sun before the coming storms, I determined to figure out what led to Honey’s stubborn streak. And when I did so, I remembered that in our rush to get to the beach during the small fair weather window we had forgotten to walk Honey!!

Honey wasn’t being willful. She was trying to remind me that we had forgotten something really important. This wasn’t stubbornness. It was communication.

Oh, and Honey was not going to back down either–not for tug, not for lovies, not for treats. She wanted her walk.

Sometimes it’s ok to be stubborn

Golden Retriever lying on a woman's lap.

Ahhhh, that feels better.

We’re raised to be compliant. To give in when others want their own way. It’s hard to stand up for ideals we find important. It’s even harder to stand up for ourselves.

Honey wasn’t being rude or willful or stubborn. She was just trying to tell me what she needed in the only way she knew how. And it was ok. She was right to do so. I was wrong to forget her walk.

Maybe it’s ok to stand firm. Instead of taking it as an insult, maybe I should think of stubbornness as a compliment–especially when it’s stubbornness that communicates something important.

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* After a little research I found that the search phrases “stubborn Yorkie,” “stubborn German Shepherd,” “stubborn Boxer,” and “stubborn Chihuahua” were as common as the phrase “stubborn Golden Retriever.”

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  1. I think often what we interpret as stubbornness in our dogs is really patience. They are waiting until we finally understand and do what they have taught us or until we see the total illogic of our demands.

  2. Honey is fortunate to have an owner who believes in a little introspection regarding her behavior. Many people want pets to work like a computer – do thing “a” and get behavior “b”, when oftentimes it’s a bit more complicated than that. In our home we play “pet detective” on a pretty regular basis to ensure we’re doing our best to meet the needs of our critters, especially as the cats are now hard-core seniors. Seems only right to try and meet their lack of English-language skills halfway.

  3. “We’re raised to be compliant. To give in when others want their own way. It’s hard to stand up for ideals we find important. It’s even harder to stand up for ourselves.”

    This is a girl thing. Men are raised to be assertive and make sure their needs are met. Every mother I know (unless they have a full-time nanny) has trouble finding “me time,” while the daddies come and go as they please. This is true even when both work. And don’t get me started on the life of single mothers.

    Good for Honey making sure her needs get met. I hope her human companion stands up for herself as well!

    • Agreed. Women are raised to be polite at all costs. Even when it’s at their own peril. I struggle with this on an almost daily basis and my husband does not get it at all.

  4. The idea that a dog has preferences seems foreign to many people. Sometimes I am willing to let their preference for an outcome override mine, sometimes not. If there are non-negotiable behaviors I have to work on making my dogs prefer them!

  5. Oh, I didn’t think there was anything more stubborn than a hound! You know, it’s funny you mention this. I know a lot about Greyhounds after living with them and fostering for a number of years, but when we added Morgan, it was unchartered territory for me in some ways. She’s definitely NOT like the Greyhounds in a lot of ways, but I’ve gotten used to her now, and the more I read and learn about Shepherds, the more “normal” she is. I wish I’d known a lot of things in the beginning. I learned that pretty much everything you should do with a Shepherd puppy her original family did wrong. It’s probably the biggest obstacle that prevented her from being able to do SAR. It’s been a good learning curve for us, though, because that German Shepherd puppy who’s coming to our house in December (not that the October 12 due date is circled on the calendar or anything) will be handled right. I’ve learned that Morgan has different needs. While the Greyhounds crave our attention and are happy if they please us, it’s on their terms. Morgan NEEDS to please us and have a lot more approval and attention from us. She needs to have her brain challenged as much as she needs physical exercise, too. I’m glad Honey has somebody committed to doing things right with her!

    • I have a shepherd mix. If I get mad at him and send him to his bed, he curls up in a tight ball and won’t move for hours. When I call him, he’s ecstatic. The worst punishment in the world for this dog is for me to be angry with him.

  6. This reminds me of a brilliant BC we used to train with, named Caper. He was almost too smart. After class he would often let his human know he hadn’t had enough exercise by refusing to go near the parking lot. She would try to lure him with toys and yummy treats but if he wasn’t ready, there was no way he was getting in that car! As irritating as it must have been for her, I really had to stop and admire a dog who knows his own mind! We should all be as strong in our convictions of our own needs.

  7. There are times, it seems, that Elka acts like she doesn’t have a brain in her head (and she’s 2, when Dobermans are supposed to “find their brains”). As you said, there’s really always a reason. Whether it’s a reason easily understood by humans, that’s something else. Dogs and people don’t speak the same language, but we try like heck to make dogs comply with what we say.

  8. Ha ha – Cali has her “stubborn” moments – especially when there is a really good smell! I never heard the“At about six months their brains fall out. They don’t find them again until they turn two.” That explains some things!! Well, Cali is only 1/2 golden . . maybe we were saved just a little bit by the Aussie 1/2??

  9. I’m sure Honey knows how lucky she is to have a Mum who looks behind the scenes when she does something out of character:) There’s generally a good reason why dogs behave as they do but sometimes it can take some figuring out on our part. Well done you and Honey:) You are a real team!

  10. I couldn’t agree more…Too often we view our dogs or children as an extension of ourselves, rather than their own individual, with opinions and needs that may differ from ours. We expect them to think and behave exactly the way we want them to, and regard any behaviour that doesn’t fit with this expectation as an act of rebellion or stubborness … Wrong! I completely agree with you, that it’s all about communication.