The Puppiness Project – Don’t Be in a Hurry to Solve Every Problem (sometimes it’s not a problem at all)

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.

Solving Puppy Problems (that aren’t problems)

Two Golden Retrievers

"What do you say, Honey?" "Once more around the campsite?"

The growling sounds coming from my otherwise sweet little Honey dog sent my blood pressure up a bit.

With the OK of our campsite neighbors, M & L, Honey went rushing up to their handsome Golden Retriever, Nash, with lots of enthusiasm but few manners.

Although only 9 months old, Nash recognized rude behavior when he saw it and their initial exchange was a little tense, at least for me. Some growling, some aggressive leaping and I was ready to rush in between and pull Honey back to our campsite.

But M said to wait. Let the two dogs work it out themselves. They usually will do fine without any interference from us.

And she was right. Within moments the two were playing together the way every dog behaviorist tells you is appropriate:

  • Although much bigger, Nash held back and used only as much strength as he needed to keep up with Honey.
  • Both dogs ran and then reversed so each got a chance to chase and be chased.
  • When it was time to take a break, they shared the water bowl nicely taking turns until each was satisfied.

And best of all, they were both responsible enough to play off leash in our eye sight without heading into the road or tearing off into the woods.

For someone who has lived with reactive dogs for more than twenty years, it was a beautiful sight.

I’m glad M was wiser than I was and that she encouraged me to let them “work it out themselves.”

Solving People Problems (that aren’t problems)

In my day job, I counsel first time home buyers, originate purchase and rehab loans, sell houses in our community housing trust, teach 36 home buying classes a year, lead an occasional landlord training class, and “other duties as required.”

If you’ve ever worked for a nonprofit, you know what I’m talking about. I do a lot of different stuff.

Which is my wordy way of saying that since I work evenings and weekends, I will often leave a little early on Fridays to make up for some of the extra hours I worked.

Most Mondays, I return to work to find several panicky phone calls from clients who needed something from me Friday afternoon and were upset not to find me available.

I used to immediately start working on the problem they left for me in my voice mail–making calculations, following up with lenders etc. just to find the client got their answer elsewhere, proceeded without waiting for me, or found the answer with something I had already given them. Meaning that in my effort to be a good problem solver, I just solved a problem that wasn’t a problem at all.

I don’t rush to solve every panicky problem anymore although I still feel very tense listening to those phone messages.

But I’m trying to realize that before I came along people did fine and they will continue to do fine once I’ve long left this earth.

Puppies With No Problems

Thanks to M’s advice, Honey and Nash worked out their terms of endearment without any interference from me. They “pined” for each other when they caught sight of each other and had one last vigorous play session to send Nash on the road home tired out enough to have a long nap.

I wish every non-problem I think of solving was as much fun to watch as two muddy Golden Retrievers having a blast.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. This might be one of my favourite Puppiness posts. What a great reminder to slow down, wait, and find out more information, before jumping in and freaking out.

    Last year I attended a seminar on dog behaviour and play, which included an observation session at a local dog park. It really helped me understand the difference between dogs just being dogs and dogs with problem behaviours. Sometimes the human jumping in is what sets some dogs off and causes the issue. But it’s still a tough call.

    I am so glad Honey found such a great friend!

    • Even more than the dog park, having a human on the other end of a leash causes lots of problems. Maybe when I’m 70 I’ll be mellow enough to have really learned this lesson.

  2. I second Kristine (as I usually do!). Awesome post, excellent points. One well worth a retweet. :)

    I am a big panicker and filled with loads of anxiety. I’m forever making decisions without all the information I need to make a rational, informed choice. I’ve always been told that about 90% of the things we worry about don’t happen, so I suppose we shoud cut back on about 90% of our worrying! (or 100%, because the other 10% is out of our control!)

    • Cutting back on 100% is always a good idea. I don’t see that worrying has every helped anyone. And yet I do it all the time too.

  3. Fantastic post – I really do love the Puppiness Project.
    This one in particular provides a great reminder… I totally know what you mean about all of those panicky calls and rushing to handle each “crisis” that arises. It’s so important to slow down and evaluate what needs to be done quickly and what can wait. Sometimes when I rush to solve a problem I end up making the wrong call or missing something.

    • You are so right. We panic in reaction to other people’s panic and it’s a vicious cycle.

      My college roommate became an air traffic controller. I’m thinking when I’ve learned everything Honey can teach me about being calm, I’ll have to sit at the feet of Betty.

  4. I really have a “problem” with wanting to solve problems (human ones). The problem with me not rushing to solve them, however, is that I feel guilty (ugh!) about it (only to later find out, usually, like you said, that it was already taken care of). It’s SO HARD (but I’m working on it). :)

    Sounds like Honey (and you) had fun in spite of the rain. :) I think I’d camp if I could find a way to plug up my hairdryer. :)

    • Guilt and worry–the horrible one two punch. They both need to be banished.

      Actually, when we camp at state parks, they do have bathrooms with electricity. Last weekend someone was recharging his boat battery in the men’s room. And believe me, there are plenty of women who are fully coiffed even on a camping trip.

      I, personally, couldn’t be bothered. I figure even a hairdryer can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The other solution is to go camping with a friend who’s really ugly. That way you’ll always look good no matter what you do. :)

  5. I love this post! My perspective on it is similar. I teach PreK, and a lot of what we’re doing is developing social skills. Kids have to learn to solve their own problems, but there’s always at least one mom who just can’t help but insert herself into every single disagreement between the kids. It drives me nuts! If they don’t learn it now, when are they going to learn it? Of course there’s a point where I intervene, but I do it by offering strategies to try to see if they can find their own success. With the dogs, I don’t worry a lot. The Greyhounds don’t ever have a problem with other dogs, and actually, Morgan usually doesn’t either. There are times when she’s a little too excited initially, but she can calm down and act appropriately — even with tiny dogs who have no business in the dog park!

    • You’re so right about children needing to learn how to work things out. We’re in the era of helicopter parenting and it does cause problems.

      I read an article recently about Optimist boat races. An Optimist sailboat is one that can be built by a kid and a parent out of two sheets of plywood. After it’s built, the kids race it.

      Apparently, parents are hiring professional designers to build their child’s sailboat and have coaches in “nanny boats” telling the kids what to do to win the race.

      Those are going to be some very disappointed kids when the nanny boat disappears.

  6. Great post! We were at the dog park on Saturday and I saw a woman overreact and scream “NO” when a 1 year old golden and a 6 month old english shepherd “ganged up” on her 6 year old doberman. I think she scared her dog more that the two young dogs did . . it was all very interesting and SHE scared all of us!

    Whenever I get an email or a phone call with a “problem” I always feel that anxious feeling in my stomach . .and usually it’s nothing! Glad you had fun camping!

    • A lot of trainers are very down on dog parks. I wonder how many problems in dog parks stem from inappropriate human behavior? Hmmm, that could be a good grad school thesis for someone.

  7. What a great lesson to be learned here, I think I worry too much and try to solve problems that aren’t there too.

    If I could just let things work themselves out…..maybe I need to borrow Honey. :-)

    • It’s amazing how many things work themselves out without our intervention. I should make a poster for my wall as a reminder. :)

      Honey would be happy to visit and share her puppy wisdom–for treats.

  8. I am with everyone else here…this is a wonderful post!
    When I first got Leroy, I was terrified of any little noise that came out of him and Sherman when they played and I would interfere, I would be nervous when they played rough and didn’t want any REAL fight s to happen. They have always had their difference and I never let them work them out on their own. Finally one day I was tired of always being on edge when the rough housed and I just let them do it. Much to my surprise they each handled themselves fine and worked it out. Since then life has been a lot less stressful around here for me! I sure wish I could learn to do this with other things in life!!

    • I have had dogs that really fought (blood drawn and everything) and it is terrifying. But most of the time it doesn’t come to that. Like your story about Leroy and Sherman, we need to trust the dog.

      Why don’t you ask the boys what other things you need to let go of? :)

  9. I don’t know how many times I jumped into the a dog fight out of sheer panic and fear when one of the dogs was just blowing off some steam. I understand your reaction, I would be the same way. It will probably take many years to get over that initial reaction when there is a confrontation.

    How wonderful that you got to witness the “other side.” I bet if was completely awesome!! Enjoy!!

    • The point my campsite neighbor made was that well-socialized dogs that aren’t normally aggressive figure out how to resolve things without bloodshed. Your crew has gotten such great care from you and your husband I’m sure there is little chance of anything serious happening.

  10. I love this post! I agree with Kristine. One of my favorites for sure!

    I have often let the dogs work things out (as long as I see now worrying body language being exchanged). I also used to be the problem solver, jumping right on something as soon as someone had a problem and needed a resolution. But, when I lost my job over 3 years ago, I came to realize that all that work I did to help everyone didn’t make me invaluable, just harried and stressed. It took losing my job to gain a little perspective.

    Your phrase “before I came along people did fine and they will continue to do fine once I’ve long left this earth.” is so true. I think there is a lesson here for all of us.

    I so love how you think. I wasn’t kidding when I called you and your blog “wise”.

  11. What a wonderful post! I do so love your puppies project. I definitely need to be more conscious of this. I have a tendency to jump in and start solving before I even take a moment to hang back. Excellent reminder :0)

  12. I have the same tendency – to jump in before giving the dogs time to work things out. I imagine dogs learn a lot more from each other – and do so much more quickly – than they do from us humans. Obviously, you don’t want to let things go too far, but giving the dogs time to resolve things in their own way is probably better. Thanks for the great post.