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.
Honey Can’t Teach Everything.
Dogs connect us to something outside ourselves.
Sure, dogs can be self-serving and manipulative just like people. But they don’t have a human intellect that gets in the way of experiencing the world as it is. That’s why I often look to Honey for reminders on how to “get out of my head.”
Unfortunately, Honey is as bad at some things as I am. One sad point of agreement is that Honey can be so frightened of something that it wipes out any joy she’d normally experience. She, like me, can let one bad thing in a sea of good things take her entire attention.
Honey is afraid of things that move unexpectedly. It’s why we’ve had a hard time getting her used to riding in our Doggy Ride bicycle trailer.
No matter how much she loves her food, Honey’s leery of eating near the Doggy Ride. Even when it’s on a kickstand and sitting still in the living room. We’re going slow. But it’s a challenge.
The fear removes any positive emotion Honey usually experiences in our company or while eating yummies.
Pam Chews Her Cud.
One bad lesson I’ve learned from animals is to ruminate. If something negative happens I can chew it over and over again without letting go.
Recently I got some kindly-worded, constructive criticism. It was so gentle and kind I hesitate to label it with the “bad stuff” in my title—but hey, it’s hard to understand feelings. I knew it wasn’t rational to let it make me feel so bad about myself. And I
think hope I was smart enough to take the criticism seriously and figure out if or how I should change myself to answer it.
But I just couldn’t keep from feeling bad—for several days.
I ended up channeling Honey. But not in a good way. I focused so much on one negative feeling that I wasn’t able to appreciate the many joys that were surrounding me on all sides.
I was like the Golden Retriever who lost her appetite when her treat slid too close to a propped up golf bag that just might fall.
Honey and Pam Seek a Solution.
Since trying to talk myself out of feeling bad didn’t work, I adopted a three-prong attack:
- Avoid – I stayed away from reminders of the criticism for a while.
- Distract – I concentrated on unrelated tasks.
- Reset – I planned an activity that took my mind entirely away from my obsession—playing fetch in the park.
And it worked.
Some things are powerful enough to take our minds away from minor discomforts. They are usually done outdoors, with our bodies, and don’t involve computers, televisions, or phones. Playing fetch with Mike and Honey did that.
What takes Honey out of herself is using her nose.
Just feeding Honey in or near her cart isn’t different enough to keep her from being scared. But if we play simple nosework games, Honey’s focus intensifies. In the joy of the game, Honey doesn’t notice that the object of her search is behind the tire of the cart or even inside.
I have to get up off my butt and away from the computer to get out of my head. Honey needs to use her nose.
We Can Learn From Our Dogs; Our Dogs Can Learn From Us.
The Puppiness Project is about learning from Honey to be a happier person. But in a relationship, we learn from each other.
In that spirit, I’m announcing a challenge tomorrow to celebrate Train Your Dog Month, sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
You’ll have the entire month of January to strengthen the relationship with your dog while meeting the challenge. Plus you’ll get a chance to win a donation to your favorite animal welfare organization.
Don’t miss out. Stop back tomorrow to get all the details.
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