The Puppiness Project – Confidence Can Take You Far

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.

Building Puppy Confidence

Golden Retriever at Treman Marina

You don't have to hold onto me. I'm not going in the water. I don't even know what I'm doing out here.

Honey is a shy girl. She is easily spooked by things that move unexpectedly.

To get her used to my clackety antique lawn mower, I tossed treats while mowing the lawn.

Apparently it worked. When we mowed the lawn last week, Honey was afraid for only a few moments before joyfully doing zoomies in the yard.

So Honey can take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, we continually work on building her confidence.

Confidence vs. Competence

I recently attended a talk by a young business owner. His grammar needed some work. And his leaps of logic had me scratching my head.

But the speaker’s audience was rapt.

He was enthusiastic and confident. He had no doubt that he’d succeed in everything he tried. And if something didn’t work out, he’d figure out the problem and keep moving forward.

His business was thriving. And his confidence was moving him forward in amazing ways. Because he had the confidence to try something even if he didn’t have all the answers, he put himself in the place of learning the answers. Which boosted his confidence.

Confidence is not my strong suit. I assume I need to learn one more thing before I can move forward. Or I need to figure out all the answers before setting out.

Sometimes this slow and cautious approach works out. Our sailing instructor was pleased to find that he could shortcut a lot of instruction because we had spent the entire summer working on sailing skills before we arrived at our liveaboard lessons.

But you can’t prepare for everything.

Confidence comes from realizing something didn’t kill you

My husband and I spent an entire summer learning the basics of sailing. Unfortunately, every weekend we dealt with very light winds. We had beautiful sailing weather on days we had to work. But many weekends were spent “bobbing and baking” in the middle of the lake.

Even out on Lake Ontario we faced very calm conditions.

So when the last sailing weekend arrived with forecasts of 30 mph gusts of wind, we knew we had to try it. The head of the sailing center was confident we could handle the conditions. But I was more scared than I ever thought I would be.

Mike was more confident than I was. And he’s the one who was responsible for getting us safely back to shore when the wind became fierce.

In the end, you can’t read about how to respond to high winds on a sail boat. Well, you can, but it won’t do you a bit of good. You have to just get out there and see what happens. And hope you don’t get hit on the head by the boom, fall in the water, and drown.

Honey the confident pup

Earlier in the summer we spent time acclimating Honey to boats and docks. But after a few weeks away from the marina, Honey had lost some of her confidence. Even the allure of goose poop would not convince her to follow me out onto a shaky dock.

Eventually, by showing her the treats in my hand and moving slowly down the dock so she could follow when she was ready, Honey got her confidence up. By the end of the visit, she was holding her head a little higher–perhaps proud of herself for knowing that she walked all the way out onto the end of a scary dock and didn’t die.


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  1. In college I took a second minor in theatre/acting even though I knew it wouldn’t lead directly to any vocation. It gave me so much confidence through the years as it taught me how to *act* as if I had confidence even when my my mind was jello. Those were probably the most valuable course I ever took. I’m trying to figure a way to give dogs acting lessons, but probably they would involve treats.

  2. Mike Webster says:

    My motto: whatever doesn’t kill me wasn’t trying hard enough.

  3. I am not a fan of being “new” at much of anything; I’m sure because I hate the feeling of seeming inept in front of other people. But it’s hard to throw caution to the wind (sorry, not meant to be a pun :) when your brain prefers calm seas (doubly sorry for that). I do believe there’s a place for caution, though, unless it’s crippling. (Can you imagine a world full of nothing but confident risk-takers? No, there would be no one left.) :)

    Where you think you might lack in confidence, I am certain (at least from what I can tell from your blog), you make up for with determination and passion. I have no doubt you’ll get this sailing thing eventually and when you do, Honey will share in your confidence!

  4. I’m a horrible perfectionist, and I admit that I’m reluctant to try new things sometimes because I hate making mistakes of them. I know that it’s not the right way to approach things, and it’s one of those battles I fight with myself often.

  5. I have zero confidence and zero expectations of success. And I have to say, it hasn’t gotten me far in life. Funny thing is, I’ve had amazing academic success in life. If I could be paid to go to school, I’d be a millionaire and have about 14 B.A.s. Unfortunately, they insist you pay them.

  6. I’m constantly amazed at how confidence can mask incompetence. One woman I work with isn’t nearly as good at her job as she thinks she is yet most people thinks she’s marvellous. Yes, I am a bit envious:)

    • So true… I know so many people who manage to hide their utter incompetence because their confidence blinds people. It drives me a bit crazy when these names come up and people compliment them. I have to admit I fall prey to my catty side and like to share some examples of how insanely not-awesome some of them are. I try to hold it in, but it’s not always possible. :)

  7. Believing in yourself has a lot power. Not only are you capable of accomplishing more, but other people will believe in you too. It’s almost magical. We’ve been working on Buster’s confidence. He’s really sensitive – so our most recent plan is to ignore all undesirable behaviors (no corrections) and praise all desirable behaviors. It’s working splendidly and he’s become more calm in general. It so much fun to see him feeling good about himself.