The Puppiness Project – Don’t Believe Your Own Press

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

I know the paparazzi are around here somewhere. I just need to sniff them out.

The young woman twiddling with her phone was blocking our path on the sidewalk. When the way became clear at the intersection, I told Honey, “With me” and we passed the texting woman at a perfect heel.

I praised Honey for her behavior as the woman behind me said in a high, squeaky voice, “Oh, what a well-behaved dog you have” which told Honey she had an admirer. She whirled in place and leaped toward the woman for the lovies Honey knew were coming her way. The woman, jumped back clutching her phone to her chest.

I apologized to the woman for Honey’s behavior. But I couldn’t be too upset with her. Honey had only believed her own press.

The press has its own interests

The saying, “don’t believe your own press” was a reminder to movie stars not to believe all the nice things written about them by the media outlets that published news fed to them by studio public relations departments. It was mean and cynical.

But I’ve been reminded of its value lately.

I started Something Wagging this Way Comes for personal reasons. I wanted a record of life with the first puppy I’ve ever known since shortly after birth. The blog has expanded beyond that original goal but it’s still a predominately personal memoir.

I had different ideas when I started Hands on Home Buyer, my other blog. It’s an outgrowth of my professional experience as a home buyer counselor for a housing nonprofit. I thought I could bring my encouraging, insightful, and humorous approach (words taken from my own press) to a wider home buyer audience. And maybe change a few lives or even supplement my income a bit.

You see, I believed my own press.

In seven years of teaching home buying classes, I’ve never gotten a bad review. Graduates of my classes stay in touch for years. But I’m realizing the raves say less about me than they do about my students.

The reason my students are so enthusiastic about my classes is that they’re eager to learn. They’ve absorbed all the information they could find elsewhere and are grateful for a few minutes of personal attention and the chance to test their knowledge. They’re excited about the class because it fits where they are in their lives.

And a few hundred exceptional home buyers is not much of a base for a blog.

Being directed by your inner voice

Listening to your press is also a sign that you’re not paying attention to your inner voice.

If your passion is telling you to do something, what does it matter if no one is listening? You need to do what you are called to do.

But it’s hard. We’re told to look for outward signs of success. In blogging, it’s page views, comments, “likes,” and twitter followers. In the real world, it’s salary or status.

It’s a challenge to pursue a path when the standard measures suggest you’re failing.

I don’t know how to find the balance. I can only live with the questions until I figure it out.

Honey’s inner voice

The core of Honey’s nature tells her that happy, enthusiastic voices directed at her demand a response. The best response? Happy wiggle butt dance accompanied by a floofie tail in the face.

Even if the happy voice is saying, “what an obedient dog you have,” Honey must reply in the only way she knows how.

I know I need to work on impulse control with her. But her love for everyone she meets is one of the things I love most about Honey. I’ve had faithful, one-woman dogs who pined whenever I left. It’s flattering. And you can form a tremendous bond with a strongly attached dog. But I’m happy to be living with my promiscuous pup who would be just as happy to go home with you as she would with me.

Honey’s press has its own interests too

Golden Retriever and Halloween Dogs in store display

What kind of dog would you rather have?

Here’s the thing about getting jinxed by people who compliment Honey on her good behavior. I suspect most of them don’t really like dogs very much.

They like dogs that never run away, don’t bark, and don’t counter surf. They like dogs that always walk quietly by your side and stand there patiently while you pet them. Dogs that shed, fart, or run zoomies through their flower beds? Not so much.

You see, people who really love dogs, who understand that a dog is a dog and not a little person in a fur coat, don’t say to other dog people, “what a well-behaved dog you have.” We know that much of that is a combination of hard work, the dog’s background, the person’s background, and the time of day. We might, however, say, “I wish my dog could do that.” Or “how did you teach her that?” Or even, “was it hard to teach him that?” But very rarely would we say, “what a well-behaved dog you have.”

So maybe Honey doesn’t believe her own press after all. Maybe pulling on her leash to get to the person who complimented her behavior before flopping on her back and flailing her legs in the air to solicit petties is her way of saying to the world, “A dog is a dog. And none of us will ever do exactly what you want us to do all the time.”



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  1. Can I disagree with you on this one?
    I think your home buyer’s blog is good. I think you should believe your own press on that one. Clearly, your students loved the info you shared with them. I know I have read several things on your blog. Yes, your students needed the info at the time and thus were enthusiastic about it, but that’s because it’s valuable information, whether buying or selling a home. Maybe it’s just not attracting the right audience yet?
    As far as Honey goes, I think she should believe her own press too. She’s darned cute and who can resist a Golden? (No one I know could resist one anyways!)
    I also compliment people on their dog’s behavior when I see it, not because I am not a dog person, but because I recognize hard work when I see it. Of course, I also say “I wish my dog could do thta.” and “How did you teach him that.”
    (Sorry for being such a contrarian today!)

    • Thanks, Mel. You’re my favorite contrarian! :)

      But I am continuing to figure out what information I’m really getting from my “press” and what to do with it. After all, if I didn’t over think everything I’d have to find something else to do with my brain–like bring peace to the Middle East or rescue the economy. :)

  2. I think you sell yourself short. Just being enthusiastic about your subject doesn’t make you love and stay in touch with your teacher.

    When I was pursuing my AS Degree I absolutely dreaded the Public Speaking Class, yet that teacher who turned me onto Communications is the only one I stay in touch with. He ignited a passion in me for Communications BUT he was also a great teacher.

    If your students left your class excited about what you taught, it isn’t just that they were ready for the message, but that you made a connection.

    As for the dog, I am like you. I might say, “What a well behaved dog, how did you teach that?”

    Another note (and then I’ll shut up ;-)) is dog people will ask if it is ok for them or their children to pet your dog; non-dog people will just rush forward hand extended.

    Good post Pamela!

    • You’re so right about the people who ask if it’s ok to greet your dog. I’m astounded at how many people pet Honey on the nose as they walk by without a word to me. They’re lucky I feed her so well. :) Cuz I’d bite if someone did it to me.

      I’m not trying to be self-pitying and hope the post doesn’t come across that way. But I started thinking when Edie Jarolim of Will My Dog Hate Me shared how she got the most hits ever by posting silly pictures of dogs in costumes. Edie writes great stuff. And it started me thinking about what people really want and what some of us think they want. Anyway, thanks for the kind words and contributing food for thought.

    • That’s so true, Jodi… dog people always ask first!

  3. I think the other side of this is “how do you measure success?” You’ve helped and inspired many people through your home blog, and probably many you aren’t even aware of. Also with this blog, and with the way you handle Honey, and so many other things you do. I guess we all have to decide what makes it worthwhile. This is something I think about as I’ve just launched my first book. It may not reach as far as I’d hope. Not everyone will love it. But I wrote it to share a message and I am content with that. btw, I love the Puppiness Project and I hope you’re writing a book!

    • How we measure success is always the question, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m having a mid-career crisis as I enter my 21st year working for nonprofits where you never experience conventional measures of success no matter how hard you work. :)

      I appreciate your vote for passion. And I’m happy to help spread the word about your book. I’ll follow up by email tonight when I get home (on my lunch break now).

      We have to reward the passionate or else the world would be awfully dull.

  4. Ouch…I can see myself saying, “What a well behaved dog” to someone even though mine are well behaved in public as the result of training and bribery. :-) There are so many unfortunate dogs whose owners lack the knowledge or ambition to help them become the good little citizens that they really want to be that I would want to compliment the owner on the achievement.

    On another note, I wish we could all have publicists to tell the world how wonderful we are. I promise not to believe it all.

    • Bribery is good. Ask any parent. :)

      I guess those of us who can’t afford publicists to tell us we’re wonderful just get dogs, huh?

  5. This post is so timely! Just this morning Shiva and I were walking past a woman and her little fluffy dog, me working my butt off to prevent Shiva from greeting the dog with her usual lack of manners. Not a millisecond after the woman praised my dog’s behaviour, Shiva dove in front of me to get at Fluffy. We both laughed about it and no harm was done, but I think it fits very well with what you are trying to say.

    I also agree with the others that your Home blog is excellent. I’ve never seen another like it in the blogosphere so I think it is meeting an important need. Unfortunately, due to the anonymity of the online world, you’ll never know how many people you have actually helped. Most people who read don’t say a word. I also agree with your press that it is very funny. Who would have thought buying a home could be so hilarious?

    • I’m so glad the fluffy dog woman got a good laugh. Wouldn’t it be great if the mild and happy reactions of people we meet make us feel as good as the nasty reactions make us feel bad?

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog. But I spend a lot of time online and find that most people aren’t that interested in in-depth information about home buying. That’s why my most popular search term is still “can I get a mortgage without a job?”

      As I said to Jodi above, I’m pondering the difference between what people actually want and what I’m willing to provide. And I’m trying to figure out if there’s a match.

      As we both know in the dog world, people are still more willing to get bad dog training advice from charismatic personalities than they are to learn how to actually teach their dog in a positive way. :(

  6. I might have said, “what a good puppy!” . .but it would have been in the hope that she would have stopped so I could pet her :) There’s nothing cuter than a happy wiggle butt dance and a floofie tail!

    I struggle with the “why” I am writing a blog – but I think the thing I love most about it is all of the other amazing people I get to interact with – whether or not I’m good at it remains to be seen, but we all grow through trying, right? I love your blog . .now I’m off to find your home buying blog!

    • Well I agree with the idea that a happy wiggle butt dance is the best. But I definitely registered some disapproving (and, to be fair, sometimes just overwhelmed) looks when Honey stopped being perfect and beautiful and started acting like a friendly puppy.

      In January of this year, Amy Burkert and Edie Jarolim hosted a blog hop to explore why and how we blog. I was thinking we should try to resurrect it again. It was a big hit and most people loved the time to reflect on what they are doing and why.

      What do you think?

      • I would welcome something like that Pam! I arrived on the blog block just after that excercise and I think 9 months in, I might be ready for a good look at what I am doing and a reminder of why I love to do it. I feel like I’ve lost some momentum lately for sure.

      • I’d love to do that – mainly because I’d love to see other people’s responses. :) I didn’t get to participate the first time because my blog was only three weeks old.

        • I’d be interested in doing that again too. It was really fun the first time around. For those of us that did it in January, it would also be a good time to reflect on how we did on some of our goals.

      • I think that sounds great!

  7. I think the last time I complimented someone’s dog’s behavior I said “What a well-trained dog!” (This was a year-old dog heeling perfectly, carrying her own leash in her mouth. I was highly impressed.) I wanted to acknowledge that the dog didn’t magically figure that out on her own, and that I was impressed with the amout of work the guy must’ve put in.

  8. I can’t speak for your home owner’s blog, since I haven’t visited (I know, I should! I hear it’s pretty fab.) but here at Something Wagging, I love what you are doing and I think any good press is well earned. Always well written, always thought provoking, always worth the read.

    For my part, if I complimented your dog, and she turned around over-eager for a little love, I’d be delighted. A: I’m getting some Honey lovin’ and B: I can feel just a tad better about my occasionally unruly dogs, who always (and only) wholeheartedly beleive their good press. I wish I could be more like them! After all, Honey *is* a good dog and you *are* a good writer, so as long as you don’t take that to mean “I am flawless and I can do no wrong.” I say go ahead and believe your good press. You’ve worked hard for it.

  9. I always praise well-behaved dogs to their owners– with a lot of green-eyed jealousy because of my atrocious mutt.

    Blogging is a funny business. I am flummoxed by the popularity of some truly awful blogs out there, and wonder why anyone (including, or especially, myself) spends so much time shouting in the wind. I don’t know how many hits your home-buyer’s blog gets, but I suspect its rational and intelligent tone might turn people off. Sadly, I’m not joking. If “can I get a mortgage without a job” is the most Googled mortgage search phrase, then why would people listen to someone telling them that the answer is “No,” or, at the very least, “It’s a VERY bad idea.”

    The real reason we shouldn’t believe our own press? Because Van Gogh did, and it killed him.

  10. I totally hear what you’re saying about the choice of words (and probably tone) the cell phone lady used with Honey, especially since she reacted by jumping back clutching her phone. I imagine the same thing would happen if my young son said “please” and “thank you” and sat perfectly still and quietly while in the waiting room of a geriatric ward. A nice older lady from across the room could compliment him for “behaving” (and I would instantly know that she wasn’t the doting grandmotherly type).

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Honey. She was just being polite in her jovial way. (And, BTW, my kid would never sit like that in a geriatric ward.)

    If you enjoy writing your home buyers blog, that is what matters. I don’t believe passion like that is wasted. You’ve certainly touched more lives than you know.

  11. I am a new to reading your posts and I have to say that I absolutely love your posts and your writing style. You allow me to look at things in a different perspective, especially in the “Puppiness Project”
    I am having trouble finding my balance too in the blogging world! Which way to go?? I have no idea.

  12. I’m a person who praises well-behaved dogs, and even children, when I come across them in public. Why? Well, who doesn’t like hearing when they’re doing a good job? We’re quick to criticize what we see that’s wrong, but lax in praising what’s right most of the time.

    As far as measuring blog success goes, I’m often surprised by which posts I’ve written will be the most popular. Some that I think are really funny and well-written, where I actually laugh at myself while I read them, go largely unnoticed by comparison to others. Then there are posts that amaze me by how much people like them.

    Your last line made me smile, because anybody who’s loved a dog has experienced that! That was probably one of Lilac’s mottos in life!

  13. I just visited your other blog for the first time. The only reason I haven’t sooner is because I’m having trouble keeping up with blog reading … oh, and I own my house:) It’s fantastic!! Well, I never doubted it would be. If it was up to me your home buyers blog would be essential reading for everyone thinking of buying their own home in the near future. There must be millions of people in the US who need the sort of information you’re writing about for free and in such a readable way.

    I don’t think anybody has ever complimented Frankie on being well behaved, if they did he would probably jump up on them in delight:) Beryl gets plenty of compliments on her behaviour and just takes it in her stride. She is that dog who sheds very little, rarely barks, rarely farts, doesn’t do zoomies at home, doesn’t counter surf … but she’s a terror on junk mail and duvets:) And we are beginning to have conversations, she’s getting quite chatty, I love it!