The Puppiness Project – Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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 Running

Wait for Meeeeeeeee!

At the dog park on Saturday, I was once again struck with the economy of dog communication.

A few quick sniffs, a bow or a turn aside, and both dogs know if they want to play with each other or not. No chemistry? The dogs go on their own way. But if there’s a spark, one takes off and the game is on.

If I could figure out how to teach people to convey their feelings as succinctly on an internet dating site, I’d be retired in Bimini right now.

What goes through your mind when you find yourself at a party with a bunch of strangers? My mind is a pretty crowded place: “This isn’t really my kind of party. How long do I have to stay?” “It looks like that person doesn’t know anyone else. I guess I should go over and say hello.” “Who is that guy? I swear I’ve seen him before.”

With all that noise in my head, it’s a wonder I notice anything going on around me at all.

I love words. But sometimes I wonder if they’re a deflection. Am I so busy processing my experiences in words that I miss the experience itself?

Golden Retriever and Black Dog Playing at Dog Park

Ok, first I'll run around like a crazy dog chasing you. And then you run around like a crazy dog chasing me. That's how the game goes.

When I’m outside, I don’t feel the need to talk so much. I can sit on the beach for hours watching birds, dolphins, and even sand crabs while sighing with contentment. On a walk through the woods, I hesitate to talk because I don’t want to miss any special moments that would be ruined by a too loud or misplaced word.

Perhaps I need to enlarge my “word free zone.” Maybe watching Honey, I could become smarter about other ways of communicating without words. And who knows what would slip in between the syllables.

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  1. Interesting insight, and definitely food for thought.
    The caption on the 2nd pic made me giggle!

  2. What a great idea. I love to go for a romp at the park, dog language is so expressive! We could learn a lot.

  3. Because it is easier for me to write my thoughts than it is to speak them, I’ve always been a very quiet person out loud. In my head is a very different matter. Even when outdoors I have a million other things on the brain. I’ve read articles on the subject of learning to quiet the mind and none of them have ever helped me. However, your question has made me pause. Perhaps instead of working to stop the endless flow of thoughts, I should start focussing more on the world around me, on what I am experiencing. Perhaps it goes along with living in the moment.

    That first photo is adorable. I love how you capture her with her ears flying as she runs. Oh, how to live with that kind of joy.

    • I also have a very noisy brain. And it’s the worst at 3:00 a.m. (although since I’ve started waking up at 5:00 a.m. to blog, I’m too tired to stay awake as long).

      I’ve been working on focusing on Honey during a walk. I try to anticipate what she’s going to sniff up next. I watch her meandering path while she’s on a scent trail. Oh, and make bets with myself if she’ll spot the squirrel up ahead. I’m not always successful but it makes things more fun.

  4. They say that ninety percent of our communication is nonverbal. I think of how much people still DON’T say with their words and I have to wonder if they really do us that much good. I used to work as a sign language interpreter, and what I love about the language is how much it focuses on expression. Our spoken language does, too, but I think learning sign language made me more aware of those things in the spoken word. I honestly feel that I express myself much more eloquently when I write than when I speak. Part of it, I suspect, is that it gives me more time to think about what I want to convey and to choose my words more carefully. One of the best parts about living life with my dogs is that I don’t need words to have communication with them!

    • I didn’t know you knew ASL. Very cool!

      I remember being interpreted for a deaf student in one of my home buying classes. And, although I wasn’t the person using sign language, it did focus my words and expression in a way just teaching doesn’t. It was a very neat experience.

      It’s it great how much dogs can teach us about communicating the more time we spend with them?

  5. I think I may have dog sense after living with them for so many years, but I can tell after just a few minutes with a person whether I want to continue to know them. It isn’t anything I can explain. Sometimes I have to get along with someone for professional reasons. Ignoring my dog sense is difficult. Since most of the messages we get from people come from the nonverbal, I totally trust my dog sense.

    • Dog sense is a good sense to have. I find I’m very slow to respond emotionally to people around me. So it’s very shocking on the rare (maybe once in my life) that I’ve instantly disliked someone.

      It’s not that I like everyone. I just think it takes me so long to figure out if I like someone the opportunity to do anything about it is long gone. :)

  6. Jackie’s mom here: I’m a word person too. I definitely enjoy being in a quiet place where I don’t have to process everything in words!

  7. From The Husband:
    Wait a minute. Is this your subtle way of telling me to stop running my mouth on those walks through the woods?

  8. I think dogs are far more aware of other dogs body language and our body language than we are. As caring dog owners most of us are becoming more aware of canine body language and trying to learn it. I remember seeing programmes on TV which interpreted human body language and it was fascinating at the time. But I’m kind of glad humans greet each other with a hand shake or hug rather than the canine method of greeting;)

    I’m a writer rather than a talker too. I can sit here in virtual silence for days and be quite content.

    • I’m always amazed at how quickly dog body language flies around. I find looking at pictures after the fact is a great help. I just can’t respond fast enough to all the signals being flown.

      My problem is that I am actually a big talker. But there’s something about outdoors that sends me a different message. Something like, “It’s time to be quiet now.”

  9. Good thought. I am not much of a talker, but I am always “writing” in my head. It is hard sometimes to turn off my brain’s keyboard. But usually when I am in the woods with dogs, I am just there, listening to them and the world around me. Then on the way home, I am writing all about being quiet. :)

    • I have to confess I’ve sketched out more than one blog post while walking Honey. But I try to keep my posts short so I can have the idea and then move on to more important things–like watching out for squirrels.

  10. I quite often wished that my life was a simple as my dog’s is. I don’t think he worries about the economy, he certainly in not interested in politics, he refrains from judging bad hair days, fashion in not an issue on his agenda and he doesn’t bother psychoanalyzing himself or anybody else. The only academic credentials he needs are the few tricks I’ve taught him — you know — sit, stay, roll over, etc.

    Thus unencumbered, it’s very easy for my dog to communicate with the simplest if gesture. Oh, if only I were a dog!

  11. I’m going to be a contrarian here and say that there are plenty of mixed signals between dogs in the dog park — and plenty of flights that owners have to break up. Frankie never expresses any interest in other dogs but they rarely leave him alone. No is not no in the dog world all the time.

  12. This is what I love about you Pamela. You always leave me thinking. I also suffer from the noisy brain syndrome – mine usually is at it’s most active between 2 am and 4 am, but I also enjoy those simple moments when I can just be quiet and watch a hummingbird buzz about the honeysuckle or watching the clouds float by in the sky.

    I also love watching dogs interact – whether at my own home or at the dog park. There is so much that is conveyed between two dogs, and not much of it ever occurs in words (i.e., barks).

    I think there is something to be said for the economy of dog communication, but as Edie mentioned, there is a lot that gets misunderstood. I wonder if we all tried to use more body language, and less talking, if there wouldn’t be the chance we would still misunderstood each other? Perhaps it’s our penchant for over-analyzing or for reading into people’s actions more than is really there that is our biggest problem. But, I am all for using less words if it works! :)